Are they Edible? The woes of a gardener with Japanese Beetles

Having spent a beautiful afternoon in one of the tour house gardens, I returned home to my lowly patch of earth and contemplated the Japanese beetle.  Yes, I am loaded with the bugs.  For many the movie Willard creeps them out, but several of my friends feel the beetles in my yard rival the famed rats.  One friend went so far as to say she could hear them crunching and refused to get out of her car.

I have lived in my current home for 12 years and have battled the beetle the whole time.  Because I am a gardener, when I moved to my current home,  I brought with me many of my favorite plants and shrubs.  I heeled them in for the winter and they fared nicely.   I had little winter damage and moved them to their new homes in the spring.  Come August they were all gone.  My dooryard Hollyhocks never had a chance to bloom.  My Astilbe stalks became black colored swords that bent to the ground from the weight of the beetles.  I tried handpicking the first few days; knocking them into buckets of soapy water.  It became a full-time job.  I tried bribing my kids with new soccer balls and trips to the beach.  They said no way it was too gross.  Yes, I tried the dreaded chemicals.  They did work for a while but I felt guilty.  I would start to get the beetles under control and a new house would be built in my neighborhood and the hordes would reappear.  I just had to learn to live with them and try to make my patch of this earth uninteresting to them.  In the process I learned several things:

 Kill Them Quickly – The beetles release chemicals called pheromones into the air. These pheromones attract other beetles. So if you see a few of the bugs, they’ll probably attract more. Get rid of Japanese beetles early, before they can invite more of their friends to feed on your plants. They are followers and congregators.  Don’t let them start to meet at your house.

Avoid Traps – University research indicates that using Japanese beetle traps can actually make problems worse. The traps are intended to trap and kill the beetles in your yard. However, they use pheromones to attract the beetles to the traps. I had bags so full you had to empty them several times a day.  What’s with that? Obviously these pheromones brought more beetles into my yard than my traps could catch. I could buy more traps or feed my kids.  Not much of a choice.  I  had more success allowing weeds to grow up by the road.  They seem to satisfy the hordes for a few days. This gives me enough time for to figure out my battle plan.  Not attractive but I don’t have to weed this area anymore.

Timing – Japanese beetles tend to be most active when temperatures are over 85 degrees, when the air is relatively still, and the day is sunny;  just the weather we wait for all winter to enjoy the outdoors.  Be especially watchful for new beetles coming into your yard during these conditions. Watching for beetles is just the way we all want to spend a beautiful summer day.   They rise from the ground and begin to feed in June.  They munch through your yard for 4 to 6 weeks.  Each of these lovely creatures lives 30 to 45 days. Female beetles lay 40 to 60 eggs over their short life.  If you do the math you realize it is hopeless.
The entrepreneur in me thinks there must be some value to these bugs.  Something I can turn them into and market.  I have an endless supply.  I don’t think they are edible – of course no one at my house will give them a try.  Perhaps I can grind them up and they will be the next “Fountain of Youth” cream.  I would love to hear some of your ideas.  I no longer feel lazy when people say pick them off by hand.  They obviously do not have much of a problem but I secretly hope they do some day.  I no longer feel guilty if I judiciously use chemical.  I do want my kids outdoors – not inside playing video games. A sure way to chase them inside is to have a black cloud rise from the garden where their beloved soccer ball has landed.

There are great articles on the Internet. Check out Japanese Beetles in the Urban Landscape at There are great lists of plants not to include in your yard because the dreaded beetles love them. There are also lists of plants they tend not to like.  I find if they are hungry enough they will eat anything.  Attend your local garden clubs meetings and talk to the members.  They have great ideas and of course if you come up with a way to use the bugs please let me know.

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