Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Summer of the Mite

In my mind, the summer of 2012 will long be remembered as the summer of the spider mite.  If this sounds a little melodramatic to you, wait till you see the photos and then, let me know what you think.

Spider mites have never been a huge problem for me.  I usually spray them with a little water and move on.  Never again will I ignore these nearly invisible, but highly destructive pests.

I think the problem first began in the greenhouse back in March.  I noticed a serious spider mite infestation only after the problem was well-advanced.  The weather was warming up quickly and the greenhouse was hot and dry, which created perfect conditions for the spider mites to breed.  

As I moved the plants out of the greenhouse, I forcefully sprayed the infected plants with water and relocated them to an isolated spot.  The regular water sprays seemed to help, so I kept up the sprays and even bought a special misting device called a Bug Blaster.  I honestly thought that would be the end of it.

When the spider mites made their appearance on my green beans, I wasn't terribly concerned.  I had several excellent green bean harvests and the plants were pretty well played out.  I stopped watering the beans and let the plants die thinking that would put an end to those rascally mites.

The mite infestation on the tomato plants took me completely by surprise.  I've never had spider mites attack my tomato plants, so I wasn't looking for the signs.  That was a mistake.  When I finally noticed the speckled, washed out and dusted appearance of the leaves, the mites had already grown to fantastic numbers.

I knew my plants were in trouble when I noticed visible webbing.  This was a serious infestation.  I was completely amazed and just a little creeped out looking at these pests through my garden magnifying glass.  I wasn't sure what to do next.  I had 12 tomato plants and they were all covered in mites.

Staring at the masses of tomato foliage on plants that stood over 6 feet tall, I somehow knew I wasn't going to get this problem under control.  I decided to pull out my Bug Blaster and try to bring in the remainder of my tomato harvest.

I spent the week trying to decide what to do.  I considered spraying various products such a insecticidal soap, neem oil, or pyrethrum, but the amount of foliage made this seem an impossible task.  Spider mites live under the leaves.  If I sprayed anything on the plants, I would need to get under every leaf surface.  With this much foliage, anything short of a power washer was just not going to be effective.

What I really needed was a flame thrower!  Did I mention spider mites induce insanity?  Not to worry, after  some careful consideration, I came to my senses.  In reality, I'd probably end up hurting myself or burning down something important, so I knew a flame thrower wasn't a good idea.  Besides, I'm partial to my eyebrows.

So, what did I do?  Well, I was definitely on to something with the fire idea, but I needed to approach the problem safely.  I painstakingly cut the plants into small pieces being as careful as I could not to disturb the mites.  I loaded them into the wheelbarrow and dumped them into a small backyard bonfire.

Bye bye mites.  I'll be watching for you.


  1. I'm so sorry for your terrible infestation. It is always a surprise when spider mites show up. They come with such stealth. I have had problems on my tomatoes but for some reason this year they have not been too bad. I bought one of those misters years ago but have never thought they work once you have the infestation. I think they have a better use to prevent an infestation. I have had to resort to lightweight oils. That usually does the trick. Hope you get on top of them.

  2. Ugh...these are evil little pests! I've always had problems with them. Last year was really bad.
    This year...knock on wood...the problem has been less. Blasts of water have kept them in check.
    I agree with Jenny, though. A lightweight oil has worked well for me in the past.
    Good luck.