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June 4th, 2010

Beetle Mania

Flea beetles began to make a loose veil of my eggplant and potato leaves this week, rendering tender shoots a skeletal gauze of their former selves.  This vegetal jihad against all plants in the solanaceae family (including potato, eggplant and tomato) is a fright.  The spring-loaded horrors have no organic pest control, so you stoop and squish, firmly between forefinger and thumb, until the offending speck is no more.

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Flea beetles the size of flax seed  feasting on potato leaves.  So destructive, and such a pleasure to squish!

Seems we’ve been discovered by the beasties.  From flea beetles to sawfly caterpillars to grazing woodchucks, my mixed greens have sent the neighborhood critters on a serious bender.

The two forces of evil acting against the best efforts of a small, sustainable organic farm are fungus and insects, the enemies of fruit and leaf. Our cultural practices here at Stonegate are all OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved; the occasional clover or purslane weed in your mesclun greens will vouch for that.  But we’re not about to roll over to an onslaught.

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Eggplant leaves rendered to a veil of their former selves, redefining Holy War.

I’ve been somewhat lax about control in the past, thinking I’d strike a balance between harvest and loss, but nature is not always so benign and measured, more of an extremist, really (witness last Summer’s Biblical rains and ensuing blight).  But if you build it, they will come (remember Field of (bad) Dreams?). So we spray lime sulfur to control the various fungi, kaolin clay to infuriate the insects, and fish emulsion to send the greens into a nitrogen orgasm.  If you’re ever here right after a spray, it will either smell of low tide or last week’s eggs fooyong.

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Young apples powdered up like Louis XIV with Kaolin clay, an organic, topical insect barrier. Makes thebeasties’ bellies hurt.

According to nature, Agriculture is highly unnatural.  A farm is no Darwinian paradigm.  If it were, we’d all be very successful weed farmers (no, not the kind under the grow lights in the basement). We coddle and protect our fragile crops.  A farm without the conceit of intervention, order and control would simply no longer be. There’s no détent to be bartered between us and our enemies. It’s strike or be stricken.

So I find myself out on the farm in the wee, small hours before the heat and humidity rise, pinching tiny, lacquer-backed flea beetles between my fingers and loving every control-freakin’ minute of it.   –  Mb

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