Organic farming... oh bugs :)

Virginia is an awesome place to farm. We have a long rich season. Spring greens come early and bountifully. You can get cucumbers and tomatoes before June! Fall broccoli thrives. Melons and corn love the heat. With a little luck and persistence, there are few crops we can't grow. However... with this lovely, long, rich season there are lots of other joys thriving as well--namely, bugs. Bugs of all varieties. Bugs I'd never even heard of before this year. To make it even more fun, as an organic farm (which means no chemical pesticides), the bugs are particularly abundant and there is very little we can do to stop them. So this week the blog is run down of some of the bugs we've encountered over the last few months. 

Flea Beetles. 

Flea beetles are so obnoxious. The are a small aggressive pest that comes heavily in the early spring and continues on pretty much throughout the year. They love brassicas (asian greens, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, etc..) They don't usually kill the plant, but they make a million tiny holes in the leafs. We can manage them somewhat by covering crops with row cover or insect netting and they do respond to an organic pesticide called Spinosad, but we try not to use this much as it's not good for our friends the bees. 

Cabbage Seed Pod Weevils.

This was a new one for me. Last week a deluge of little black bugs arrived on the mini broccoli and began feasting on the florets. A crop that was thriving became unsaleable overnight. My father and all of my farming friends went on an internet hunt to help me figure out what they were and how to deal with them. What we learned is that these weevils come once a year and their native host is wild mustard (which we have an abundance!) the next closest thing to mustard in our field is the mini broccoli. We grow a variety called Happy Rich. It's asian in origin and kin to the mustard. So, in short, there was nothing to be done. This crop is gone, but we will try again in the fall!

Seed Corn Maggot. 

Gross. This one was maybe my least favorite. They only come once in the spring so fortunately the damage was limited, but they destroyed one whole succession of spinach. They come in a wave and infect the stem on the plant below the soil so you don't even know they're there until all of the sudden your crop is wilting. Then you just watch the plants die one after the other... Fortunately, we plant a new succession of spinach every 10 days and by the time the next batch went in this pest was gone.

Cabbage Moths. 

Who knew such a pretty little moth could be so mean? The cabbage moths love broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower most of all. They are a constant companion. They eat the leaves of the plants and their larva can get into the fruit. We do occasionally spray an organic bacteria call BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) on the brassicas if the moths get really bad. It works very well to ward off cabbage moths and is not harmful to bees.  But mostly, we just live with them.  

Stripped Cucumber Beetles. 

Ugh. These guys love tender young cucumber leaves. They attack the plant when it's just getting started. Our early crop managed to flourish before the beetles really arrived, but they are hitting our second planting pretty hard. Again, there's not much to be done organically, covering is helpful and we also are trying Neem oil. Neem oil is a great product for pest control in general. With cucumber beetles I think it will be helpful because the coating should protect the leaves from the adults and smothers the eggs. It might not be perfect, but hopefully it will help. 

Potato bugs. 

A super common ailment. Potato bugs come every year and I more or less just consider them a part of life. I have very young memories of my mother sending me out on a hunt to squash the little orange buggers. It's best if you can find and get rid of the adults before the lay eggs, but also important to scour the underside of leaves for the little orange pods and keep a vigilant eye out as they hatch. So far, our potato bugs haven't been too bad this year, but it's not over yet..

Squash vine bores. 

I live in terror of these guys. They haven't hit our crops yet. They are supposed to start coming around the 4th of July and when they do we will likely see lots of big beautiful squash plants taken down in a rush. These monsters burrow into the big vines and kill huge, healthy plants quickly. As far as I know there is very little to be done except pray and plant more. 


I guess deer aren't technically a bug but... I hate them! Sorry, no bambi lovers around here. I'm seriously considering taking up hunting. We have built fortresses around our fields and still they jump in to munch on my carrots! argh.. 

There will be more pests as the season wears on I'm sure. It is becoming a practice of "taking it all in stride". And perhaps the main take away for me is to just plant more. Surely if we plant enough we can share some with the bugs and still get something to market!