Thank you for signing up for Elmwood Stock Farm's newsletter! Mac talks insects, friends and foes, and how they are managed organically here on the farm. Be sure to sign up for the bug tour next Tuesday, and shop Elmwood's $3 off Boston Butt special at farmer's market this weekend!
Have you been missing out on Elmwood's Summer CSA? It's not too late to sign up! With 10 weeks remaining in the season, you can sign up now. Click here to sign up now. Start thinking Fall CSA, as sign up is now available.
Know Who Your Friends Are
With summer in full swing we are at the height of bug season. But things are not always as they appear. Teeny tiny insects can have a big impact on the world around them. As organic farmers we have learned the value of making close observations of the wildly diverse insect populations that call Elmwood Stock Farm home. We have gained a tremendous amount of respect for the ecological niche each and every insect family has capitalized on in securing its place, and we know which ones to call our friends.
Insects are only pests to farmers and gardeners when they are not kept in check and overpopulate a little patch of earth. Aphids, for example, are no bigger than a sesame seed, so a few of the little sap suckers on a tomato plant can’t really do much harm. They are quite prolific at reproduction however, so a few can become a few thousand over several hot humid days, and collectively become a big problem. Thousands of little piercing proboscises not only suck nutrients out of the leaves and stems, they vector in plant diseases. One option to prevent these outbreaks is to scout the plants on a daily basis and when some predetermined threshold number of aphids/plant is reached, a producer can don a Tyvek suit and full face respirator and proceed to spray some highly toxic synthetic chemical over and under all the leaves (fogging is now recommended to get good coverage) to annihilate each and every one. This is the accepted norm in commercial vegetable cropping circles and is the accepted approach to the situation by scientists at government supported educational institutions of across the country.
Some producers worry about accurately predicting the threshold properly, or are lax in their scouting time and attention, so they just spray every week or ten days to be sure. This is the simplest and easiest way to control pests, as well as diseases, so the weekly sprays are often a cocktail-type mix of several chemicals, just to take care of any and all villains lurking about. If you were to walk down the rows in a field managed this way -after the re-entry interval period has passed- (each chemical comes with a chart on the label telling the sprayer how much time should pass before a human should be back into the field and how much time should pass before the crop can be harvested for consumption) zero insects would show up on a scouting report. Problem solved. Or, is it?
In this photo of a small melon patch at Elmwood, you'll see netting to keep out pests that greatly damage cucurbit crops - think melons, squash, cucumbers. This is part of a research project being done by the University of Kentucky and is one great example of why you want to eat and invest in USDA Certified Organic foods. You can guarantee that organic cucurbits are not sprayed with pyrethroids or neonicotinoids.
A chemical-based approach to food production is fraught with false hope and rife with problems. These chemicals are extremely toxic to humans, not just the pests. Do you want your food farmer exposing him or herself, and part of the Elkhorn Creek watershed, to such toxins? Do you want to wonder if the producer of your food actually waited for the full harvest interval to pass before harvesting? What happens to a small patch of field that is suddenly denuded of any kind of life? How will Mother Nature respond in mutating and building resistance to the chemical as a survival mechanism for the species? If chemical application on food is so great, why does it have to be repeated over and over and over?
As organic farmers, we use a fundamentally different approach to insect management. Promoting biodiversity is a tenant of organic farming principles as it fosters a habitat for “good” insects that prey on pest-type insects for food. In addition, after two decades of clean farming, we have seen the inherent ability of plants to bio-remediate their environment which has cleared away the residual chemical toxins.
Today, several species of beneficial wasps now re-inhabit Elmwood Stock Farm. These are not the stinging pests feared by all, but rather teeny- tiny critters so small, an adult female can use her ovipositor to pierce the shell of an aphid and deposit her eggs within. This may cause some discomfort, or not, to the aphid but it is otherwise unscathed. However, in a mere day or two, the braconid wasp egg hatches and the emerging larvae eats the aphid’s guts, then proceeds to tunnel out through the shell to become an adult. This parasitoid will move on to parasitize countless other aphids. (The photo is of a tomato hornworm that has been parasitized.)
So we do lots of scouting, watching the aphid population grow, and then begin seeing the aphid mummies appear, evidence of our little friends, secretly eliminating a potential pest outbreak. It may be days before humans can enter a chemical laden field, but it took years before it was safe for these little wasps to move back home. We provide food for them in the form of flowers, and overwintering habitat in our pastures and fence rows, and we don’t even own a Tyvek suit or full-face respirator.
A similarly small flying insect is no friend at all. The Spotted Wing Drosophila (Drosophila suzukii ) [“dro-sof-a-la”] is the Southeast Asian cousin of the Common American fruit fly (Drosophila Melanogaster) [“fruit-fli” aka: “gnats”] quite possibly found in your kitchen when you discover over-ripe bananas at the bottom of your fruit bowl, and wonder how did they suddenly appear? These household nuisances are opportunists that lurk about in the inky shadows outside your house and sneak in when they are drawn to their favorite breeding site, rotten fruit. The female is able to penetrate the soft tissue of bruised or aging fruit with her ovipositor, the needle-like probe she extends to place her eggs safely into the fruit, so when it hatches in a week or so, the larvae will have the food of choice: sugar.
You may remember seeing your grandmother going ballistic at the sight of the first such home intruder, knowing that they multiply very rapidly and one becomes many, and many becomes thousands in very short order. Fast eradication is essential, as she was right, their life cycle is fast. The best remedy for these outbreaks is first to eliminate any source of breeding/nesting sites, then put some apple cider vinegar in a small bowl or fruit jar. Cover with plastic film and poke small holes with a thin knife in the film and set near to the previous source of infestation. The little buggers (this is a family friendly newsletter) seek out the vinegar but cannot find their way back out, so discard periodically. But I digress.
The “spotted wing” is the arch nemesis to all small fruit farmers no matter how sustainably they choose to grow their crops. It seems these exotic, invasive intruders are outfitted with an ovipositor that has a saw tooth edge, not a simple spear, allowing the female to force work her way into normal healthy fruit tissue, to deposit her eggs. Now, as we all excitedly anticipate tasting the ripening raspberries and blackberries, farmers have to worry about spotted wings moving in to destroy them. This has never been a problem before until the last year or two. Similarly to how raccoons go after the sweetest corn the day before harvest, these tiny insects look for the fruit skin that softens during ripening.
If you come out to the farm on a Tuesday to pick up your CSA share, shop the farm market, or go on a tour, you can see numerous red-solo cups placed at chest height on posts around the farm in different locations. These are vinegar traps set by a team of entomologists from UK who are monitoring insect activity. They have many locations with traps across the state, and indeed numerous states in the region are partnering in the project to track the seasonality of emergence and northward movement during the growing season. We will all know more when the data is analyzed.
Eventually Mother Nature will sort all this out into some form of equilibrium, whether we live long enough to see it, I’m not sure. Is there some predator insect that thrives on fruit flies? Are the flies susceptible to some weird fruit fly virus or disease? How can we encourage braconid wasps to live here, but be unhospitable to spotted wings?
We invite you to come out for the “Good Bug: Bad Bug” Nature Study Tour on July 31 to see the insect world for yourself. Entomologists from the University of Kentucky will be on hand to provide hand lenses and bring all this into view, similar to a National Geographic setup right before your eyes.
As a home gardener, you should know how to tell friend from foe so you won’t be tempted by the easy bottled sprays at the big box stores. Learn to identify Green Lacewings, Syrphid or Robber flies, and of course Lady Bird Beetle larvae. And if you are not a gardener, you can still appreciate the difference in good bugs and bad bugs and enjoy your CSA share in peace, as you know that your farmers have taken the long view of food production by allowing Mother Nature to keep pestilence in check. - Mac Stone
Elmwood's pork is USDA Certified Organic. The pigs roam and root on pasture and eat organic corn, roasted soybeans, and occasionally even veggies. They are one of the newest additions to Elmwood and have been well received by both Elmwood farmers and customers!
Enjoy $3 off each Boston Butt roast this weekend!
Slow Cooker BBQ Boston Butt
adapted from Wellness Mama
4-5 lb. Boston Butt (use one large, or two smaller cuts)
One (15-oz.) can crushed pineapple, juice drained, or one whole pineapple
2 large sweet onions
1 T. each of: chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, celery salt, sea salt, and basil
1 t. crushed black pepper
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
2 c. of barbecue sauce of choice
Thinly slice onions and place in bottom of a 6-quart or larger slow-cooker. Place the Boston Butt on top of the onions.
Sprinkle with spices and pour the whole can of pineapple over it. Add apple cider vinegar. If using fresh pineapple, peel, core, and thin chop the pineapple and place over pork.
Put lid on crock pot and cook on low for 10-12 hours or until fork tender. Don't open until at least 8 hours and then check for tenderness.
Shred with two forks to make pulled pork and top with barbecue sauce if using.
For the Instant Pot: Follow steps 1-3 as written. Instead of using a slow cooker, place in the Instant Pot and set on manual for 60 minutes. Let cook and let steam release naturally after cooking.
Find Elmwood at Farmers Markets this Weekend!
Cheapside Pavilion, Saturdays 7am - 2pm
N Broadway x Washington, Saturdays 9am - 1pm
Louisville: St. Matthews
4100 Shelbyville Rd., Saturdays 8am - noon
Cincinnati: Hyde Park
Erie Ave. x Edwards Rd., Sundays 9:30am - 1:30pm
All-organic offerings: salad greens, kale greens, Swiss chard, collards, garlic, onions, rhubarb, microgreens, pea shoots & sunflower shoots, carrots, beets, beans, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, peppers, okra, assorted herbs, cut flowers, beef, chicken, pork, turkey, farm fresh eggs, pantry goods, and much more! Give us 48 hours notice, and we'll set aside a special order for you!
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