Millions of summer flea beetles, billions of hover flies under our maple, 0 mosquitoes.
The changes in our insect populations this year are deeply curious. The scientist in all of us is led to try and explain phenomena like this right away. The snow pack, el nino, cool summer, all may have conspired to benefit the hover fly. I’d be lying if I said I believed any of this to be true though. Maybe the grand counsel of flying bugs had a powwow and simply voted the stilt flies to another farm for the year. We may never know why, but the what has implications on a farm, and fascinating ones at that.
You don’t need to know causes to appreciate differences in effects. Since moving to Quinney Farm, we have watched in mild anguish as the fruits of the plum tree ripen and begin to fall to the ground. I say in anguish because the tempting fruit, as a rule, are always completely destroyed by plum curculio, these noxious little burrowing worm things. This year, 85% of the massive fruit set on the plum tree was harvestable, tasty, bug free, and delicious.
You know that adage about how you know your sweet corn is organic when it has a worm in it? Well, honestly, we didn’t spray our sweet corn with any organically approved insecticides this year, but very few corn ear worms showed up to work, a delinquency we are most happy about. I’ve grown sweet corn for 1/2 a decade, and never seen so few ear worms.
Flea beetles got the memo from the corn worms and showed up enormously. Such hard workers, the flea beetle. We planted .25 acres of leafy asian greens in late summer. 2 weeks later, we only found skeleton plants. Flea beetle pressures are often mitigated by using floating row covers: woven sheets that don’t allow beetles in(unless of course they are under there already, then they can’t escape). Well, in late summer, you don’t want to encourage heat to get trapped by any plants. The ensuing mathematical representation of the situation follows: Crop-row cover + flea beetles x 1,000,000,000,000,000=no crop. This is super uncommon in summer, but since we didn’t have one(there I go, prognosticating).
The organic buffer to all this random insectness is to grow a broadly diverse array of crops. And, the possibly most endearing advantage to being a CSA grower, not a tomato and winter squash only grower, is that we are forced to make the age old wise decision to not put our eggs all in one harvest bin. We survive no matter which bugs come to work, and which stay home. Best of all, we get to watch this intellectually slippery yet deeply intriguing dance take place with front row seats.