Monday, 27 May 2013

First Wilting

A rainy wednesday was followed by a dry, cool and windy Thursday through Sunday.  We came to the plot in the early evening and noticed a dullness to the green of the little plants poking out from our little patch.  A couple of plots over the green was brighter.  They had put up a fence, which indicated that they meant business.  I suspect they were coming more regularly than us.  I took some comfort in the fact the our immediate neighbours' tomatoes looked worse, were lying on the ground as if in sickly fatigue.  Our tomatoes were upright in their cages, but a couple of leaves on each plant were a bit browned, some were shriveled and dried.  The cold perhaps?  It had dipped down to just above zero and most likely had not been pleasant for the fledgling plants.  But it was the poor cucumber that was most wounded.  The cucumber beetle was out, eating away at leaves, leaving them looking like little kids with whole punches had gone at them.  Of course the beetles were doing it for their livelihood.  Our aim for future crops would be either to leave the beetles to starve by putting a row cover over the young plants, or finding a suitable predator to make the beetles their livelihood.

One recommendation I noted from an organic growers website:  consider building a bat habitat.  Now, the idea of planting deterrents like flowers is more palatable to me, but it's harder to have confidence in a passive, stationary enforcer.  We had marigolds in between the tomatoes but they were nowhere to be seen, hardly en garde.  The idea of working with bats made me queezy.  As a French speaker, I also know them as "bald mice." 

We did try to stamp out the ones we saw present on our visit, but more would come.  We couldn't be there every day to patrol them.  I was mostly stoic about the fact that one of our crops was already looking like it would fail, and early on, noting that they would be taking one for the team.  Hopefully the plants around them would continue to thrive as they kept the cucumber beetles distracted (these pests also like tomatoes, peas and beans).  But it was sad seeing something we had fostered now near death.  I hated to imagine the bamboo support structure with nothing to support.

It was sobering.  Before transplating from the insular environment that is our living room, I may have been assuming that pests would pick on someone else's crops, that the nice birds would eat pests and leave seeds alone, that as organic growers, somehow the positive live force of unadulterated seed and soil would just prevail.  We did research pests for each vegetable we planted, but with lists of deterrents and remedies that can go on for pages, ranging from the practical to the practically superstitious, we counted on luck.

For CSA farmers, how does it feel to have to throw out a patch of browning broccoli and resort to the next best brassica, deferring plans and hoping that the harvest will be enough that portions will not have to be made scanter and scanter with each failed crop?  There's the stress of farming, that we've felt already on a tiny scale.  Four failed plants that we may still be able to retry.  In the meantime, we will need to keep an eye on the other plants prone to predation.  If our abundant tomato planting were to fail, it would be a solid blow and may leave us tempted to quit for the season.  But this is our chance to see a season through and accept if it fails.  If it does and we have gained some sense of the risk of disappointment and the ways of dealing with challenges (such as pests, poor soil and bad weather, all of which we are up against) then we will have been successful test-croppers.  That is still the goal.

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