Back in April, we were approached by the USDA regarding an insect study on solanaceous crops (eggplant, pepper, tomato, potato). They needed farms to allow them to monitor the insect populations that attack these crops to gather data about the severity of the insect attacks. We are the only farm participating in this study that uses organic practices. Their first visit was back in May and they set up sticky traps which they use to monitor the insect levels. They have been checking their traps every two weeks and at that time they identify the insects in the traps and count them. Based on how many insects are stuck on these sticky traps they can estimate the size of the populations. Once they understand the size of the insect populations they can begin to alert farmers to the large pest presence at which time most farmers begin spraying pesticides to combat the insects.
Two weeks ago, the USDA employee arrived at our farm and conducted his biweekly data collection. When he was finished he found me in the field and said, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but you have the lowest level of solanaceous pests on any farm we are studying, they are non-existent, and I can’t believe it because you don’t even spray. All the other farms are spraying and they still have way larger populations.” Then as he was leaving he stated, “You also have huge numbers of pollinators in this field.”
So how could this be? How could we have lower amounts of these harmful insects when we have never doused our plants with pesticides? Before I explain why I think this is, let’s begin with an obvious problem. If a study has been conducted and you find low levels of insect populations on an organic farm, wouldn’t the next step be to scientifically find out why? This most likely will never be done! This study will continue on and when it is finished, recommendations will be made to the conventional growers as to the chemicals best used to combat the insects, but no one will look into why a grower using organic practices didn’t have the insect population in the first place. This is the major problem that organic growers face all over the country. We are all trying new techniques to grow crops without the use of harmful chemicals, but have very little help from the scientific community. The extension agencies have very little advice to give organic growers. Don’t get me wrong, I contact our extension agency for certain problems we encounter and the staff is great, but at the end of the day, very little money is being invested in researching organic practices. I digress…back to the main topic…why no pests...
Well, I have absolutely no scientific data to back me up, but I do believe many of our ideas and techniques have aided in the suppression of insects. We do have insect break outs from time to time (for example the aphid breakout we wrote about a few weeks ago) however, with the wide variety of crops we grow, by the end of the year, we usually have a high percentage of success bringing unblemished crops to the market. I do believe that the insect pests the USDA is looking for are probably being controlled by the vast array of beneficial insects in our field. However, it is not a coincidence that we have a large number of beneficial insects in our field, but instead is a direct result of careful planning by us as farmers. We know that beneficial insects we either purposefully release or that are here natively will not stay without a good habit and this usually means a pollen source. Beneficial insects do not only feed on the insects we don’t want, but also at certain times in their life cycle need pollen. This is why we plant wild flower patches in different areas of our field, allow the weeds on the edges of our field to flower or allow some of our crops themselves to go to flower. It is also why we have been allowing our orchard to be left uncut for certain periods of time. All the different flowering plants keep beneficial insects in our field and I believe help keep the amounts of harmful insect pests in check. I do wish the USDA would have a way to study this concept versus conventional growing (large scale eradication of all living things anywhere near a crop). As I said before, we are not perfect and do at times deal with harmful insect pests, but I believe there is something to creating a beneficial habitat for all living creatures on a farm. This is definitely an intricate concept with many variables, but is also what makes farming so interesting. How boring would it be if the answer was simply filling a tank and spraying weekly!
This week's share consists of:
Full Share- head lettuce, hakurei turnips, zucchini, garlic, celery, eggplant, carrots, chioggia beets, cabbage, sweet onions, snow peas, cucumbers
Zoodle Pasta Salad- Zoodles are essentially shredded or spiralized zucchini "noodles". Here's a recipe for Greek style pasta salad made with zoodles- http://allrecipes.com/recipe/greek-zoodle-salad/. There are a lot of different ways to prepare your zoodles but I prefer to use a spiralizer tool to shred the zucchini. I then mix in a teaspoon or two of salt and let the zoodles sit for about 30 minutes. The salt will draw extra moisture from the zoodles and wilt them giving them a softer almost cooked texture. I rinse the salt from the wilted zoodles and then add my dressing, more veggies, cheese, etc. Zoodles make a great base for just about any hot or cold pasta dish. Spiralizer tools can range in price from about $10 to $50 plus. Even the basic tools make pretty good zoodles!