Farmer Will waxes poetic on our insect friends and foes…

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  • May 7, 2015

What a time of year! Not too hot, not too cold. Rain falls weekly, as if set on a timer. Crops seeded weeks ago are popping up through the soil crust and showing their first adult leaves, while the transplants are well along, and some are already being harvested (shameless plug: look out for kale and chard at market this week!).

Great things are happening in the fields!   For any farmer though, this time is bittersweet. The relentless weeds are making themselves known, and it seems that just coming back from lunch there are more. Worse than the weeds are the insects, arthropod anathemas bent on grazing our precious crops down to the root (or, in some cases, up to the stem). We began our annual assault on the Colorado potato beetle this week; put another way, the striped pest began its assault on our potatoes, hungry from a long winter slumber.

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For every fistful of spinach, there is an accompanying hill of ants trying, successfully, to eat it. The aphids! Let’s not get started on those. Already root maggots, the larvae of an innocuous fly, have tunneled, burrowed and feasted on our turnips, causing us to turn them in earlier than we would have hoped. If this was most any other farm, the conversation on six-legged pests would end there, after a quick discussion of which chemical slurry best defeats them.

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For us though, we have to plot, plan and pray. Mostly pray. When I see a Fiery Hunter beetle crawling through the fields, two inches of black metallic chitin with imposing mandibles that spell cutworm death, I know our prayers are being answered. I can’t help but sprout a knowing grin when I see lacewings crisscrossing the fields in search of prey.

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Today was a great victory  when several scorpionflies were spotted. Predacious four-winged friends, the males of this order will capture flies and present them to females of their species as nuptial gifts- the bigger the gift, the, uh… more efficacious the ensuing experience.   It’s not all gore and war metaphors in the fields, though. Even though we love watching and cheering on while soldier bug nymphs and two spotted stink bugs suck the life out of potato beetle larvae, insects provide some truly serene, peaceful moments in our lives.

The fierce and wise visage of a praying mantis always brings great solemnity to the day (OK, yes, and the excitement at how much preying it will do). One can’t help but stand up straight and follow with their eyes a fluttering swallowtail butterfly.

Even some pests, such as the Golden Tortoise beetle, are too wondrous to not enjoy. A beautiful combination of flying saucer and sequin, this plant sucker’s population never reaches levels to be appreciably detrimental.

So while we as farmers can get caught up in the stresses of ravenous insects, we also live for the moments where a co-worker calls out “come look at this bug!!!” or when we are filled with awe by something so small, so foreign and so beautiful.

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