Bug off!
March 21, 2009 2:11 PM   Subscribe

What are these little white bugs on my plants? Can I still eat my veggies and how can I get rid of them?

I have an Aerogarden which I adore, but my plants are covered with these little white bugs. I don't think it's a problem with the Aerogarden specifically, since this happened before when I brought potted plants in for the winter. If it matters, both times I was growing thyme and basil, although I have a lot more varieties of plants this time. The bugs cover everything with a sticky film that just feels gross. I don't think they're whiteflies, because I've read that those don't like basil, but I could be wrong. The basil has basically died off since these appeared (it's possible it just reached the end of its lifespan). The cucumber and pepper plants, however, are doing great except for being covered in tiny white things.

I'm growing peppers and cucumbers, are they safe to eat if I wash them? I have this growing in my kitchen, do I have to worry about these bugs getting in the rest of my food? Most importantly, how can I get rid of them? Since they are all over the peppers I'm growing, I want something non-toxic. I don't really care about organic, but bonus points for something I may already have in the house (I feel like I've heard alcohol may do the trick?)
posted by hatsforbats to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It looks like aphids.

The description of sticky makes me think of scale insects, though.

Horticultural oil should get rid of them. I wouldn't have any qualms about eating them after I washed them.
posted by Fairchild at 2:32 PM on March 21, 2009

Ladybugs will also work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:41 PM on March 21, 2009

It's hard to tell if they're aphids or whiteflies from the picture. If you can get a good magnifying glass, you should be able to see whether they look like fluttery bugs (whiteflies) or crawly bugs (aphids).

Both produce honeydew, which could be the sticky film you've noticed.
posted by CKmtl at 2:42 PM on March 21, 2009

Best answer: Sometimes you can just rinse them off with a blast from the hose, but if it's a persistent problem, a homemade insecticidal soap solution works well.
posted by gimli at 2:45 PM on March 21, 2009

Response by poster: Excellent, thanks! Homemade insecticidal soap sounds like a good plan, I think I'll try an experiment: one leaf sprayed with just water, one sprayed with soapy water then rinsed with water, and one leaf just sprayed with soapy water. How long do I have to wait for results? I assume if I wait too long, the bugs from the non-treated leaves will re-infest the sprayed leaves, but since I pushed most of the bugs off the leaves, I have to wait some amount of time, right?
posted by hatsforbats at 3:17 PM on March 21, 2009

Best answer: Be aware, too, that a persistent infestation is likely to weaken the plant, and to infect other plants nearby. As much as I like the idea of your experiment, I think I'd go nuclear* on the little boogers, particularly if they end up being whitefly.

* Use the soap on the whole plant, including the bottoms of the leaves and intersections of the stems. Don't rinse.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:23 PM on March 21, 2009

Soap 'em. Looks like aphids. Also watch for ants. One time at my workplace, we had a really bad ant problem, but we couldn't figure out where they were coming from. Turns out they were coming from a neglected potted plant that was also dotted with aphids. Getting rid of the aphids seemed to take care of the ants, too. (Ants & aphids have a symbiotic relationship)
posted by fructose at 4:33 PM on March 21, 2009

I'n going to nth the ladybugs suggestion, based on the large body of objective empirical evidence that ladybugs raise the happiness in any given house by 87%.
posted by DWRoelands at 4:53 PM on March 21, 2009

The soap will work well- do the whole plant. It works by drying the little buggers out. It will do this to your plant if it is in full sun so dose in the early morning or the evening.
posted by pointilist at 7:24 PM on March 21, 2009

Neem oil
posted by X4ster at 8:44 PM on March 21, 2009

Pretty sure it's aphids. white flies are usually on the bottom of the leaf. Do they have leaves? Try this tool http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/advice/pests_and_diseases/

try searching for tips on using soap to kill aphids.

some people believe problems like this happen when the plant has a problem (like not enough fertilizer, water, or sunlight). so make sure those things are sufficient.
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 11:58 PM on March 21, 2009

Response by poster: Alright, I've gone all Dr. Strangelove on them and sprayed everything with soapy water. Ladybugs are sadly not an option, since these are indoor plants and my fiance doesn't want to wake up to bugs in his bed. Thanks all!
posted by hatsforbats at 11:59 PM on March 21, 2009

You need to do the same thing every two weeks for three-four more sessions. To avoid soap buildu and make sure the leaves can breathe, just rinse the leaves by spraying plain water before you do the soap session.
posted by pomegranate at 3:53 AM on March 22, 2009

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