Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Insect pressure

Be-headed pepper seedlings
Although I enjoyed never having to shovel snow or wear my long underwear this winter, I am now (cursing it, and) understanding what the implications of such a mild winter are on farming. Sure, spinach, kale, parsley and arugula all survived uncovered. But edible greens weren't the only things to experience an extension on life.

Insect pressure has been fierce this spring. Slugs, which can lay up to 500 eggs in a season and thrive in temperatures above 40 degrees, have annihilated over 300 of our lettuce seedlings, 200 basil seedlings, and have flattened several flats of peppers and eggplants. We now have nightly missions in the garden at dusk picking slugs, some the size of pearl couscous and some as long as a pencil. We throw them with anger into a jar of salt water and watch them perish. 

We have a few volunteer cucumber seedlings sprouting in places and when I reached down to pull them up I saw a curcurbit's worst nightmare: the cucumber beetle. In fact, I saw several of them, even some mating. These pests are harder to abolish than the sluggish slug. They seem to sense you coming and fly away or bury themselves into the soil quickly. I have to go out at 6 in the morning to really catch them at their slowest time.

Salting slugs
And today we were in for the biggest blow of the season so far. We had a bed of beautiful lettuce mix growing, which we meticulously weeded 5 days ago. We were counting on it since the slugs demolished our head lettuce seedlings. But I noticed this morning small sections of the rows eaten down. The stems of the small leaves were still standing, but there was no more leaf. As I peered closer I saw too-many-to-count-or-want-to-think-about caterpillars munching on our lettuce. There were several different varieties, but mostly the cabbage worm. These are easy to squish between your fingers, but with so many, we had to just till the lettuce in and start all over again (after I had myself just a little joy of squishing as many as I could in 15 minutes).

Can you see those caterpillars demolishing our lettuce?

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