Always Fightin' Mother Nature

By Neil Harms

Persimmon season is pretty much over, and it went quite well at the Farm. We dried around 150 pounds of persimmons between October and November. They are delicious and have a lengthy shelf life, and we sell them plain or dipped in chocolate by the pound.

Fortunately, persimmons are pretty low maintenance. They only require sunlight, water, and fertilizer, and don’t have problems with insects or disease. Most of the other food-producing plants, though, are not as lucky.

Fall and winter crops seem to have more insect enemies than summer. The moisture that comes with cool temperatures, shorter days, and precipitation, brings out more bugs. These plants need protection from the part of the food chain that likes to destroy them.

Slugs enjoy hiding in the lettuce and slowly nibbling holes in the leaves. They particularly enjoy seedlings, and do most of their damage at night. Coffee grounds, eggshells and vinegar are effective organic slug repellents. Slugs affect other plants, but I notice them mostly in the lettuce.

Ants, on the other hand, are usually helpful. They can pollinate by going from bloom to bloom in search of nectar. They kill off harmful caterpillars and speed the decomposition of organic material thereby fertilizing the plants. There is no doubt that ants are helpful to plants. Ants seldom feed directly on plants, but they can sometimes damage plants in other ways. When ant colonies build their nests under plants, it disturbs the roots and deprives them of water. Then the plant begins to wilt, and it rarely recovers to become a healthy full-grown plant.  

Aphids affect both summer and fall crops. They are very small insects that congregate in large numbers, usually underneath the leaves or on the blossoms. If they are not dealt with quickly, they can kill with devastating swiftness. They like to attack summer vegetable plants at the end of the season. Squash, melons and cucumbers are their favorite victims. Since pumpkins are planted during the summer for fall harvest, aphids can attack them as well. Brussel sprouts are another plant that aphids feed on, but usually toward the end of the growing season. Ants help aphids by “farming” them -- protecting them on the plants where they are feeding and consuming honeydew released by the aphids. These dairying ants milk the aphids by stoking them with their antennae. It’s a mutualistic relationship with one insect helping the other survive.

The white butterfly, or cabbage moth is a real menace during the late summer and fall months. It seems that they lay eggs on the fall vegetable plants that have large leaves like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. The eggs turn into worms which eat holes in the leaves. Monterey BT is an organic spray that kills the worms. Capturing and killing the butterfly with a net can be satisfying, but unless you live in the garden, it is hard to keep up with them. Once the weather turns cold and wet, there are fewer sightings of these butterflies.

Finally, wild turkeys can be very destructive to a vegetable garden. Six-foot tall tomato cages made of concrete wire mesh turned horizontal around the garden makes for a great fence to keep the turkeys out. It’s also a good way to store the cages. Luckily, turkeys don’t usually figure out that the cages are only two feet high and could easily be flown over. Glad they aren’t very bright!

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