Beneficial Body Invaders

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Organic farmers have to contend with many insect pests without the use of synthetic pesticides. Instead, organic farmers employ the “many little hammers” approach using crop rotation to break life cycles, mulches and row covers to discourage pests, and manual removal from crops. One very effective method of insect control is the promotion of beneficial insects on the farm. Providing habitat for beneficial insects such as beetle banks and perennial planting strips for pollinators and insects that prey on other insects which are harmful to the crops they are growing are ways to encourage beneficial insects on the farm.

At the UT Organic Farm we have lots of small white cabbage butterflies (Pieris rapae) which lay their eggs on the leaves of many of our crops including kale and kohlrabi. A couple of weeks ago we discovered evidence of a natural enemy using cabbage butterfly larvae as its host. That natural enemy is a parasitic wasp known as cotesia (Apanteles glomeratus).  This species deposits eggs in young caterpillars, which grows to maturity with the developing larvae inside. Just before it is ready to pupate, the wasp larvae eat through the caterpillar and continue to develop beneath the caterpillar who is left paralyzed. The slideshow pictures above show the wasp larvae after they have emerged from the caterpillar.

We hope that cotesia gets the upper hand and helps us to control the cabbage butterfly population at the farm. We are also in the beginning stages of planting a perennial strip to encourage more beneficials to the farm. So far we have planted echinacea, yarrow, and a wildflower mix in our strip. I found an amazing video from National Geographic that shows wasp larvae developing and emerging from its host. Check it out:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMG-LWyNcAs

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Pretty flowers, tasty fruits

Perennials are an awesome addition to any garden and we are currently looking for space to put in some perennial crops on the farm. We recently made an addition of a strip of perennial flowers which we hope will take off and give us some awesome blooms for years to come. Hopefully in the near future, marketable crops like asparagus, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries will be put in. These crops tend to have higher profit margins than many annuals we grow. We are trying to find a permanent space that can exist for a few years as a perennial garden. Fruit trees would be a fantastic addition as well, but growing them organically is quite a feat. There are many pests and pathogens that target fruit trees and it can be difficult to effectively ward off such attacks without chemical pesticides.

Perennials will not only give you more bang for your investment buck in terms of crop sales, but will also add to your soil organic matter, as perennial roots grower much deeper and more expansive than those of annual crops. Just in case you need a refresher, soil organic matter is the good stuff that helps to retain moisture, add nutrients to soil during its decomposition, and helps build the soil structure of porous space for healthier plants overall. 

As we scour the farm for the best possible perennial garden location, we are setting up blueberries in large, 15 gallon tubs. The berry bushes do well in these containers if given the proper growing medium, and they have the added benefit of being mobile. If we were able to set up several of such tubs and plant a variety of blueberries, we could have a harvest span of a few months. Pictures to come.

Wasteful…yet, tasteful.

There are three elements I need in life for me to feel complete: nature, cooking, and art (I hope that my life is really not that simple).  In anycase, one thing I cannot stand is waste.  I tend to avoid doing so whether it is eating everything on myplate, or reusing a plastic yogurt container until it has been bleached away and wrinkled broken.

When there was word on the farm that the broccoli has gone to flower and could not be sold I became a little irritated with the idea that people will only buy “image” products.  My philosophy says that we are all perfect by our imperfections.  A flawed piece of produce is still edible.  If you want a perfect apple or perfect tomato buy a painting of one, because the cost of  flawless fruit or vegetable is far more than what you pay at the register (Too bad people are not willing to pay such a premium for food these days as if it were a great painting).

Rants and tangents aside, I decided to put my creativity to work:

One day I brought home a few things: flowered broccoli, garlic scapes (not flowered, but would be even better if they were), and a few leaves of Swiss Chard.  Just to note, people tend to stare at bike riders with flowers hanging out of the basket.

ImageI could have ate this, oh sure, but I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to answer the question of how to you move undesirable product? The answer? Make it into an edible arrangement.

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I also added some curry willow branches (which are not edible…or at least would not digest well I assure you).  The photos do not do justice for the arrangement. However, I could have done a far better job and utilized more contrast in color, but this is all I had to work with.  For my first attempt I still appreciate it.  Unfortunately, I moved this bouquet into my bathroom, right next to the toilet, thus making it inedible, and don’t try to dare me to serve any of it up either!  However, the arrangement has sat for about a week or so and it just started showing mild signs of wilt.  Perhaps I am on to something here.

First market this Wednesday!

The garden fills up fast and it’s looking great. We’re elated to have such good looking stuff to bring to market. Our leafy greens like the lettuce, kale, and chard have been enjoying the mild temperatures as of late and are not only beautiful, but especially tasty. We will also have broccoli, beets, and plenty of kohlrabi ready along with green onions.

We’ve been busy making sure we have good looking stuff to bring to market all season, and getting plants in the ground is our main concern at this point. We’ve put in several hundred tomato and pepper plants, and are currently planting melons, cucumbers, and beans. Our potato plants are finally starting to creep up after taking their sweet time since being planted a month ago, but it looks like we’ll get a good crop.

In order to speed up the transplanting of peppers and eggplant, our team decided to use the water wheel. Mary and Jordan can be seen below plugging freshly dug holes with our transplants. The water wheel is pulled behind the tractor, poking holes with big spikes and filling them with water as it roles along. Not the fanciest machine, but it was really helpful and fairly easy to operate

 

 

So the season is off to a good start. Everyone is done with exams now so we’re putting in long days at the farm. The new crew of interns are doing an excellent job staying on top of things. We’ve been spreading a heavy layer of straw around plants and between rows to prevent  weed germination. Tomatoes are stakes and ready to be trellised. The garden is well under way to being one of our best! We’re really excited to see all of you at market on Wednesday!