WARNING there are bug and spider pictures in this post!
I believe each day brings the opportunity to both learn and teach. I also think knowledge should be free to all. The farm has been about learning and challenges and good friends.
Last season was the year of the bug, at least at our farm. As it was the first year and with the goal of not using pesticides I was on the lookout for the helpful bugs and of course, the bad bugs. Even though I had the help of handed down knowledge, I still spent a great deal of time on the phone. Good job I have a good data plan. During my morning and evening walks, checking on how things were going, I would find all kinds of bugs. Out would come the phone “Oh what is that, is it good or bad”. I soon learned that the plant you found the bug on would usually lead you to naming it.
Spotted Ground Beetle – Can be good – Thanks to Sean James of FernRidgeLandscaping For helping ID some of these
The big question was – what if I get it wrong? – Well I can laugh about it now but in one case I did. Boy, did I get it wrong. In the spring, just after we put out the cucumbers and squash, I found two new bugs had arrived, a black and yellow striped cucumber beetle that I identified correctly and the brown squash bug I unfortunately did not. From the images on the internet the squash bug resembles a predatory shield bug and with the cucumber beetle arriving I thought the predatory shield bug was following their lunch plans. I was wrong, really wrong and that mistake cost me most of the cucumber plants, half the zucchini plants, and 80-90%of the squash.
On the left the squash bug on the right the predatory shield beetle. I can see the difference now…
The Squash bug infestation – This was almost every plant.
It’s really kind of funny because I spent part of my time rescuing bugs, particularly a lady bug I took a liking to that happened to be caught in a spider web. I figured after releasing the lady bug I’d have a long talk with the spider about his/her lunch selection. I also came across a crab spider hiding in the zucchini blossoms waiting for the bees and other pollinators; he/she was relocated – Bees are untouchables. The wasps in the greenhouse were fine until they got ornery in the fall and stung me in the head. My father-in-law told me not to let them set up shop there – lesson – listen to your elders, kids.
It was tough and the bugs were bad but I learned a lot and am spending some time understanding the good bugs and what I need to do to make sure they stop by and stick around. At the end of the day it’s all about balance: you need bad bugs to have good bugs (would you go to a restaurant where they were out of food) and without spraying toxic chemicals well, there is going to be bugs. My job is to work with them, try to keep the good ones happy and the bad ones under control, hence, balance.
Topmato horn worm – this is one I remember as a kid – Very bad
Garden Spider – very good did my best to work around him.
I find it amazing what I see when I get down and work with the earth. Beetles, spiders, toads, caterpillars etc. are all harder to see from up on a tractor. The tractor may be a necessity but it will be used sparingly.
As we get ready for the 2014 season I thank Mother Nature for the cold winter. It should have had an effect on the bad bugs. I look forward to the new challenges and know that they will be different each year.
I’m beginning to understand that farming; at least eco-friendly sustainable farming is as much an art as it is a science. It’s all about finding the balance between the two.