Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beneficial Insects/ our new employee, Sheryl

We are now moving into the swing of the season. Most of the plants are in - we planted about 1000 feet of winter squash, cucumbers and summer squash in the past week. Much of it has been mulched - thanks to Anny and Trisha for helping out yesterday on on work day! We also laid about 1000' of row cover which will keep out the squash vine borer and the cucumber beetle as well as the flea beetle. The first two can kill the plants by either laying their larvae near the stem which then tunnels into the vine or by spreading a deadly virus. The flea beetle will suck the juices out of a seedling so that's also lethal. After about 42 days, we'll lift the row cover and let the pollinators move in and do their thing - resulting in fruit. By that time, hopefully, the plants will be strong enough to withstand the onslaught of the beetles and we will have the time to patrol the rows and watch for the borers, carefully cut them out, spray inside the stem with a little pyrethrin, and cover the wound with soil.

We walk the potatoes every morning and evening, patrolling for potato beetles. Luckily we don't have too many. Maybe 3 - 7 plants per row will be infected. We squish the little ones and put the adults or huge larvae in a jar with soapy water. I don't want to spray these plants. They're supporting a nice bunch of flea beetles but they won't kill the plants. If the potato beetles take over, they will completely defoliate the plants. But, I see many many daddy long legs, lady beetles, hover flies, and predatory beetles. These are beneficial and we need to protect them to have balance in the garden. There's an occasional toad or tree frog. I even saw a lace wing today - a first. So I do everything I can not to spray or interfere chemically or even with neem oil or diatamaceous earth.
If you can see it, this is a ladybug larvae eating an aphid. They look like mini-alligators. Note the orange spot on the back.

That said, I'm getting ready to pull out something for the okra - it's getting attacked again by flea beetles and aphids and this is the second planting so if the seedlings take a dive again, it might be too late to re-plant so that will mean a lost crop. It's a balancing act.

Sheryl joined me about a week and a half ago as our first employee. I am so pleased to welcome her and have her working with us. She's a student at Washtenaw and is thinking about pursuing a degree in nutrition at EMU. She has taken the Organic Gardening Certification classes offered through Washtenaw Community College and also has worked for a greenhouse for a few years. This is her first job working in the field and I think she likes it so far. It's tough work - sometimes tedious, often hard and hot and buggy. So if you have a chance to meet her, please thank her for her help.

I have also been lucky to have the help of Ana - a volunteer that has been working regularly over the past 6 or 7 weeks. She recently retired from UofM and is volunteering at a number of places. She is originally from Romania so she brings perspective that I do not have and that I appreciate. She helped us plant potatoes, weed the onions, harvest the veggies Friday, and much more. She takes the bus to Scio Church and Maple, walks here, works for 4 - 6 hours, walks back to the bus stop, and goes home to, presumably, melt in the tub. She says she does it for selfish reasons - a work out - but I really appreciate it! Again, if you have a chance to meet her, please say thanks.

More later. Please think about the wasps in your garden and household. They're voracious consumers of mosquitoes and other pests. Many lay their eggs into worms (parasitize worms) in order to reproduce. If you kill all of the "bad" bugs, the "good" bugs won't have anything to eat or a way to reproduce. Makes you wonder who the "other' is.

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