Monday, August 16, 2010

"kill the little bastids"

OK, so that blog title comes from Stephen King's 1982 film Creepshow, in which an uptight urbanite (note the New York accent "bastids") kills the cockroaches which have invaded his otherwise anti-septic high-rise apartment. This was the kind of flick my film-buff father exposed us kids to at the age of 9 or 10, and the phrase lived on in my family every time we witnessed any insect invasion. This season, we have had a boom of insects-- such that city cockroaches would be inspired... if not then definitely Stephen King!
The warm winter and early spring favored lots of over-wintering bugs, first and foremost, the flea beetle. This row cover is what we use every spring to physically exclude flea beetles. Along with crop rotation, row cover are pretty much the best strategies for dealing with the spring emergence of flea beetles. Usually, by late June the flea beetle's feeding is less intense and we take the fabric (it's spun polyester) off the crop. This year, however, the flea beetles kept on coming! Our kale, which we can usually distribute all summer if we need to, is looking dismal, and we have learned the hard way that any new plantings need to be covered-- even if it gets to be 100 degrees under the cover!
The real devastation this year has come from leaf hoppers. Like flea beetles, these little bastids also suck the juices out of our plants, but they also inject a toxin which simply kills our potatoes. Thus our potato field is bare of any living potato plants.

The good news is that the plants had enough time to set a modest harvest of potatoes (which we will be digging in the coming weeks). The bad news is that a competing pest, the Colorado Potato Beetle, suddenly had no place to go, and so they tried some tomatoes, which were OK:
But then they found the eggplant that was really delicious!
Usually we keep these bugs at bay with a spray of Spinosad and plenty of hand-picking, but this devastation has been nearly complete. Spinosad only works well on the young larva and not the adult. (The picture above actually was taken a few days after spraying... I should have saved my money!)
In fact many pesticide sprays that are permitted for use in organic production do not work well-- whether for fungus or bacterial disease, or insects. So we use a very limited selection of approved sprays, and instead depend on crop rotation, physical barriers, cultural controls (like hand-picking) and our biggest and best solution: tolerance. That is where you come in!
This is corn; it tastes delicious.
Totally untreated organic corn is a rare product in the marketplace for the single reason that farmers don't think their customers have the tolerance to deal with the damage of the inevitable insect pest. But I know you do. You take this otherwise beautiful corn home, you cut that tip off, without showing it to your kids or your spouse, and you enjoy it just as much as the bastids did! (well, almost... it looks to me like those little worms really, really enjoyed it inside that tightly wrapped husk, just loving all that juicy sweetness...)
Cosmetic standards of vegetables in the US are ridiculously high, and at one estimate responsible for 1 billion dollars of waste per year. Remember when Organic was synonymous with small, speckled apples that taste great but didn't look great? Certainly before the days of Whole Foods!
Ah, but we at Broadturn Farm are guilty too of sheltering our CSA members from the imperfection. We made nearly five gallons of tomato sauce last week from the tomatoes that got bit by another bug: the Tomato Hornworm. They have been relentless, and yes we have sprayed for them too, although a little bit late. Here is a bright spot:
Those little white eggs on its back are little bastids of its own: a kind of predatory wasp which will hatch and eat the caterpillar from the inside out! When I sprayed in that hoophouse, I didn't spray the plants where I saw this poor fellow, because I wanted that one to live long enough to feed the wasps. But here is the plant next to it-- a common sight this year in our tomato plantings:
A plant nearly completely denuded by healthy happy Hornworms.
Well, that's the damage report. We had some feedback last week that we do a great job of being positive about the farm, and of insulating our CSA members from some of the traumatic episodes of farm life. Consider this a first installment on our mission to shatter the myth!
Next week: Stacy reports on "Maggots I Have Known!"

(nevertheless) the Harvest:
Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes
Summer Squash, Zucchini and Patty Pan Squash
Red Potatoes
Celery stalks
Green Onions

Chard (no kale, remember?)
Blessings on the meal, humans and bastids alike!


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  2. What I meant to say was...
    This brings back memories of dropping beetles in coffee cans of gasoline!
    Thanks for all you do.
    Jenny Van West