As farmers using organic methods one of the most common questions we’re asked is how we deal with pests. There’s lots of answers to that question and with our mild winter this is a year that we’ve had to call on all the tools in our toolbox. We can’t blame all the birds, caterpillars and beetles, these veggies are super delicious!
So how do we make sure there are still veggies left for us?
Healthy soil, healthy plants
As with humans, an already healthy and strong plant is a lot more resilient when pests come along. A squash plant that’s planted in good soil can deal with a few Squash bugs and still produce a lot of fruit. Plants also can often create chemicals that help them to fight off pests on their own, or that attract beneficial insects that will chase the pests off on their own. In fact, anti-oxidants that are good for human health are often created as a reaction to pest pressure in order to just that, another reason that organic foods can often be healthier for people.
Good guys fight back
As good as our plants might taste to a Cucumber Beetle, the Cucumber Beetle makes a great snack for some nematodes. Sometimes we buy in beneficial insects as a way to control a particularly bothersome pests/ Usually we just try to encourage these “good guys” to hang around by providing some uncultivated spaces, native plants and flowers.
Diversity is key
Some types of kale taste really good to cabbage butterfly, others not so much. Some varieties of beans seems to be succumbing to a rust fungus while others are totally unaffected. At some of our gardens there’s a lot of pressure on the cabbage family plants from flea beetle, at others there is virtual none. By growing many different varieties of many different crops at many different sites all over the city we’re able to hedge our bets against any particular problems.
Sometimes you just gotta squish ’em. Tomato Horn Worms are giant, gross and can defoliate a tomato plant in no time flat. Luckily they are also slow and, once you’ve spotted their damage, pretty easy to spot. Since there’s usually just one per plant it is easy to just go through and do a targeted assassination.
Good fences make good neighbors
We’re actually not real big on fences at City Commons as a general rule, but some well placed row cover can help a lot when it comes to flea beetles, cabbage moths and other pests that love to fly or hop on to a newly planted row. This is the same sort of row cover we’ll use later in the season to grow salad greens into the cooler months.
Sprays and traps
There are many organic sprays and traps on the market to use when other defenses fail. The best ones are targeted for particular insects since we wouldn’t want to hurt our pollinators and beneficial insects in pursuit of the more destructive bugs.
Early in the season some pheasants managed to eat all of the Edamame beans planted at Farnsworth. Since it was still early a second round was started at Buffalo Street Farm. So far the results have been better, but nothing is sure until harvest day.
Holes don’t taste bad
At the end of the day, sometimes organically grown cabbage will have a bit of a Swiss cheese effect, or we end up getting a reduced yield do to some squash vine borer damage. We still wouldn’t trade our lady bugs and wildflowers for chemical sprays that would make off with the butterflies and lightening bugs as well as our pests.