Thursday, June 10, 2010

Killer Insects

As Bluebird Farm has grown and developed it has been one large project after another in expansion and addition. Every week, even every day, brought a totally new project to be tackled-our first chickens, our first butchering, our first sheep, a new walk-in fridge, first planting of each crop, then on to the next first, and the next. But this week we began to see the beautiful cycles of farming. Now, the arrival of a new batch of chickens does not initiate some new adjustments, instead we just prepare and go.

In the garden, summer crops are in the ground and growing. Now our priorities are planting the second succession of the summer crops like tomatoes, cuke, and zuchinnis. Some of our spring crops are done and we clean up the bed, much like in the spring, and prepare for another round of seeds and growth. Also our focus shifts to maintaining the crops we have: namely fighting weeds and insects.

Of course we are always trying to work with natural systems and not fight them. But the weeding and insect killing of the past week can only be described as war. Suddenly potato beetles are everywhere. We are using a variety of physical (spray on clay barriers), manual (hand crushing), and spray methods. Our two first line options for insects are insecticidal soaps and essential oils. The soaps are biodegradable soaps that penetrate insect cells, causing their cell membranes to collapse, dehydrating the whole insect. The essential oil we have been using is neem oil from the neem plant. It is a natural, but powerful, oil that kills insects.

We do try to encourage beneficial insects as well. We are assisted by lady bugs, predatory stink bugs, soldier bugs, and assassin beetles. All of these insects prey on our pest species, helping to keep their numbers in check. Our lady bugs are everywhere and it’s great fun to watch the predatory stink bugs spear and suck the juices from bug larvae. A very good reason to avoid traditional chemical pesticides is that they typically kill all insects-good and bad. Almost always the bad insects will rebound first-this time into a habitat totally devoid of any predators.

A soldier bug eating a colorado potato beetle larva