It's the middle of July, temps are above 100°F, and it has rained around an inch in the last month. On the bright side, this weather is making for some great pepper growing conditions, tomatoes are ripening all around, and the sweet corn are popping up with beautiful tassels. We've also got sumac, elder, and blackberries coming in bushels.
That's the bright side, but as this is our first year having a large scale garden, we've inevitably run into some challenges.
So here they are...
Before we began trying to grow food on a larger scale, I noticed a fairly large wild grape vine growing in our backyard. Since we moved here (almost three years ago) every summer that grape vine has had its leaves decimated by an all-too-familiar creature, the Japanese Beetle.
I've seen them on our corn and blackberries as well as elderberries. Which was surprising to me because elderberry leaf contains cyanide, but apparently these adaptive bugs don't mind at all.
Maybe... I wonder if the cyanide caught up with this one...
It seems the thing they love the most though, is grape leaves.
They have very few predatory nemesis outside of their homeland. If you've ever had one land on you or picked one up, you notice they have legs that cling and feel like bristles. I would imagine this is a contributing factor to their prevalence. If I were a Blue Jay or a Robin, the common yard-loving, insect eating birds of our climate, I don't know if I would find one appetizing either.
Next up, we have the Cabbage Looper caterpillar.
We had a beautiful patch of rutabaga growing strong. We'd picked and stir-fried some of their enormous leaves on more than one occasion. Then, one day I noticed a few of the leaves looking chewed. If I had done something about it then, I probably could've saved some of the delectable leaves from their fate. The looper beetles took over, and now we've nothing left but rutabaga skeletons and shame for not taking action.
Lastly, the squash bug.
They've made themselves right at home on what was our best zucchini plant. They haven't ruined our crop... yet. But they've kept us from enjoying at least two tasty zucchinis.
Now for the solutions...
Although the grape vine is struggling to make enough leaves before the beetles can eat them up, it has become quite large. It hasn't had enough energy to put forth into flowers and fruit, but if we can take care of these bugs, it is my hope that next year will be more plentiful. I also think adding more fertility to the soil will help the plants fight for themselves.
How will we do this? Persistence, diligence, and hopefully some help from the chickens. Japanese beetles may not have natural predators here, but the chickens seem to love them. Not only have I been collecting adults and feeding them to the chickens, but it is my hope that they can help solve the problem where it starts. With the larvae in the soil. I also found this little tool on amazon that I'd like to try out. I'm thinking it would make collection a lot easier, and I could just pour the contents of the catcher into the chicken feeder.
Starting in fall and going into winter we plan to separate the chickens into two flocks. On of them will stay in the chicken tractor and rotate throughout the woods, and one will have a home in the barn. We'll be able to collect eggs easily, and they can be rotated around the gardens. I plan on letting them hang around the grape for awhile so they can really scratch into the soil and hopefully uproot some of the overpopulated spawn.
To conclude, I would just like to state that it is my belief that these pest problems are only a symptom of mismanagement, poor planning, and not enough soil fertility. I think it's important to remember that these creatures are just living beings trying to find a way to survive. It's not their fault that they have the right conditions to thrive in such numbers. It's also not my intention to wipe out any species. I would simply like to be able to grow healthy food in a beautifully balanced nature.