Sunday, July 11, 2010

Alyssum, Nematodes, IPM

Organic? A key word that really tells us nothing these days. A set of standards and a third party verification of a check list of growing practices, or regulations.

Much more interesting....integrated pest management and best management practices as they are executed on your local small farming operation.

That said, I cut to an image of flowers? Yes, flowers are a huge part of this grand scheme. Alyssum specifically here, lovingly seeded by Lee and closely surveyed by Wayne on a recent farm walk, this well known garden flower was planted with the intent of luring in the "good bugs." Not only was it planted to bring around beneficial wasps and whomever else in the insect world decides it is a fun hang out spot, but it was placed and timed to benefit specific crops that would benefit from the presence of such insect assistance. This is what you call Integrated Pest Management and a great example of how your farm is working with the environment to serve you all they are able. In working with the balance of the environment, it is hoped that that balance might be maintained and stable throughout the farm, eliminating large outbreaks of pest problems.

Another overview of the alyssum. Still young, it is just now starting to attract a community of insects...come and see for yourself some time. It smells incredible and looks beautiful once is spreads into a white carpet of fragrance.

Speaking of the balance of insects around the farm and IPM, we also have another timely situation on our hands. This time it is the cucumber beetle, as it is often the cucumber beetle who is causing the problem. Little green beetle monsters who munch almost anything on the farm. They prefer corn roots as larval pests and squash/melon/cucumbers in their juvenile and adult beetles stages, but also eat greens, lettuce, chard, basil, flowers, you name it, they destroy it aesthetically if not the edible quality at times too. And they are bad at the field on Airport Boulevard. Worse than I see in my home garden and at other farms I have frequented. Why? We aren't sure. Perhaps an ideal environment, crops they prefer for survival? Whatever the case, they are thriving and it is a problem. Crops fail....they will eat seedlings of baby cucumbers before anything can be done. You can cover crops to protect them from the beetles, but you cannot very well cover up 17 acres. It just isn't practical and then you'd never see what is going on anywhere! Not to mention all the pollinators being excluded. They fly around spreading diseases from crop to crop too. They eat and weaken plant roots. The problems are never-ending.

Here are a couple of specimens hanging out in one of the cardoon flowers that are so showy in the front of the farm right now. Like I said, they are everywhere. This is a good place to have them as they are not doing much damage to the farm up here in this purple flower, but if they are here, you can be certain they are everywhere else too.

So, what is the IPM solution? Wayne and I have talked and talked and a moment of action is upon us. He has invested in an experiment and will soon treat the soil with a large number of beneficial nematodes. They are in the fridge, waiting for application once timing and final quantities are calculated. Who are they, those nematodes? Well, there are so many kinds (often bad) I get a little mixed up over them all. Bottom line, these guys are meant to attack the larval stage (underground worm) of the cucumber beetle (AKA corn root worm when a larva). This effort is meant to bring down the overall population, one step at a time. Likely, to be effective, it needs to happen more than once and it is costly. We are crossing our fingers for notice-able results, but if nothing else there is the piece of mind that some effort has been employed to improve the situation. It is now that the beetle is everywhere, breeding, laying eggs, preparing for future generations, and thriving.

Wish us luck and in the meantime appreciate the efforts put forth to bring you food safely and come out for a walk and find the alyssum so you can observe interesting insects while enjoying a whiff of the sweet white carpet it creates.

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