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Coffee grounds vs. pill bugs

 
Jerry Anderson
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In our search for information on how to protect our new seedlings from pests my wife came across something, somewhere on the web about using coffee grounds to deter insects from attacking plants. We have been using this method for about three weeks now. Our findings:

Pill bugs are no longer interested in our plants - prior to our application of coffee grounds any new transplant was mauled and gnawed to the ground within 24 hours of planting. After applying the coffee grounds the pill bugs don't avoid the coffee grounds they just seem to ignore the plants. My theory is that the coffee grounds are giving off an odor/chemical that is masking the odor of the new plants. None of our new plants are being attacked by anything at all - I admit this is potentially circumstantial evidence at this point. But we have been seeing an increase in cabbage loopers and cut-worms on the established plants. So take this information with a grain of salt.

We have a patch of Vidalia onions about 6' by 2.5' and in the past week the pill bugs have taken to attacking them - they are very near our new transplants. We suspect that the pill bugs moved to the onions because the other plants were not as appealing. After an application of coffee grounds around each plant they are now bug free.

Application: We surround each plant with enough coffee grounds to cover the dirt completely - about 1/4" thick and about 2-3" wide.

Anyone else have a similar experience?

 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Jerry,

Well...here I go again...another factoid of a multi decade debate with layfolk about "pill bugs" and "sow bugs," which are not a bug or any other type of insect as they have gills, and are actually a land crustacean. I am still waiting (35 years now...maybe this will be the one) where someone finds a garden variety of this animal that is actively eating a living plant...I am still waiting.

These little guys are "garbage people" and eat decaying veg matter...(with very small mouth parts) and do not eat (or not very well or effectively at all) living plants. Yes...yes...I know..."it has to be them, I see nothing else," or my other favorite..."they are all over the place...I know its them..."

I have seen even neotropical giant varities (and breed them in captivity)...guess what...they die if not given rotting veg matter...

So, if you have a picture of a sow bug or pill bug activly eating a plant...let me please see it. I am one of those "naturalist geeks" that has actually sat (for up to five hours) with a "convinced" gardener that it is the sow bugs eating there plants...guess what...it has always turned out to be a slug, snail, catipiller, hopper, or some other nocternal villian and the little pill bug is just there eating there other favorite food....poop!

Regards,

j

Nice littel link about "pill and sow bugs."
 
Jerry Anderson
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I too have heard that they "prefer" decaying matter over living. However, while I do not have any pictures as of yet I will get some for you when I see it happening. What I can say is that mine is not suspicion. I have personally, firsthand, witnessed them eating my new transplants and have also personally removed and squished them while they were doing so. In fact even this morning I observed a few of them on the onions where we had neglected to lay down coffee grounds. I disturbed the plants and flicked them off and then I realized I should take a picture but by that point they had all taken flight and were no longer in sight. I have found them on my peas, runner beans and cucumbers. In the case of the transplants they simply ate it. In the case of the larger plants they chew on the base.

I do have a theory about why a "garbage" eater is going after my "living" plants and that is moisture. I live in So Cal and it has been excessively hot and dry on and off the past few months. I think they are going after the plants for water. I neglected to mention this in my original post. I agree that they have a "preference" but in times of need any organism will eat something other than what it prefers to survive.
 
Judith Browning
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hi Jerry,

Well...here I go again...another factoid of a multi decade debate with layfolk about "pill bugs" and "sow bugs," which are not a bug or any other type of insect as they have gills, and are actually a land crustacean. I am still waiting (35 years now...maybe this will be the one) where someone finds a garden variety of this animal that is actively eating a living plant...I am still waiting.

These little guys are "garbage people" and eat decaying veg matter...(with very small mouth parts) and do not eat (or not very well or effectively at all) living plants. Yes...yes...I know..."it has to be them, I see nothing else," or my other favorite..."they are all over the place...I know its them..."

I have seen even neotropical giant varities (and breed them in captivity)...guess what...they die if not given rotting veg matter...

So, if you have a picture of a sow bug or pill bug activly eating a plant...let me please see it. I am one of those "naturalist geeks" that has actually sat (for up to five hours) with a "convinced" gardener that it is the sow bugs eating there plants...guess what...it has always turned out to be a slug, snail, catipiller, hopper, or some other nocternal villian and the little pill bug is just there eating there other favorite food....poop!

Regards,

j

Nice littel link about "pill and sow bugs."


Hi, Jay....I sent my son a copy of what you wrote here because he has had a huge problem in the past in his greenhouse/cold frame...here is what he says and a picture he found on the web...don't know if the pic will paste from my email....

"... my understanding is that pillbugs-sowbugs only eat green stuff when their population exceeds their preferred food source. I read a bit about it last winter when my greenhouse was overrun. I think they mainly eat early morning and late evening while its darkish, and stay in the shade or barely underground during the day. I saw dozens eating the crowns of my mizuna last winter, wish I'd taken a picture. An image search found this picture, also pillbugs eating strawberries, tomatoes, and plant stems.... "


edit...I'll try the pic again....
unnamed.jpg
[Thumbnail for unnamed.jpg]
 
Judith Browning
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Jerry, welcome to the forums! I thought I had noticed this was your first post...good to have you here.

I am not sure what my son ended up doing to beat back the sowbugs but it might have been coffee grounds. diatomaceous earth didn't work and a few other things...they were a solid thick layer in some places and besides the greenhouse they were in an outside bed eating hostas, totally wiped them out...definitely out of balance but OK now. I'll ask again exactly what he did. Glad the coffee grounds are working.
 
Jerry Anderson
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That looks familiar.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Folks,

I thought this one would get everyone talking... I am glad!

As I said...I am still waiting for "confirmed" photos of them actively eating a green "mature" plant to pieces...here is the important part...by themselves...

I am not denying it may very well be true...and I do know that there are "giant tropical" and "foreign" species that have the larger rasping mouth parts to do it...so yes...isopods (of some species) are confirmed of doing it...even flesh eaters (e.g. the variety that eats the tongues out of Snapper Fish and replace the fishes actual tongue with there own bodies thereby forming a symbiotic relationship...strange but true.)

This little topic of interest is something (as I have said) I have tracked on and off for years. We did find a case of them deforming the skin of young cucumber fruit. and possibly tomatoes that rest on the ground. There may (probably is more) yet...like the photo...which I have seen plenty of, may not be what it appears to be. On microscopic examination of the plant you find (I am still looking and sure I will find more mysteries) the plant has two separate patterns of mastication. It has been even suggested, and there is field observation that have suggested this...that the isopods (pill bugs) are attracted to the "scent trails" left by snails, and slugs...perhaps other insects as well. These are the primary plant destroyers with much larger appetites (and abilities to chew much faster and more efficiently) than the little pill bugs...who get blamed, yet are actually only opportunistic feeders on plants that are already damaged and on there way out.

Now there is some evidence that really small seedlings, just sprouting can be damaged (if not destroyed) by dense populations of them (pill bugs.) That will be more reading and observing...I am sure...as there are so many wonders of nature that capture my attention. So often...like this one though...what may appear as taking place (who knows...in some cases maybe it is??) is something else entirely...

Just food for thought......Isopods, either way, are fascinating and very much part of the Permies ecology of a well balanced garden...

Regards to all, and thanks for reading...

j

I think they mainly eat early morning and late evening while its darkish,


I forgot to add this and thank you for the post...this is actually the time that many animals are active...its called "crepuscular"...and what most "nocturnal" animals actually are....
 
Judith Browning
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I wonder if the coffee grounds work because they provide food that the pill bugs actually prefer over green plants? Maybe when they eat plants it indicates a lack of decaying matter in the soil?
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Judith...I love your thinking on this...it is mine as well...or one of the hypotheses I have for why coffee grounds work this way.

I can share that my Grandmother put coffee (and tea) grounds everywhere...to solve all matter of issue. It did seem quite effective (plus she said she just like the smell and what it does to soil.) If you really want to impact them (pill bugs) and other insects...look to DE...it works for so many issues...maybe to good. As shared, I like pill bugs (and so do my toads) so for folks tracking this...instead of "chasing little issues" in your gardens (wee crawly things)...take a step back and take a good long gander and think about the ecosystem that is your garden...what is it missing? Is it in homeostasis? If you can't really answer this (at least within the 70% range of understanding it) then you have a much more reading, learning and sharing to do. Our gardens (well my Grandmother's) almost grew themselves when established and she just "played" and "eat" her way through them each year (as did all the "little people" she had around her.)


Regards,

j
 
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