And now it seems to be the appropriate time to readdress the Brown Marmorated stink bug situation of 2011. I named this entry “65” for a specific reason. As many of us experienced in our mid-Maryland region, the Brown Marmorated stink bugs have an uncanny ability to invade our homes. How? That is an answer I do not have. Nonetheless, up until this evening, I had killed 65 Brown Marmorated stink bugs within my house of residence. That does not include the numbers already found dead on the window sills. And as fate would have it, I killed number 66 tonight, as it landed on the ceiling just a little while ago, but the number 65 or 66 is really irrelevant.
I kept track of how many Brown Marmorated stink bugs were killed within the house out of curiosity. What date would it be, when the 65th Brown Marmorated stink bug would be killed in the field? This was an approach to measure just how bad the invasion of those non-native creatures would be. Although their numbers were somewhat minimal outside, until recently that is, the general fear of a population explosion appears to be somewhat warranted.
The month of June relayed relatively few of those nefarious creatures. But, I was well aware that that was probably early for them to make a presence. As the rows of beans were picked, a few were smashed here or there, but not all that many. I did notice, that there was at least one in any row of crop I entered, be it kale, garlic, potatoes, etc. But that is normal...somwhat normal, that is. In fact, there were only a few Brown Marmorated stink bugs more than the indigenous green and brown shield species. In June, things did not appear so bad.
Then July came around. On July 7, I smashed my 65th Brown Marmorated stink bug in Field 8. The reason the number 66 is insignificant is because by the 8th of July I had smashed over one hundred. Every day since, stink bugs have been witnessed on almost every crop I visited, and not just on a random plant here or there, but on the great majority. Perhaps, just perhaps, the fear of the Brown Marmorated stink bug invasion is justified. Most definitely, there are more this year than last.
For weeks now, I have smashed countless stink bugs. The act of counting the murders ceased long ago, for it was futile. But I do need to explain a little on a possible reason why the stink bugs were flourishing on… some of the plants. One major means of fighting those nasty creatures, organically of course, is to make their presence as easily known to the native birds as possible. For a long list of reasons, a list far too long to enumerate here, the chore of weeding, and more specifically, tying and pruning tomatoes is woefully behind schedule. But allow me to explain.
I will take tomatoes as my example: Tomatoes are a vining plant, at least the varieties I grow for their incredible flavor. However, if they are not assisted in their efforts to vine upward, they will languish on the ground, thus creating a thick mesh of green growth that looks like, well, an indiscernible amount of green growth, until the tomatoes ripen, then there is some color viewed within that verdure. Anyway, in order to allow a tomato vine to thrive, one needs to assist it to grow upwards. I use a trellis system that works fairly well. When it is in place and the tomatoes are trained to grow upward… good things result.
I was a bit late on that for a few plants this year. I am late every year. In fact, I am earlier in my lateness than other years, but nonetheless, I am late. Anyway, what happens is that the tomato plants grow vigorously in the healthy soil of the farm and… languish on the ground. All pests thrive in such a situation. Let’s start with moles, voles and mice. When an untrellised tomato plant lies on the ground, the fruit also lies on the ground, but the green growth of the plant acts a shield, or barrier to any creature that may devour pests from the air. As a result, rodents are free to scurry about under that canopy and devour any ripening fruit they encounter. Of course, they do not devour the entire fruit, no, they tend to nip at fifty, leaving a slight scar which renders the tomato “inedible” to the human species. But those are the rodents. The Brown Marmorated stink bug flourishes in such a setting as well, and its attack is much like the protected realm described for the rodents.
Last week, while I was trellising and pruning the Fox Cherry tomatoes in row 25 of Field 8, an alarming number of Brown Marmorated stink bugs were encountered, and immediately squished. Normally, in an average year, there would be one on every fifth plant or so. This year, there has been at least one on every plant! As the hours passed on my trellising efforts, I began to feel the epidemic that the “learned experts” had predicted. For the fact is, as an organic farmer, containing such an epidemic of Brown Marmorated stink bug attacks… is impossible, … that is, … by squishing alone.
But, there is an upside. This week, as I harvested the Fox Cherry tomatoes that were pruned and trellised last week, I encountered… ONE of those nasty creatures. That is quite a different body count than the hundreds from last week! “What could possibly be the reason for the sudden decrease in Brown Marmorated stink bug population on the Fox Cherry tomato plants?” he asked feigning naivety.
The answer to that question, as only experience allows me to relate, is that the indigenous bird population are the culprits. In my last entry on the Brown Marmorated stink bugs, I submitted that bats were the main devourers of those nasty insects. Perhaps they still are, BUT, when I approach Field 8 Row 25, a multitude of birds are constantly witnessed darting into and out of those hanging tomato plants. Unfortunately, with my diminished long range vision, I cannot make out what the multiple species of those birds are, but nonetheless, experience has relayed that THEY are the ones responsible for the lack of stink bugs in the vicinity.
Now some will scoff at this, but I assure you this is no “utopian dream” I describe here. It is experience that dictates the result of avian insect attack. (A short aside: Many times I have heard from farmers their disgust with birds because they nick the fruit. Nonsense! Not one of the tomatoes was nicked, nor are they ever when they are kept off the ground!) Still, this has only been one week since the trellising effort on the tomatoes. So far so good. As for the subsequent weeks, we shall see. This is the second entry on Brown Marmorated stink bugs for 2011. There is surely another to follow…