Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bagrada Bugs Bother Bounty! Grumpy Gardener Grumbles!


Bagrada cruciferarum, Bagrada hilaris

I write about my garden often, but reading my posts it may seem that things are all great all of the time. This morning's discovery of an invasive species from Africa enjoying a little local produce (my bok choy) reminded me that while gardening has many rewards, the cost, in addition to sometimes replacing failed plants, is often constant vigilance and maintenance. Are the convenience and the nutrition worth it? Is reducing the number of lettuce heads trucked into town worth it? Yes, yes and yes. Is it fun? Yes. Are there a variety of pests constantly picking away at your produce? Yep, even if you use the hard stuff, but especially if you don't use the hard stuff. I don't use the hard stuff.

If it's not slugs and snails then it's caterpillars or all three at once. Slug tape isn't cheap but it keeps the slimers out of raised beds. Even then snails can sneak eggs in past the tape around the roots of new lettuces, and the tape does nothing to stop the caterpillars. Spinosads, which are bacterial compounds approved for organic gardening, kill the caterpillars, and, I've been told, Bagrada bugs, but they have to be sprayed in the evening when the bees are away to keep from killing them along with the targeted bugs. I also have to limit the spray to the food garden or risk impacting the local butterfly population. Meanwhile the leaves in the flower gardens look like old IBM punch cards and aphids have moved into the kale. Did you know that ants will herd aphids on your plants to harvest the milk? I didn't use to know that either. It's interesting, but I wish I didn't know it now.

In addition to the bugs are the local wild rabbits and birds who go for a nibble. Raccoons and skunks rip things up digging for worms. If we didn't have chicken wire in the bottom of the beds gophers would be harvesting from below. If the soil's nutrient levels are off things either don't produce or die trying. Watering has to be carefully monitored and measured in the heat of drought season.

Don't get me wrong, I still love every learning day of gardening. I love that I'm helping to grow the food my family eats, and that my family is getting the most flavor and nutrition at the table that I can deliver. There's also the reduced waste and cost. While the problems mentioned above may take some plants, the ones that thrive can feed you for months or even years if things go well. Last summer it was "squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers for all my friends". This year was a bountiful medley of tomatoes. Another huge winner has been kale. Almost all of the kale varieties, we have four growing now) have become bush-like and have been so productive that we've given a bunch away. It's more kale than we could ever eat, and most of the plants have been producing large amounts steadily since last year. The stump pictured below has been cut back around three times and has come back to produce bunches of nutritious leaves for smoothies, stir fries, salads, sautés, and so much more. Have I mentioned that kale is good for humans?

As for cost, that same plant has required a few bucks in fertilizer, the occasional $1.75 treatment of spinosad, and a good blast from the hose for aphids. I keep track of the costs, and may do a full breakdown here some other time, but your costs will vary based on what you're growing, where you're purchasing it from, and the weather and effort your plants receive. If you're willing and able to put in the time, a little money (compared with the greater waste of buying larger amounts of things at the store), and the occasional heartbreak gardening may bring, perhaps it will be for you too.


Ol' Stumpy


Some days, though ... some days ...

Ah, well. If it ever gets to be too much, I suppose I can just go tie one on. ;)


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