On your way to pick berries this week, you may notice our newly-planted field of winter squash. You may also notice that the plants look white. Cukes, zukes, melons, and winter squash are prime eating for cucumber beetles, which feed on the leaves and spread bacterial wilt. Large established plants can usually withstand the damage, but new transplants are especially vulnerable. So for the past few years we’ve been spraying our seedlings with kaolin clay help them through. The white clay particles stick to the beetles, creating a hostile environment, and the beetles fly off.
If this year’s spinach crop was a success, it was no thanks to leaf miners. Adult flies lay their eggs on the undersides of crop leaves, and when the eggs hatch, the larvae tunnel into the leaves, doing major damage. This year we sprayed neem oil on the spinach, beets, and Swiss chard to control for miner. Neem oil is a naturally occurring compound found in the seeds of neem trees. It’s quite effective, but the downside is that it targets all bugs, both good and bad. So in addition to spraying, we also covered the beds with row cover, to minimize harm to the larger bug community.
Years ago, Dan and I just accepted the crop losses brought on by pests. The simple tasks of seeding, weeding, and harvesting were as much as we could handle. In recent years, however, we’ve made an effort to prevent what we can. The image of an organic farmer with a backpack sprayer may raise some eyebrows, but rest assured that all of our practices and products are approved for organic production. The decision to spray is not something we take lightly—we’d much rather use nothing at all. But given the choice between spraying neem to losing an entire crop, I choose the neem. As long as we work to minimize the possible harm to the surrounding ecosystem, it’s a fair price to pay for providing 200+ families with fresh spinach.