Wednesday, July 15, 2009
With the wave of heat that came two weeks ago, a wave of pests coincided. Most notable have been the Colorado Potato Beetle and Aphids. People often ask how we deal with pests on the farm, so here is a brief overview. On the farm, we take a three-pronged approach to pest management: Prevention, Observation, Intervention. Prevention is the first and most crucial step. How do we prevent crop loss to pests? The most important method is through creating healthy soil. Pests tend to attack weak plants, and so if you have healthy soil, you will have healthy plants, which the pests won't attack. Or if the plants are attacked, they will be strong and healthy enough to withstand and overcome the siege. We create healthy soil primarily through the addition of organic matter: manure, compost, straw, etc. Crop Rotations, and use of green manure crops (crops such as buckwheat, rye, oats, that you grow with the intention of tilling them back into the soil for nutritional enrichment) are other methods that we use to enrich the soil, and thus prevent pests. We also practice pest prevention methods such as companion planting (eg. planting calendula flowers near zucchini to attract the aphids away from the zukes), use of row cover (garden fabric that covers and protects the plants while they are young and most vulnerable), and attracting beneficial insects (eg. growing buckwheat to attact ladybugs, who eat aphids). After the Prevention methods, we utilise observation --- constantly walking through the garden to observe what is taking place (Are plants under attack? Are plants looking discoloured and potentially undernourished?). After observation, there may be need engage in an intervention. There are many pest intervention methods, and I won't get into them now. Truthfully, once you get to the stage where you need to Intervene, it can be very difficult to overcome the pests. That's why we engage so much in Prevention. So far, our efforts have paid off. The Aphids do indeed seem to be gravatating toward the Calendula plants, and away from the food plants we want to protect, and the Colorado Potato Beetle seem to be clinging to a few weak looking potato plants, and leaving the rest alone.