Notes from the Field
I was alone in the Hay Barn Field, one rare sunny morning, when a large object shot off the chard leaf I had just harvested and whizzed past my head. It made a soft thunk in the soil behind me. Curious, I bent to investigate. A praying mantis lay dazed in the dirt. “Sorry little one!,” I said. “I didn’t see you there.” I offered it a twig, and it grasped it with its front pinchers seemingly grateful for the help up. I carefully ferried it back to the chard row, where it once again took up residence on a leaf.
It watched me from the edge of that leaf for a long time as I continued my harvest, cocking its alien-like head from side to side, as if trying to make sense of me. As for me, I was thrilled to make this being’s acquaintance. And I told it so. I thanked it for visiting our crops. Praying mantises are one of our allies in the war against pests. And when you are waging war, you need all the allies you can get.
It may be difficult to imagine, as you happily gaze upon the impeccable produce in your CSA box, but we farmers have been at all-out war all growing season. Our crops have met challenges from every direction—air, land, and subterranean regions. Our foes have come from every kingdom of living things: bacterial and fungal diseases, weedy plants, herbivorous insects, rabbits, and a myriad of rodents, including gophers, voles, field mice, and the crafty ground squirrel with its wide-ranging network of underground warrens. The battles have been ceaseless. And, sadly, we were not always victorious.
Take the Hay Barn Field, for instance. Earlier this summer, an entire block of rows designated for your CSA blocks was all but wiped out, seemingly overnight, by a marauding band of ground squirrels. We tried our best agroecological tricks to fend them off—fencing, trapping, and covering crops with garden fabric—but these were not enough to deter the gluttonous enemy and recover our crops. We had to admit defeat. We retreated. Score one for the ground squirrels! But, nimble we are. We were down, but not without resources. We regrouped and replanted a block of crops in another field, to save you from having empty CSA boxes for several weeks.
While our praying mantis allies can’t fight the fluffy-tailed rodents, it, along with lady bugs, lacewings, ground beetles, wasps, and the aptly named big-eyed bug, will gladly dine on other villains of the field, including the voracious cucumber beetle. These acid-green beetles, both spotted and striped varieties, were making a feast of our kale and other greens. So, we strategically planted an insectary row of enticing flowers right next to these crops to lure our allies into taking up residence in our fields. It worked. Our greens returned to their unblemished beauty. Score one for the farmers!
Most people think of organic farmers as gentle stewards of the land, but really, we are keen-eyed warriors always on the look out for disease and intruders. We fight to bring an abundant and vibrant harvest to you, while protecting the health of the land. We combat hordes of insects, rodents, rabbits, rusts, rots, and blights all season long. (And I haven’t even mentioned the weather!) And, we make the farm a hospitable habitat for native allies such as insects, snakes, owls, and even bobcats.
It takes a certain level of steely nerves and bravery to promise a variety of organic crops for 22 consecutive weeks, relying on only our wits and agroecological strategies. We appreciate your support and your belief in our skills and methods.
– Tracey Fine