Monday, June 15, 2009

Pioneers in Cultural Controls.....EOSF part 5

So what about these dang bugs on our farm? After doing (almost) all farmer guy said, and not really knowing but kinda guessing what he sprayed on the fields in April, we were really really unhappy with the spraying. We were a bit exasperated at the fact that we left HK for the kids’ health and here we were on a farm that required mega spraying.
During our first season all our gooseberries and currants dropped their berries prematurely, and guess what, it was due to a “currant Fruit fly” that comes up out of the soil in the spring, lays an egg in the flower, the maggot grows in and with the berry, causes premature drop, the maggot eats the berry till it’s full, then burrows into the ground for the winter, and then does it all over the next year….And guess what the solution is? Diazonon. Sprayed 2 or 3 times, during bloom, and on developing berries. It’s nasty. Farmer guy forgot to mention the necessary sprays during his berry course…and when we called desperate when all the berries were dropping his girlfriend said, “Oh yes, he sprayed for that bug” We rototilled all our currants and gooseberries. Just not willing to do the necessary sprays, gas mask and all.
So, I digress, as usual, we did a bunch of research about our weevils. We found a lot of neat information and some of it very depressing. In Ontario, government entomologists built barriers between infected fields and new fields to see if they could block the onslaught. Weevils only walk. Weevils do not need to mate to reproduce. After 3 years a commercial strawberry patch is tilled in. At this point all the weevils that have been living and building their population in the three year old strawberries start walking until they find the closest food. Like the rows next door. Which explains the dying rows beside our newly planted rows (that used to be 3rd year plants that were tilled in the season before). Each weevil lays 500 or so eggs. The most weevils are out just at or after strawberry season and you need to “get em” (read spray) before they lay eggs. Grubs (immature stage) in the soil are near impossible to kill. Adult Weevils are nocturnal. Weevils are very very hard to kill, even with sprays. HUH??? Nocturnal? Hard to kill??? So basically all the sprays are basically a big fat WASTE OF TIME since farmer guy sprayed during the day mostly preseason, and KILLING all the BENEFICIAL bugs that keeping a ‘checks and balances’ system going out there in nature. Weevils walk. Adult weevils like to eat strawberry leaves, after eating enough they lay their eggs at the base of the strawberry plant, their grubs hatch 14 days later and begin eating fine strawberry roots eventually stunting and killing fields. They eat all fall and go dormant for the winter. Once the soil warms in the spring they become active again and eat eat eat roots (killing plants with berries) until they become adults, conveniently (NOT!) during strawberry season . So not only were we planting next to tilled in 3rd year strawberries, we were moving plants from one field to another, presumably moving weevils and or their eggs around the fields as well.
I found an entomologist’s report, with an interesting idea. I wanted to build the barrier. A description told us how to do it. I got excited. I read about parasitic nematodes. They enter and kill weevil grubs under the correct conditions. I hassled hubby. I phoned the BC Government Entomologist. I told her we wanted to stop spraying and go organic and how could we? Wow. Her response was not what I expected, or was it. She said we had no choice, we had to spray the hell out of the weevils. Spray spray spray. There was NO other way. I described the barrier to her. She said they’ll just walk over it. I asked about nematodes. She was negative. I hung up super bummed out. Luckily, the barrier was not difficult to build. And hubby was up to it, what a guy.
Basically we have 2 acres of strawberries at one end of our farm. One acre of it we had JUST planted. We had 3 year old strawberry plants beside our new acre that appeared to be badly infected with weevils and were starting to drop (by harvest these rows were DEAD). Something had to be done – We would be tilling these rows in and the bugs had to walk somewhere to eat and didn’t our new plants look yummy! We made the following decisions: 1) We had to stop digging up plants from established rows and infecting our new fields by replanting the plants. We purchased 7500 strawberry plants (at .12 Cents each). 2) The farm had to be divided into age related sections with “barriers” between them to halt the spread of the weevils. Currently the ages of rows within each field were completely random and mixed up based on what farmer guy dug up when and replanted…..3) Any old plantings would NOT be tilled until the fall to halt the mass migration of bugs from old fields to new.
We built the barrier according to instructions. So now we have a 200 foot piece of aluminum flashing embedded in the soil with 10 inches or so sticking out with ice cream buckets embedded in the soil at both ends as drop traps. There is salty soapy water in each bucket. The flashing has grease along the top inch.
Each morning I head out with my mini fish net and fish out bugs. I also start a spreadsheet (based on the Ontario Berry Specialist’s – they caught 800 bugs over 6 weeks….) At first I don’t catch many, but then start getting 2 or 3, then 10, then 18, then one night I get 60! Am I excited or what???!!! Then I start getting two and three HUNDRED a night. I email the berry specialist. The numbers keep going up, and when we till the field in August the number skyrockets to ARE YOU READY????????? 2500 in one night!!! And yes, I counted them. And yes I have pictures.
The kids and I headed out every morning. We found that the bugs liked hiding under things. So all along the barrier we laid leaves and in the morning we would go along, lift a leaf and scoop up bugs. Who “play dead” just to make it easier for us. By the end of the summer, when I’m sick of counting, our spreadsheet ends at about 22,000 weevils, with probably another 2-4000 caught and not inputted. NO WONDER THE ROWS BESIDE TILLED AREAS DROP THE NEXT YEAR!!!!!!!!! I can’t explain the anger I felt at the Government Entomologist (you know, the one who told me a barrier would be useless?!)
At night we would go out with flashlights. The weevils were like zombies from the dawn of the dead. Every inch there was a weevil walking walking slowly marching along the barrier. They are clumsy – they would try and climb it, fall, or hit the grease and fall, or fall into the bucket. It was scary, depressing and exciting.
Once the Berry specialist heard of our bugs he had us send them to a research company (read pesticide testers) in Vancouver, but they had to be alive. So our soapy salty water traps became greased buckets (no bug likes grease) and we sent, daily, our bugs on the bus to Vancouver. They only escaped once. Only 800 of them. We started duct taping and packing the yoghurt containers much better after that. J We can’t imagine what some poor passenger found in their suitcase!
At the beginning, upon fishing them out of the salty soapy water, I would count the bugs and dump their corpses on the driveway. My nephew wanted to see them so we went back to the dump spot. They weren’t there. The BUGGERS were still alive, got up and marched away. I’m so glad I found this out when numbers were low.
The kids loved to carry their own buckets and “catch” bugs too. August would lift a leaf and yell “I found the MOTHER LODE!!!!” Sometimes he’d get more than me. I was always scared they would drop the buckets on the way back down the driveway. Luckily this only happened once. See frantic farmer lady picking up pebble like, dead-playing weevils frantically from matching driveway!
I spoke to the berry scientist lady and told her I was sure we had 4 species of weevils and was told no way. I sent them to her. Guess who was right.
We planted a cover crop in the field and pulled the barrier out the next spring.
I don’t know my writing makes it clear what happened but basically we learned all we could about the habits and life cycle of our weevil, and then used this information to outsmart them. Even the pesticide research company guys who were sending our bugs to said things to us like “these bugs are hard to kill, they get up and keep going” and “they’ll go down for 3 days and then get up and go again” Spraying them was only killing the GOOD bugs in our fields. These bad ones were allowed to reproduce unchecked.
We have sent our spreadsheets to 3 different university/government berry agencies with descriptions of our barriers at their request.
I began corresponding with Richard Cowles, the original barrier guy. He took our data and told us we were “Pioneers in Cultural Controls of Weevils”
We haven’t sprayed insecticides since.
Now ask me if my kids understand Life Cycles, Insects, Ecology, Farming, Counting, name it!
Next: Weevil resistant strawberries

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