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Unwelcome Guests

I’m a first-generation farmer but have been at the game for 2+ decades, and I am still learning new things. Thanks to changes in climate, we are now able to grow a greater variety of warmer weather crops, but it has also allowed a new variety of pests to move further north.  

We have four major pests that I pay attention to. And, no, slugs are not one of them. The four worst offenders are Cabbage Loopers, Flea beetles, Symphylans and Western Cucumber beetles. There are a host of other pests, some beneficial or at least not harmful to crops. 

These four however can really make a farmer’s life miserable and for the most part I have learned to live with them and accept some loss. 

Flea Beetles, those little black critters can pepper broccoli or radish leaves with a million holes, but usually do not affect the crop. This week we are putting radishes in your boxes. The flea beetles have left their mark on the leaves, but the radishes are beautiful and tasty. To combat flea beetles, farmers can use row covers, but on a large scale they can be difficult to work with. I called another grower who raises radishes without any flea beetle damage and I asked him how he does it. He said, “We have a machine that lays out 1 acre of row cover at a time and it also picks it up when the crop is ready for harvest!” A machine that does 1 acre at a time! That would be like covering 10 houses in a new subdivision. INSANE. Needless to say, we won’t be growing radishes on that scale! 

Symphylans are ground dwelling critters who never see the light of day.  Their whole life is spent underground. We have “hot spots” where there are affected area. There are no organic treatments available to combat this critter and in wetter springs they tend to stay near the surface and eat the seed root hairs and stunt a crop. This year they have knocked back our peas in one section, which is disappointing but not a complete loss. For the most part we are usually able to coexist. But sadly, they thrive in organic farming systems. 

Cabbage Loopers lay an egg in the broccoli, kale and cabbage crops and then a caterpillar emerges and eats and eats and eats. We control this one with approved Certified Organic product called Pyganic. We don’t like to use it, but those critters definitely wreak havoc if left unchecked. 

So far this year our #1 pest is the Western Cucumber Beetle. This is a relatively new pest in our area. When I mention this pest to other organic growers, it strikes the fear of God into all of them. We are just learning how to work with this critter. Last year they were around but didn’t cause much harm, but this year they have destroyed our first bean crop and are taking a serious bite out of the next one as well. They are so darn cute too. They look like a ladybug; except they have a yellow/green colored shell with 12 black spots on them. 

We have had to resort to early morning and late evening walks when they are more dormant and then squishing them. Yuck! One of the most frustrating things about this bug is that the larvae eat the roots of a crop and then when they emerge, the adults eat the leaves. I think we are getting after them, but it is very labor intensive.  

If there is one advantage to our hands on approach to farming and working with nature, we get our “steps” in each day!