Thought I’d share with you some of my observations and interactions with insects over the years here on the homestead. I started growing here in 1981 and have gone through many insect cycles. We carved out our growing areas from a reforested landscape with 100-year-old trees. Our first few years were relatively pest free causing us to think we were so isolated, they’d never find us. Wrong!
Our thoughts and control practices have evolved over the years:
• “Organic” pesticides- didn’t like the options available, as many were broad-spectrum, killing beneficials as well as pests.
• Hand picking- gets awfully gross; especially Colorado potato beetle larvae, plus I hated feeling like my peaceful paradise was a war-zone.
• Pheromone traps-seemed to attract more than we started with.
• Sticky traps- trapped everything that came along, the good as well as the bad and the ugly.
• *Variety choice- some varieties of veggie are more prone to attract pests. Through observation I can choose what works best for us.
• *Chicken moat- a garden surround created with a 4’ wide run /“moat”. Chickens get a good protein boost as they patrol the boarder for insects entering the garden.
• *Meditation- works with the chipmunks but hard for me to connect with insect mind/spirit.
• *All-inclusive, beyond “no-kill”- let them work out their own balance. Definitely feels more like a peaceable kingdom, but has taken years of restraint to get balance with certain insects (The Mexican Bean Beetle and squash bug have yet to fully cooperate).
• *Introduction of and designing for beneficial insects- this works very well, though some think my garden is “messy”. Purposeful planting of plants with small flowers especially umbels is important, as is letting things like lettuce and brassicas go to flower. Also, through observation I know which “weeds” certain pests prefer, so I let some grow to become the “sacrificial” offering. You have to be willing to let some of the pests thrive until they can reach a balance with their predators (lady bugs, lace wings, wasps). Nothing so fascinating and rewarding than seeing a tomato horn worm with Braconidae wasp eggs growing on it!
• *Insect barriers- row cover or lightweight insect barrier material over crop until it is big enough to survive; remove before flowering, if pollination is needed.
• *Increasing soil fertility- I’ve been attending the NOFA sponsored Soil & Nutrient Density workshops and discovered my fertility program needed a little tweaking to make our soil healthier. A healthy soil increases the plants’ ability to resist insects and disease. I’ve been working on adding the necessary minerals and hope to report soon that the insects no longer find my fruit and veggies to their liking!
While working toward that perfectly healthy soil, I am also continuing with a diversified approach (using all of the above with an *) to achieving balance. Part of the problem, as I see it, is that with climate change, we are seeing more southern pests on a larger scale and if they have a predator, they have yet to move north.
I spent some time this morning installing hoops to create some low- tunnel insect protection. The easiest hoop is made from #9 gauge wire stuck into the soil on both sides of a growing bed then covered with floating row cover.
I have also used plastic well water tubing as hoops. I choose not to use electrical PVC (poly vinyl chloride) plastic pipe, easy as it is to use, because of concern for possible soil contamination. The sturdiest hoops I make are from aluminum EMT (electrical metal tubing) conduit. These must be bent using a form or bender to shape the pipe. Forms can be purchased or you can rig up one of your own. We bent ours around a large water trough, giving them a croquet hoop shape rather than the typical arc. Be creative.
There are many types, weights and sizes of floating row covers. Some give more protection from the cold as well as insects; others are of very fine weave, designed for insect protection only. Type used depends on time of year, crop to be protected and which insect is of concern. All allow rain and sunlight to penetrate.
It’s important to install the row cover before the pests find the plant, usually before emergence or at transplant time. Secure the edges of the material to keep determined insects from finding a way in. Also, if not secured well the wind will take them to Oz. Remember, to check on the plants regularly to make sure all is well under their tent. I never want to repeat the time I covered my potatoes, smugly thinking they were safe, only to discover I had waited too long before covering. When I finally looked under, I found the plants covered in the CP beetles. Yuck, I had created a perfect habitat where they were protected from observation. So, I’d better stop now and get back to the non-violent protection of my favorite brassica crops! Happy spring!
Published NOFA/Mass May 2013 e-news http://www.nofamass.org