Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Saturday, September 26, 2009

CSA Newsletter 9-23-09

Some friends from over Leicester way paid us a visit a few days ago, remarking on how harlequin bugs had nearly wiped out their fall crops and asking us how we kept the harlequins at bay.
I haven’t the slightest idea. They’re just not real big problem for us this fall. I hazard no guess as to why.
We interplant radishes between our kale and our cabbage, which may act as a deterrent. We let the edges of the fields grow up wild, full of nectar producing flowering plants that keep the predatory wasps healthy. There’s always a thick mat of weeds somewhere, providing good spider habitat. We plant our brassicaceae in a different part of the farm every year, hoping to confuse subsequent generations of bugs. All of these things or none of these things are why we have no harlequin bugs right now. I can offer no better explanation, though its tempting to play the farming expert and pontificate on the goldenrod allowed to grow along the fencerow, to look at the spiders and wasps and assassin bugs there-on, and to claim it all as part of my integrated pest management program. Someone would probably invite me to present at a workshop, somewhere. All I can say is that harlequins aren’t bothering us this year, and neither are bean beetles. Imported cabbage worms are creeping around in greater numbers than I’d like, but haven’t killed anything. A caterpillar I haven’t identified yet is making holes in the Swiss Chard, and I wish they’d go away, but we’re having a better Swiss Chard harvest than we’ve had in years. We threw away quite a few Hakerei turnips because of cabbage root maggot holes, but, on the whole, not that many.
The fields allowed to find their own form of balance seem to find that balance and equal everything out. This happens without a tremendous amount of planning from me. I just allow what is already there to express itself. We take action on things that are especially troublesome. Squash vine borers would wipe us out if they had the chance. We spray young squash plants with Bacillus theringiensis, a dried and dessicated bacteria that clogs the gut of a vine borer larvae and kills it. B.t. does the same thing to imported cabbage worm, though we’re yet to use it. If the damage to the fall cabbage gets any worse, we’ll spray with B.t. Once. Maybe. And always on the shelf sits a bottle of Py-Ganic, a certified organic insecticide made from pyrethrum flowers. We haven’t opened it this year, and probably won’t. We just keep it in reserve if it looks we’re going to loose a whole crop. Sometimes I think: we’re just keeping it in reserve in case Nature lets us down. In eleven years of doing this, Nature has never let us down. Everything balances itself out, and we have fun watching it.
Tiny purple fall asters are in bloom right now, and bugs are all over the blooms. We’ve a few sunflowers left in the fields, also, and they host whole insect communities. Wolf spiders scurry across the walking paths as we approach, or await in prey under low-growing leaves. On a far more mystical note, it is proven that a plant, under stress from an insect, can produce pheromones that mimic attractants of bugs that feed on the original bug. The plant, unable to fight off a bug by itself, has learned to lure bugs that eat the bugs that eat it.
Is that why we’ve no harlequin bugs on our arugula right now? I would not be so presumptive as to state yes or no. I merely mention that we keep our habitat diverse, dare I say natural, and let the plants and the bugs work it out for themselves.

Weed of the Week
Burdock! Big, fat American burdock. Tall, towering, big leaved burdock. It’s big leaved, it’s big rooted and it’s a pain in the ass! It’s big fat American burdock! Arctium lappa! And most of you can thank big fat American burdock every time you fasten your shoes! Burdock has, as I say, big leaves. Big enough to completely shadow out anything under it. Big enough to fan a sultan, if you so desired. We cut these big fat leaves in late Spring and mix them into our compost. They’re so big and fat, they must be full of nitrogen and other good stuff. The big fat stems can’t be pulled up. Our garden pruners have a hard time with them and we sometimes resort to a bow saw. The big fat root goes way, waaaaay deep, like I don’t think I’ve ever pulled one up all the way, or even plowed one to it’s fullest bottom of its big fat root depth. And it makes big fat seed pods that stick to everything – your socks, your shirt, your dog, everything. Go outside and find the biggest, fattest weed you can see – that’s burdock. Take a close look at the barbs atop its seed pod. Yes, they inspired Velcro. A poor, embittered, exhausted mad scientist somewhere, after hours and hours of pulling these things from his poor little dog’s coat, hit upon that rare Eureka! moment and book bags and sneakers have not been the same since.

The greens are looking nice and healthy with all this rain. All the greens this week are good raw or cooked. We like to chop up a variety of greens and radish slices, and let it sit in a marinade over night. Then, once again, eaten raw or cooked.
The long red peppers, once again, are sweet roasting peppers. Cut longwise into thirds and roasted, then topped with cheese and arugula is pretty goshdarn good.


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