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Cyclamen mite damage on sweet peppers

We sure didn’t have much luck with our vegetable garden this year. The tomatoes produced half-heartedly, the summer squash succumbed to disease and vine borers before providing very many squash, and the corn was torn down and destroyed by some critter before the ears had completely filled out!

Rattlesnake pole beans - my favorite!

Rattlesnake pole beans – my favorite!

We did get quite a few cucumbers before disease claimed the vines and I was able to can 42 pints of pickles. The rattlesnake and purple pole beans have also done very well. We were, however, disappointed in the ‘Lazy Housewife’ pole beans that we tried this year. They were very slow to develop and when they did, the beans were tough and leathery. We are just letting them dry on the vines and will use them for dried beans.

Last weekend we harvested all our butternut squash. There weren’t as many as last year but I hope they are as good. The other winter squash we grew was Buttercup. This variety was new to us but it is absolutely delicious! The flesh is a beautiful bright orange and couldn’t be sweeter! This one is definitely a keeper – we will be planting it again next year.

Close up of the rough, scaly skin of one of the affected peppers

Close up of the rough, scaly skin of
one of the affected peppers

Our bell peppers provided some of the strangest looking fruits in the garden. From the top (at the stem end), they looked fairly normal but at the blossom end, the skin was light brown, rough, and hard. In many cases, the whole bottom half of the pepper was like this. I knew it wasn’t blossom end rot because the flesh wasn’t really damaged – it was quite superficial. I had never seen anything like it before.

I thought perhaps it was environmental or maybe a mosaic virus but nothing really fit. Then I wondered if it had something to do with the herbicide drift that injured our tomato plants back in the early summer but the descriptions of herbicide damage to peppers didn’t really match what was going on with our peppers.

Finally, after reviewing photos of pests and diseases of sweet peppers, I found the answer – cyclamen mites! I never would have thought that this was an insect problem. Well, actually, mites aren’t insects but you know what I mean.

Russeted skin covers the whole bottom half of this pepper.

Tough, russeted skin covers the
bottom half of this pepper.

Cyclamen mites (Phytonemus pallidus) are tiny mites that attack many different plants including peppers and tomatoes. As these little pests feed, they inject chemicals into the plant tissue. These chemicals act as growth regulators and cause abnormalities in the foliage and fruit.

Feeding in the foliage causes crinkling and twisting of the leaves and sometimes leads to the formation of larger than normal leaves. I wish I had taken a picture of the foliage because that was another thing I noticed about these pepper plants; their leaves were huge and puckered.

The damage is only skin deep!

The damage is only skin deep!

When cyclamen mites feed on the developing fruit, their salivary secretions cause the skin of the fruit to become tough and russeted. This tan, rough skin was very obvious and fairly extensive on many of our peppers. It mostly occurred at the blossom end and seemed to restrict the normal growth/expansion of the fruit – almost like the pepper was constricted by tight netting.

Though the russeting is superficial, it essentially ruins the part of the fruit that it covers. I did peel some of the tough skin off one of my peppers and tasted it to see if the flavor was affected. I thought it tasted a bit weird but that could have been all in my head. Still, I ended up tossing the majority of the defective portions in the compost.

Some of the peppers had less of the russeting over the skin.

Some of the peppers had less of
the russeting over the skin.

University of Maryland Extension says that cyclamen mites can be a “minor pest of pepper and tomato”. When we lost so many peppers this year, it didn’t seem like a minor problem to me!

I’m sure what they meant is that they aren’t common pests of peppers in the vegetable garden. Apparently, these pests are more common in greenhouse situations. We did purchase a few of our pepper plants from a greenhouse so perhaps we introduced them to the garden that way.

Despite the russeted skin, the walls of the peppers were thick and healthy looking.

Despite the damaged skin,
the walls of the peppers were
thick and healthy looking.

If you notice the damage early on (and recognize it as mite damage), you can control cyclamen mites with a miticide such as Bonide Mite-X and still have a good harvest later in the season.

Even though these mites did a lot of damage to our pepper crop, I must say it was pretty interesting to learn about them. It’s amazing to me that such a tiny critter could cause such dramatic abnormalities in the peppers and their foliage!

I’m just trying to look on the positive side!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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