Sunday, June 5, 2011

The good and bad of garden bugs

As a beginning farmer, working on land that was planted to corn for many years I am constantly trying to build and replenish the soil. And we are also working very hard to encourage biodiversity on the farm. Just by growing a diversity of crops, we are easily enhancing the wildlife and insect activity on the farm. But we know we need to do more so we leave large sections of the fields uncultivated to allow for beneficial insects, snakes, birds and other critters to find homes. We plant companion plants to attract the types of insects we prefer, and that prey on the insects we farmers call pests.

One such pest that has given us a bit of heartache the last couple weeks is the Cucumber Beetle (shown here in stripes, but also comes in spots). It wiped out our first planting of cucumbers by infecting them with bacterial wilt as it fed on the young seedlings. This bacteria that lives in the gut of the beetles kills young plants instantly, making it necessary to remove plants to help control the beetles. We were very sad to see our first planting of cucumbers go but have successfully gotten 2 more plantings in and with the help of floating row cover have not seen another cucumber beetle. It is our goal for the farm to grow healthy soil that produce healthy plants that can stand up to and even deter insect damage, as pests typically only attack stressed or unhealthy plants. We are also growing companion plants that will attract beneficial insects to feed on our pests. Once the cucumber beetles were spotted I immediately planted catnip, dill, cilantro, fennel, mizuna, and crimson clover to attract the soldier beetle and other beneficial insects that prey on the beetle eggs and larvae.  In just a couple months we will be enjoying a delicious cucumber salad feeling like all our efforts were worth it!

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