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Battle of the Bugs – Vacuum Option


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

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Battle of the Bugs: Insect Control Alternatives to Broad Range Insecticides

Battle of the Bugs: Insect Control Alternatives to Broad Range Insecticides

By George Giltner, Beauregard Parish Master Gardener







Friendly insecticidal oils &  repellents                                                                         

 Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

One mistake of novice home gardeners is to use the most lethal, broad range insecticides on the market.  Vendors readily advertise on their products of all the insects and arachnids that they destroy.  However new approaches to insect control are similar to modern-day warfare, where precise targeting is used instead of inaccurate carpet bombing with extensive collateral damage.  Welcome in the new age of Integrated Pest Management, IPM, which utilizes multiple approaches to target specific insect pest without harming beneficial bugs and soil organisms.

A small investment of time is required to learn about IPM – beneficial insects, pest resistant plants, physical controls, biological controls, barriers, repellents, and traps, cultural controls, etc.  Beneficial insects can easily be destroyed by a broad range insecticide like carbaryl (Sevin).  Organophosphates, another group of broad range insecticides, can also harm the nervous system of animals and humans.  Also insects are becoming more resistant to routinely used chemical insecticides.  Use of some insecticides will just enhance the spider mite damage to plants, which is controlled best with biological predator control.

An example of using IPM with spider mites would first include an ID of the pest.  Check out:,, or or use a book reference like “Organic Gardening for Dummies” for a fun read.  You’ll find that spider mites are very active in dry weather like last summer.  Control measures include washing plants with a blast of water, using dormant oil in early spring, and spraying plants with light horticultural oil or insecticidal soap in summer.  Encourage beneficial insects that prey on spider mites by planting attracting plants like yarrow and alyssum.

Another example of IPM control – this time use a physical control measure of vacuuming to collect difficult to chemically kill, leaf-footed bugs in the garden.  The trick is to find a vacuum that is not too strong that damages plants, and one that is not too weak to suck up the bugs.  Personally I have found a portable 18 V DeWalt vac that is perfect.  For the time of your life, find a young gardener to challenge with “vac-bug control”.  In 10 minutes, a 300 sq ft garden can be swept clean of harmful bugs and your help will be begging to do it again the next day.  Beneficial insects like lady bugs, lacewing bugs, minute pirate bugs, parasitic wasps, and parasitic flies are left unharmed.

So the message of IPM is to first use the best and least harmful method of insect control.  The tunnel vision of harmful and expensive chemical control first, usually leads to more problems later.  The butterflies and beneficial insects will reward you with their beauty, pollination activities, and a sustainable and safe garden.

“The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway” Michael Pollan.

Editor’s Note: Mr.  George Gilter is a Master Gardener in Louisiana, and he writes  the “Battle of the Bugs” articles regularly for the Beauregard Parish Master Gardeners community Newsletter.

Also, the use of product names and images is intended for educational purposes only, and is not a product endorsement  by the LSU AgCenter.

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