BEETROOT PESTS AND DISEASES
BIRDS DAMAGING SEEDLINGS
In some areas birds can be a real problem when the plants are small. The birds eat the foliage and pull up the seedlings.
The only solution is to cover the growing area either in horticultural fleece or with cloches. The fleece / cloches can be removed when the foliage is about 10cm / 4in high because the birds are no longer interested in them at this stage.
Our particular solution to bird damage and beetroots is based on the fact that we grow about 25 of them each year. Over time we have collected large, clear plastic squash bottles and we cut the bottoms off these and use them as mini-cloches over individual beetroot seedlings as they appear.
It's important to put them in place the minute you see a seedling appear because this is when the birds (blackbirds and pigeons we suspect) find them most tasty. We remove the bottles when the seedlings have grown to about 8cm / 3in high. At that point the birds seem to loose interest.
There are two main causes of small roots growing on beetroots. Firstly the plants may not be spaced far enough apart. Thin seedlings to 10cm / 4in when they are large enough to handle. Rows should be about 25cm / 10in apart.
The other common cause of small beetroot roots is feeding them with a high nitrogen encourages leafy growth at the expense of good sized bulbs. Don't put manure (which may be high in nitrogen) on the growing area for six moths before sowing seed.
RUST ON BEETROOT FOLIAGE
Occasionally rust affects beetroot plants especially if they are grown under cover. The symptoms are small, raised brown-red spots which appear on the underside of the leaves. The disease will sap strength from the plant and result in malformed or small roots.
To avoid rust ensure there is plenty of air circulation especially in damp conditions. Pick off any infected leaves (or parts of them) and burn them. There are sprays available at to control this fungal disease. The spores are spread by wind and can easily be spread from plant to plant.
Also known as whitefly and greenfly these little insects look translucent and can be a big problem for many plants. Beetroot leaves are not usually attacked but occasionally they can be. Spray with a pint of water to which a few drops of washing up liquid has been added.
If the root of your beetroot is being eaten it is almost always by a rodent of some sort. Mice and voles are by far the most common pests to cause this damage. A frequent occurrence is that beetroot has been grown successfully for several years in the garden or allotment and then one year, out of the blue, the damage appears.
What’s happened is that a family of mice or voles have started to nest nearby and found your patch of beetroot. They can decimate tens of plants a night or may only nibble at a couple of them.
To deter mice or voles you only have two options, trap them (and/or kill them at the same time) or lay bait to poison them. Neither option is appealing to most gardeners but first there is one step you can take to prevent them in the first place or make them move of their own accord.
Mice and voles nest in loose vegetation which they gather to provide them with warmth in cooler times. Forget hoping to see them during the day because they are night time animals. To deter them, clear up your of loose straw, grass cuttings, plant matter and similar materials which they can use to make a nest.
Open compost heaps are ideal homes for mice and voles. They burrow down a few inches and the rotting compost keeps them and their offspring warm and safe. Frequent turning of the compost heap will disturb them and their nest and eventually they will move elsewhere.
As for trapping them there are two types of trap for mice and voles. The first type of trap is designed to kill small rodents and they are known as “break-back” traps. These are the ones sold in hardware stores to kill mice in the home. Over the years the consensus of opinion is that the best bait is peanut butter. For voles chopped up fresh carrots work best.
When the mice / voles are killed by the trap either bury them or bag them up and put them in the rubbish bin.
The downside of these traps is that they can attract other beneficial animals such as birds and the traps often don’t kill them, they just trap them and they die a painful death. Kids and adults alike can also be caught out.
The second type is designed to trap the rodents rather than kill them. By law you need to inspect these traps twice daily to avoid undue pain and stress. The rodents will also need to moved to a new location and a couple of miles away is generally recommended if you want to stop them returning.
Poisoned bait is intended to attractive to small rodents but at the same time kill them. They are rarely successful in gardens and allotments. You also have the added danger of children or other animals being poisoned by the bait.
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