We arrived back from our vacation to discover that the tomatoes had grown over a foot in our absence, and the bugs had moved in!
The Colorado Potato Beetles had infested the potato patch. The only way to really deal with them without spraying is to hand pick them off the plants. Luckily, they do not move fast. Or, at all. So I just knock them into a bucket of water and let the suckers drown. I spent 3 hours working my way up and down the almost 300 feet of potato plants, painstakingly looking for bugs and their eggs. Hopefully that knocks them back enough that I can do weekly maintenance without too much leaf loss. Luckily, they don't affect the potatoes themselves, just the leaves, so as long as leaves aren't totally devastated, the potatoes will be fine (unless something else gets them).
Much more worrisome is the infestation of cucumber beetles and squash bugs. These guys love anything in the curcurbit family (cucumbers, summer squash, winter squash, melons). They totally decimated my recently transplanted cucumbers. Only 4 of the 12 plants survived, and they have been brutalized. I have heard from other growers across the country that the cucumber beetles and squash bugs are especially bad this year. I have never seen them before, and there is definitely an infestation.
Given that I abhor the application of chemicals of any kind , my main weapon against pests has been the use of row cover and protective netting (all the white tunnels covering my beds). These usually work pretty great - until your plant has flowers that have to be pollinated. Then you have to remove the protection, which lets in the evil cucumber beetles as well as the helpful pollinators.
I will be employing diatomaceous earth (fossilized diatoms - tiny aquatic organisms) to help combat the beetles and squash bugs. The fossilized diatoms have very sharp edges (on a microscopic level), and when bugs walk through them, it cuts up their exoskeletons and they become dehydrated and die. Not a pleasant way to go
perhaps, but that's what you get for eating my plants! As a last resort, I may also employ an organic pesticide (Spinosad), created from soil bacteria. The problem with these methods, is illustrated in the picture of the squash blossom above teeming with cucumber beetles on the outside of the blossom. And if you peer inside the blossom, what do you see?? Two honey bees. We definitely *don't* want to hurt them. So I will have to carefully apply the diatomaceous earth to the leaves and the ground underneath (hopefully to catch the hatching squash bugs, whose eggs are laid in the soil), but *not* on any blossoms. And the soap spray will be applied in the late evening, when the honey bees have all gone to bed. However, none of these methods will be super effective, and I can only hope to knock the populations back a bit so the plants have a little more of a chance. So what this means is that the supply of cucumbers and squash will be limited this year. I have already started another batch of cucumber plants and summer squash inside, and will plant those out and aggressively protect them until they are big. But the winter squash, which need a long time to mature their fruit, may not be very productive this year.
Speaking of honey bees, I unsuccessfully attempted to keep bees for the previous 3 years. I had decided not to even attempt it this year, when one of the farm members connected me with her friend who is an amateur beekeeper (thanks Sue!). So she brought bees over and installed them in my hive. And she has proved to be farm more competent at it than I ever was, and they have expanded into a third box! (and you can see from the fresh looking cedar on that third box, that I never manged to keep the bees alive long enough to need it). We are keeping our fingers crossed that there might be enough honey to share some with us this year!