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Growing Organically Since 1982

Homesteading Observations: Insects

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 May Issue Newsletter

By Sharon Gensler NOFA/Mass Outreach Coordinator

I’d like to share with you some of my observations and interactions  with insects over the years here  on the homestead in Wendell. I  started growing here in 1981 and 
have gone through many insect cycles. We carved out  our growing areas from a reforested landscape with 
100-year-old trees. Our first few years were relatively pest free causing us to think we were so isolated they’d 
never find us. Wrong!
 
Our thoughts and control practices have evolved over 
the years: 
• “Organic” pesticides- didn’t like the options 
available, as many were broad-spectrum, killing beneficials as well as  pests.
• Hand picking- gets awfully gross; especially 
Colorado potato beetle  larvae, plus I hated 
feeling like my peaceful  paradise was a warzone.
• Pheromone trapsseemed to attract more 
than we started with. 
• Sticky traps- trapped  everything that came along, the good as well as the bad and the ugly.
• *Variety choice- some varieties of veggie are more 
prone to attract pests. Through observation I can 
choose what works best for us. 
• *Chicken moat- a garden surround created with a 4’ wide run /“moat”. Chickens get a good protein 
boost as they patrol the boarder for insects entering 
the garden.
• *Meditation- works with the chipmunks but hard for me to connect with insect mind/spirit. 
• *All-inclusive, beyond “no-kill”- let them work  out their own balance. Definitely feels more like a 
peaceable kingdom, but has taken years of restraint  to get balance with certain insects (The Mexican 
Bean Beetle and squash bug have yet to fully  cooperate).
• *Introduction of and designing for beneficial  insects- this works very well, though some think my 
garden is “messy”. Purposeful planting of plants with small flowers, especially umbels, is important, 
as is letting things like lettuce and brassicas go to  flower. Also, through observation I know which 
“weeds” certain pests prefer, so I let some grow to  become the “sacrificial” offering. You have to be 
willing to let some of the pests thrive until they can  reach a balance with their predators (lady bugs, lace wings, wasps). Nothing so fascinating and 
rewarding than seeing a tomato horn worm with Braconidae wasp eggs growing on it! 
• *Insect barriers- row cover or lightweight insect barrier material over crop until it is big enough to survive; remove before flowering, if pollination is needed.
• *Increasing soil fertility- I’ve been attending the 
NOFA sponsored Soil & Nutrient Density workshops and discovered my fertility 
program needed a little tweaking to make our 
soil healthier. A healthy soil increases the plants’ 
ability to resist insects and  disease. I’ve been working on adding the necessary minerals and hope to report soon that the insects no 
longer find my fruit and veggies to their liking! 
 
While working toward that perfectly healthy soil, I am 
also continuing with a diversified approach (using all 
of the above with an *) to achieve balance. Part of the 
problem, as I see it, is that with climate change, we are 
seeing more southern pests on a larger scale and if they 
have a predator, they have yet to move north.
 
I spent some time this morning installing hoops to 
create some low- tunnel insect protection. The easiest 
hoop is made from #9 gauge wire stuck into the soil on 
both sides of a growing bed then covered with floating 
row cover.
 
I have also used plastic well water tubing as hoops. I 
choose not to use electrical PVC (poly vinyl chloride) 
plastic pipe, easy as it is to use, because of concern 
for possible soil contamination. The sturdiest hoops 
I make are from aluminum EMT (electrical metal 
tubing) conduit. These must be bent using a form or 
bender to shape the pipe. Forms can be purchased or 
you can rig up one of your own. We bent ours around 
a large water trough, giving them a croquet hoop shape 
rather than the typical arc. Be creative. 
There are many types, weights and sizes of floating 
row covers. Some give more protection from the 
cold as well as insects; others are of very fine weave, 
designed for insect protection only. Type used depends 
on time of year, crop to be protected and which insect 
is of concern. All allow rain and sunlight to penetrate. 
It’s important to install the row cover before the 
pests find the plant, usually before emergence or at 
transplant time. Secure the edges 
of the material to keep determined 
insects from finding a way in. Also, 
if not secured well the wind will 
take them to Oz. Remember to 
check on the plants regularly to 
make sure all is well under their 
tent. I never want to repeat the 
time I covered my potatoes, smugly 
thinking they were safe, only to 
discover I had waited too long 
before covering. When I finally 
looked under, I found the plants 
covered in the CP beetles. Yuck, 
I had created a perfect habitat 
where they were protected from 
observation. 
 
I’d better stop now and get back to the non-violent protection of my favorite brassica crops! Happy  spring!

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