Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wind Revisited

                In an earlier post, I described how absolutely not normal high velocity winds in May damaged many transplants and some field plants in an unprecedented manner for our region. Now, a couple of months later, more damage resulting from those high velocity winds have made it quite apparent.
                One of the earlier field plantings damaged were bean plants as shown in the previous entries. Those beans had not been covered by row covers. Three other plantings had been covered… at one point, that is…
                As previously mentioned, high velocity winds accosted the region this year in quite an unprecedented manner. It was relentless. Occasionally there was a day with a somewhat mild breeze, but that was uncommon. As May arrived and the wind had not subsided… it had grown beyond annoying… and as the last entry mentioned, it significantly damaged some of the plantings.
                It was not until May 27 that the high velocity winds seemed to disappear… at last! But the damage was done, only we would not realize the full extent until July. What were mostly at stake, that would reveal itself a month or so later were the crops covered by row covers. I shall attempt to explain this…
                First off… row covers. Row covers are a light fabric that has been created and is used to cover rows of crops for a multitude of reasons. For our purposes here, they are used to keep off early season pests from the plantings. Row covers are used in lieu of chemicals, such as pesticides and is completely harmless, ergo, acceptable for organic farming. Of course, I will always choose the organic approach, and over the years, as I have learned about the various pests that attack plants, such as beans and squash in our region, I have found row covers to be a great source of protection.
                For example, let’s start with the squash family, which also includes zucchini. Squash is attacked in our region by a legion of pests from the squash vine borer to the squash bug. These pests lay their eggs on the plants, and once the eggs hatch, as in the case of the squash vine borer, the larvae tunnel into the plant stems and kill the plant. As for the squash bugs, their eggs hatch to nymphs, which begin by devouring the leaves… then the entire plant. In order to protect the squash plants row cover is used. This prevents the adult vine borer moth and the adult squash bug from landing on the plant directly and laying their eggs.
                Now, there is more to this story because squash plants need pollinators, such as bees, to cross pollinate their flowers. So, once the flowers develop on the plants, the row covers are removed. At that point in the plant’s development, the squash plant will be well enough established to withstand a much larger assault of those pests. (Make no mistake about this. They WILL succumb to the damage eventually when growing organically. This approach merely prolongs the plant’s life.)
                Another example is beans. Beans are kept under the row cover until they flower as well. Beans do not require cross pollinators, but I have found through experience that uncovering the beans when they flower greatly increases their production.
                Beans are attacked by a myriad of bugs, none of which do nearly as much harm as the Mexican bean beetle. (It is difficult to even type that name without a curse spewing from my mouth!) Mexican bean beetles are not native to this region, but have adapted quite readily. In the region in which Mexico resides, there is a native species of parasitic wasp that keeps those nasty beetles in check. Unfortunately for us, those beneficial insects do not overwinter in this region. (Hey, but with global warming/climate change… Who knows what the future will bring!) Anyway, this beetle can produce multiple generations in one season and simply ravage a bean crop in as little as a week… as this year has revealed.
                Before moving on, other crops can also be destroyed by pests without row cover, but the list is too long to incorporate here. One other that was specifically affected on the farm this year were watermelons, where cucumber beetles lay there larvae by the root system, which the larvae then tunnel into and kill the crop.
                What happened at the farm as a result of the high velocity winds in May, was that most of the row covers were ripped from the ground, thus leaving many of those crops vulnerable to the pests just mentioned. It would be easy to say, “Just recover the crops!”, which we did… only to have the relentless wind rip the row cover off again. It was beyond frustrating. Beyond all of the other work detail involved in May, of which there is a MOUNTAIN!, replacing row cover became quite a… futile effort.
                I will pause here to state that there are ways to make sure the row cover stays in place, but the cost of that effort was not affordable this year. And as a result… those confounded pests ravaged the plantings almost immediately. In our region, timing is everything when it comes to avoiding pest damage, especially as an organic farmer since pesticides are not an option. While those high velocity winds blew, those devouring pests did not hesitate to attack the crops they love!
                Beans in particular have been ravaged. We grow a multitude of varieties from green to yellow to purple to roma and dragon beans. We are seemingly “blessed” with the reality that soy beans are grown on a large neighboring field. Of course I jest. Mexican bean beetles love soy beans as well. However, once the neighboring field sprays pesticides, those Mexican bean beetles look for a better home… like the healthy organic beans not far away…newly exposed from beneath row cover by the relentless high velocity winds…

Here is a picture of Mexican bean beetle damage. They ravage the leaves first… then the beans. If they are not contained early on, multiple generations soon result…

…as this picture shows. The yellow blobs in the picture are Mexican bean beetles. (Unfortunately, none of those in this picture survived for comment…) This picture relays a late stage where the bean leaves are almost completely devastated. There is little hope of a continued harvest at this point.
                The same situation has been witnessed with the squash/zucchini, watermelon and cantaloupes. A simple aspect of timing for organic farming can equate to either success or complete failure. Unfortunately for us, the high velocity winds throughout May have resulted in almost complete devastation of these crops.
                There is not much more to add to this unfortunate development for 2013, other than to learn and move on. The learning part is actually more difficult than it might seem. Instead of planning on how to protect crops from weather situations common to the region, now, we must protect those crops from… virtually anything. Prepare for the unpredictable! (Ahh… farming in the 21st century!!!)

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