Monday, July 4, 2011

BUGS! (Oh, and Happy Independence Day)

The bees (and pollinating flies and wasps) have finally come to South Pine Street. They took their sweet old time, for most of June I was hand pollinating squashes and sadly watching my unpollinated cucumbers shrivel off the vine (they're trickier to do than squashes). Although the beds were creepy crawling with ants, millepedes and worms, somehow the buzzy insects were having a hard time finding the place. As I was kneeling face deep in the zucchini, it was strangely silent. And then one day, I heard it. Zzzzzzzzzzz.....pth....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. And I looked up. Yes! I saw a little bee butt sticking our of a cucumber flower:


By the way, in case you haven't heard about colony collapse disorder in bees and what that might mean for food production, most of the fruits and "veggie" fruits (think cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, etc.) need a pollinator. Members of cucurbit family, such as melons and squashes are especially needy because their flowers are imperfect. This means that each flower is either a male flower or a female flower and they absolutely require a pollinator to act as the intermediary and bring the pollen to the pistil. Most, including myself on occasion, refer to them as being dioecious, but that is an incorrect use of the term because dioecious means that the whole plant itself is either male or female. There, that is your plant geek moment for the day.

So anyways, one bee became five and soon enough there were all kinds of buzzies flitting about the place. I'd like to think that part of the reason for their arrival is the fact that we recently put in the "landscaped area" in the back. Full of flowering perennials, the area has at least two functions. One is to make the place pretty, though as you can see I take pride in the way the crop beds look, and the other is to attract beneficial insects, including pollinators. It was right about the time those plants arrived that I started to see and hear my friends coming to visit. I would also like to think that the honey bees I have been seeing are coming from my neighbor Kate's house. She just installed a new colony this year and I can only hope to contribute to their winter stash.

Unfortunately though, not all bugs are good for plants. Right before I was rejoicing the bees and wasps, I was cursing the cucumber beetles. DAMN YOU CUCUMBER BEEEEETLES! I would be screaming in my head. At least 1/3 of my cucumber plants have bacterial wilt now. Cucumbers, one of my favorite crops in the garden are being taken over by a completely terminal disease spread, for the most part, by infected cucumber beetles that chew on the leaves and then poop it out right next to the open wound. This infects the plants with a bacteria that colonizes and spreads through the xylem, making the plants appear to wilt even though they are getting plenty of water. Within a week or so, the whole plant droops and shrivels up and there is nothing you can do about it but dig it up carefully and dispose of it in the trash, not the compost. The only way to prevent it is to prevent the appearance of those bugs in the first place, which is very hard to do.

This is pretty much what organic farming is. The struggle between the good bugs and the bad bugs. Keeping a healthy ecosystem, but making sure that ultimately, your plants win. I think the cucumbers might have lost this round, but there is always next year. And what is my plan for next year? Probably I will cover the cukes with row cover like I did the summer squash and I will remove it when the plants are big and beginning to flower so that the bees can move in and do their job. Cross your fingers.

1 comment:

  1. Happy Fourth!
    This morning, Brother Mark and I stopped by to admire the lush growth of the farm. It was his first visit; my scheme is that all the monks will have seen it by the end of the season... We brushed a beetle off a basil plant as we went. I also noticed the coriander gone to flower; beautiful. It was only when I smelled it that I recognized what it was. Thanks for the geek factor of this post; xylem, dioecious. I'm ready for lots of vowels in my next Scrabble game!

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