Attack of the Squash Bugs
July 3, 2009
As the worlds moribund systems of banking, energy, agriculture and “free market” (what a joke) economy continue to show signs of decay bordering on collapse, I’ve begun to think more and more about local food security. I’ve even wondered about my own food growing skills. Hitch our rickety dystopic house of cards to a still-surging population, its need for food and the dwindling water supply to grow said food, and precarious is not even close to describing the kind of future that’s right around the corner.
With that challenging world speeding at us like a magnetic levitating bullet train, I thought I’d combine shovel, seed, water and sweat to try my hand at a little home-style food production. I planted a small suburban garden of three crops: German Johnson Heirloom Tomatoes, Crowder (Black-Eye) Peas from Thomas Jefferson’s seed stock at Monticello and some Yellow Crook Neck Squash.
Looking at the peas and tomatoes, you’d think I was either lucky or an accomplished gardener. The peas have drawn no pests, we’ve had rain aplenty and I have been like a doting father over 32 strapping bean stalks. I’ve seen only one horn-worm on my tomatoes which I quickly dispatched, and the fruit on these six-foot vines is coming in fine. The squash plants have been another matter.
Two of my friends, one a professional organic farmer, have lost most if not all of their squash to armies of squash bugs (Anasa Tristis). The five-eights inch adults have piercing mouth parts that suck sap out of the leaves until the plant withers and dies. I’m still fighting to save my four remaining curcurbits as they continue to blossom and produce. How does one wage organic war against a pest threatening one’s food supply?
First of all, I refuse to spray non-biodegradable pesticides. Everything we put on the earth ends up in our water supply. I don’t fancy drinking poison. Because of the poisons used in conventional agriculture a dead zone the size of New Jersey now smothers all life in this range in the Gulf of Mexico.
In the cool of the morning I go squash bug hunting like I was stalking big game. Squatting low enough to examine the tops and bottoms of all the leaves, I scan not just for the bugs themselves, but for clutches of their tiny amber eggs. I mash the eggs with my fingers and do the same to the bugs. Occasionally, I’m lucky enough to catch a male and female en flagrante so that I can stop a new generation along with my double kill. Forgive me if I sound too gleeful about wasting the little buggers, but I take it personally when my food supply is threatened. I’m trying to master a skill that could keep me and my family alive someday.
After weeks of these tactics with good results, I realized that as I was diligently executing my foes, I had also created a habitat in which they had been thriving. To decorate my garden and to keep the Pugs from pooping on my food, I’d used big rocks and logs to erect a barrier around the squash plants. Under the moist rock and wood bred not only anasa tristis, but slugs, those little potato bugs and termites. UGH!! I dismantled my pest paradise, slaughtered its inhabitants and hopefully increased the yield of my beleaguered cultivars.
As a neophyte agronomist I know I’ve a lot to learn about growing enough food to live on. I also know that challenges to successful farming never end. The way we humans are persistently shooting ourselves in the collective foot (if not the head) we aren’t making it any easier.
The era of petro-fertilized, pesticide, and herbicide dependent mono culture food production and gargantuan livestock farms is coming to an end one way or the other. Either we’ll consciously stop this practice that is polluting us out of existence, or we’ll foul our nest so thoroughly that we’ll kill the planet’s ability to feed us. Somber possibilities, both.
We can dispel apocalyptic hunger by planting seeds, nurturing their growth and living with the conservatism that is imposed by the earth who bore us…and we’ll have a tasty time doing it!