(or, A Post-Pest Prayer: Thank Heaven for Farmers!!!)
I’m just learning how to rotate crops, but the bugs are masters of it. First were cabbage worms and zebra caterpillars, big enough to see and capture easily; then came flea, Japanese and bean beetles, cutworms and harlequin bugs; then there were barely visible but voracious little worms, spiders and wasps. Are the latter really pests? If they’re predators of pests, they’re welcome.
I’ve found clusters of different kinds of eggs on leaf backs; which hold good bugs, which bad??? I haven’t found/identified all of them online, so all are going into soapy water with the bugs I just can’t squish anymore, even while apologizing to our common creator. My brassicas are so full of holes, no one but me will find them appetizing, and maybe I won’t either. Savoy cabbage is heading despite well-riddled outer leaves, pushing the query: after the bugs have eaten their fill, if there is anything left, are holey leaves safely edible? Collard pesto, anyone?
Originally I left partially-eaten leaves on the plants, hoping that pests would continue to eat those and maybe not the newer leaves. That seemed to work for a while, but this latest rash of tiny worms goes right to the heart of the plant. Are worm brains big enough to be selective, are they programmed with an affinity (by smell or sight?) for tenderer leaves, or were they just lucky enough to have been hatched near the choicest parts of the plant? Or is it the logistical wisdom of those white butterflies/moths with the pale dot at the top of their wings that, I’m guessing, lay the eggs that hatch those little worms? Shall I get out the flyswatter?
Recently I decided that those large outer, half-chewed leaves were creating friendly places where pests could lurk, so I yanked them; the beds look nicer now, but have I subsequently driven the pests towards the inner/upper parts that I want to eat?
Two years ago a more experienced gardener told me to immediately yank and discard all my Brussels sprouts that were plagued with harlequin bugs, just as the eagerly-awaited sprouts were developing. It was painful but I obeyed. Now, after picking off bugs every morning, and conducting search-and-destroy missions for eggs, it appears that I may yet enjoy Brussels sprouts, and I question her advice. WWOGSD?
Chard seems unafflicted – why is that? Why bother growing bug-attracting greens when I could just grow chard and buy the rest from my beloved farmers at the tailgate markets?
And my tomatoes have late blight – or maybe it’s something else that’s turning lower leaves brown and spotty. Like reading medical websites when one gets a symptom, and contracting hypochondriacal diseases, researching garden pests online can lead one to harbor all manner of garden anxieties. So what kind of shrink should I see?
All said, this gardening experience is a real mixed bag. I’ve invested heavily in infrastructure, retrained my body clock to accommodate early morning activity before the heat of the day, and sacrificed summer travel to support my commitment during this growing season. Results so far have been sparse, but is that why we garden, for the fruit? Not solely, I believe. I have developed an even greater appreciation for organic farmers, and $3/lb for new potatoes at market is no longer the shocker it was before mine dissolved into dirt. No question there…
Ellen Rubenstein Chelmis
Ellen Rubenstein Chelmis retired from manufacturing to start her fourth career as wife and mother at 37, she now, at 63, enjoys dabbling in various voluntary efforts to “save the world.” She’s a self-trained creative cook and lover of ethnic cuisines and her consistent passion for food has evolved to embrace the Local Food movement, so much so that she now grows food in her front yard (can’t get more local than that!). If Ellen can do this, anyone can. Ellen is a 13-year transplant to Asheville via Tampa, Washington DC suburbs (most of them) and Charlotte.