Battle of the Bugs – Vacuum Option
By George Giltner, Master Gardener, Beauregard Parish, LA
Imagine a 97 HP, tractor-mounted, 8-fan vacuum straddling 16’ of lettuce in the field of the US’s second largest lettuce grower. With the force of hurricane winds, this $80,000 vac cleaner hurls bugs against metal components for an instant kill and exhausts them for soil amendments. This equipment is the invention of entomologist Edgar Shaw who plans to develop smaller, less expensive models in the near future. The machine is as effective as chemical pest control, but it does not burn nor discolor the lettuce as a side effect of chemical control. Also this big bug “Salad-Vac” is one answer to consumer, grower and environmental concerns over chemical issues. Since lettuce is reported to have some of the highest levels of pesticide residues, it makes sense for the producer, Tanamura and Antle, to utilize these machines on all of their 20,000 acres in three states. Therefore vacuuming is a viable option on the commercial scale, and it can be applied to smaller farms and gardens.
In the home garden, different vacuums have been tried with varying success. Years ago a Briggs powered vac could be bought to drag down rows, but it did not pass all of consumer’s expectations. The underpowered and rechargeable hand models like the Bugzooka, Lentex Bug Vac, and Dust Busters just don’t have the suction power that you need for good capture. On the larger scale, shop vacuums are bulky, can damage plants, and are a pain to move around in a gardening space.
However, I have found a powerful and portable model that is just right – the DeWalt 18V portable vac with the option of an electric cord. It has a battery charged up for construction-grade power tools that gives plenty of time to cover most garden sizes. The vacuum has the just right suction to get the bugs without damaging plants. It gives the gardener the upmost satisfaction to zip the suction hose around plants, sucking up harmful bugs with ease, while leaving the lady bugs to continue their beneficial activities. With a little practice, stink bugs, cucumber beetles, and sharpshooters don’t have a chance of escape. This vac has a large capacity tank, so you will not have to dump bugs until you’re sweep is finished. When you do open the vac, dump the bugs in a bucket of soapy water for the final kill. No, they will not fly off when the vac is opened. It’s probably comparable to a person going through Hurricane Rita and being slammed against trees. It just makes them so disoriented that they readily fall into the soap bath.
In early spring is the time to focus on harmful bug control before the populations have a chance to reach high levels of damage to plants. Keep up the effort to avoid outbreaks of pests as the season progresses. By late August, the build-up of stink bugs will be fairly large. They will travel great distances to land in your pea patch or late season tomato crop. Remember that stink bugs transmit viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases. So you have to keep them under control, but have fun doing it with a simple vacuum.
Editor’s Note: Mr. George Giltner is a Louisiana Master Gardener in Beauregard Parish, and he regularly writes “Battle of the Bug’s” articles for the Beauregard Parish Master Gardeners Community Newsletter.
Also, the use of the name of any product is intended for educational purposes, and is not a product endorsement of the LSU AgCenter