Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why I Ditched Organic

We've been growing a vegetable garden off and on (mostly on) for about 7 years now.  In all that time, we've chosen to be as natural as possible.  Fish meal fertilizers, cover crops, companion planting, hand picking pests, neem oil, pulling weeds by hand.  We've never sprayed anything on our plants except neem, insecticidal soaps (which have never worked for us), and homemade garlic or pepper sprays (which have also never worked). 

Until today.  Today I decided it was time to blur the lines and step into the gray area.  When you are growing your own food, and know exactly what is being sprayed and how it is being sprayed, perhaps it's possible to occasionally venture into non-organic territory without compromising all your principles. 

Remember when I blogged about these guys?
Just as a reminder, they are leaffooted bugs.  They are the bane of our tomato plants every year.  This year, I found the babies and sprayed them with neem, so we really don't have all that many in the garden.  The ones we do have seem to love roma tomatoes the best, though.  They are all congregating on a few plants and decimating the fruit.  They have sucker mouth parts and they pierce the skin of the tomato to suck the juice out.  As the tomato ripens, small yellow spots are left behind:

You can still eat the tomato, but once the bugs have fed on it, it is more susceptible to infection, so you want to pick them right away instead of leaving them in the garden.  I've often found the skin kind of sticks in these spots when we are trying to peel tomatoes for canning too. 

When you cut into or peel the tomato, you'll see white spots on the inside corresponding to each puncture mark

I have been spraying the adult leaffooted bugs (and the rest of the garden) with neem, but it doesn't really seem to phase them.  I suspect this is because the neem sits on the surface and these bugs aren't really eating much of the surface.  Neem is really effective for chewing bugs, but those bugs are getting a lot more treated plant matter.   I tried catching the bugs by hand and feeding them to the chickens, but they fly.  In fact, when you try to catch them, it's more likely they'll fly at your face and then escape while you frantically try to dodge them.  I sprayed them with insecticidal soap.  I think they enjoyed the cool shower.  I walked around with a pail of soapy water and knocked them in the bucket with a stick.  That did actually work, until I got about 4 of them and the rest wised up and moved towards the center of the plants where I couldn't reach them anymore. 

There is a local radio show that comes on every Thursday around here that is all about gardening.  The host is a horticulturist with the local ag extension office and people can call in or email to ask their questions.  It's really a fabulous resource because chances are the people in your area are all dealing with similar problems around the same time.  One guy had a problem with leaffooted bugs (he didn't know it, but once he described the damage, it was clear that was the culprit) and the host said he sprays liquid, ready-to-use Sevin in his own garden, or spinosad would be an organic alternative, but it didn't really work all that well. 

I decided I had given it "the ol' college try" to get rid of these bugs in a natural way, so I opted to give the Sevin a try.  The ready-to-use was recommended because problems often result from improper mixing or disposal of unused mix when concentrates are used.  There is a wait time between when you spray sevin and when you can harvest your produce.  For tomatoes, it's only 1 day.  Honey bees are susceptible to sevin, so it'd be wise to avoid spraying it when bees are active and avoid spraying blooms.  For our garden, I bought a spray bottle of ready to use and I specifically sprayed the bugs I saw.  I have no intention of spraying the whole garden or even one whole section of the garden, this is very much a spot treatment on parts of some of our tomato plants.  So hello gray area.  I've made the educated decision to take on a nastier chemical in very limited doses in order to save my tomatoes.   I figure a handful of sprays directly targeting bugs I can see at the moment are not nearly the same as indiscriminately spraying an entire field.  I've noticed in internet research that a lot of organic gardeners who support occasional spot treatment with sevin live in Texas or Florida. There are other organic gardeners who are vehemently opposed to the use of sevin, but they seem to mostly live in other areas and deal with different insects.

As for me, I'm gonna get all snuggly in the gray area.  I won't lie, I had a little Die Hard moment of "yippie-ki-yay......." well, you know what comes next, as I watched those buggers fall out of my plants.

1 comment:

Rhea said...

I have tried to grow an organic garden every year and am never successful because of the bugs. We have green horned caterpillars that kill off any tomatoes that sprout. It's so disheartening.


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