Pests & Predators

This weekend I listened to a TED talk given by Dan Barber (Executive Chef of Stone Barns).  He was relating a love story between himself and a fish.  This fish was raised in an incredibly unique environment on the coast of Spain, on a farm that is a model of a true sustainability.  So much so that it is also one of the largest and most diverse bird sanctuaries in Europe.  Without going into unnecessary details (see the whole talk HERE), the point is that they encourage biodiversity in a way that mimics nature.  This includes an incredible bird population that consumes about 20% of the “farmed” fish.  That kind of loss would be totally unacceptable to agribusiness of any kind.  But it allows for a system in balance that accepts loss in the context of valuing all life and appreciating the true bounty that nature offers.  And Dan Barber’s beloved fish was a product of that system.  And it was delicious.
As Charlotte and I strive to be better farmers, our hope is to produce similarly excellent food from a system in balance.  Easier said than done.   Our farm doesn’t just exist in nature.  The human effort we call farming is extremely destructive at certain times and from certain points of view.  The act of tilling that Charlotte talked about in her last post, completely alters the ecosystem of a field.  Reestablishing the balance from that point requires time and a juggling of all kinds of factors (water, nutrition, plant varieties and their rotation).  When we add the financial pressure to produce enough vegetables to pay the bills it can be easy to lose site of the big picture.  But we’re getting there!
One example: We would like to bring cabbage to market.  But there are three different types of cabbage moths that lay eggs on our cabbage and as caterpillars they chew holes in it.  Conventional farming indicates a threshold for the number of caterpillars per plant at which you begin your pesticide spray regimen which kills the pest caterpillars, but also any other caterpillar that happens to be on the plant.  We choose not to spray pesticides on your food, organically approved or otherwise.  We choose to wait.  As the caterpillars grow, different types of parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside the caterpillar and consume it as they develop, eventually hatching and killing it.  They depend on the caterpillar for food.  Research shows that there is a change in the inoculated caterpillar’s saliva, which triggers an immune response by the cabbage making it less desirable to the moth that lays eggs of the pest caterpillar.
To simply see the crop damage and destroy the pest is short sighted: in destroying the pest by spraying, the beneficial insect that would naturally control the pest population, is also destroyed.   So the cycle perpetuates itself leading to more of the same insecticide use year after year with greater and greater resistance.  We prefer to sell a little less cabbage.
Nature is full of these interrelationships and our goal is to foster those relationships into a more symbiotic whole.  We choose to tolerate losses in the meantime as our land recovers from the huge changes that have taken place in our three-year tenure.  So this year, you may not see much cabbage.  We thank you for bearing with us in our struggles, and may we all look forward to a more and more bountiful Sweet Acre.