WARNING: The following passages contain images too gruesome, too tragic and too heart-wrenching to NOT cause extreme sympathetic agricultural despair. Or at least, they'll gross you out.
I should never have said we were gaining ground. I should never have thought we'd bested them. I should remember the way this feels and never, never, NEVER think I've got one on Mother Nature. Most importantly, I should never have proclaimed success over anything farm related, especially on any form of social media.
I was just asking for it.
It all began back in June. We planned to have pumpkins just in time for Halloween, and we were ready. We had remineralized the fields and allowed the beds a rest with a cover crop in between the time when potatoes had grown there and our anticipated pumpkins. At the last minute, at the behest of our customers, we added summer squash to our planting plan. Lovely.
We knew we'd have to take care, for pests and squash go together like blue hair and bingo. The dreaded squash vine borer is a notorious menace to all growers, and almost certain to get at your crops eventually. However, we were ready.
From the moment the seeds popped through the earth, we babied those little plantlings. Weekly sprays of compost tea and Garret's Juice, sweet caresses and a daily inspection. Diatomaceous earth lovingly squeezed from a condiment bottle was applied around the stem of every single plant as a surefire way to deter the villainous Borer.
I gabbed all about our grand schemes everywhere, even on a little-known, sparsely-attended to blog.
Things were going great. Splendid, even. The plants looked robust, we were keeping up with the weeds (sorta), and we felt enthused about the beautiful produce we'd have to offer in the coming months.
Yet, after a few weeks, we noticed something was eating bits of our squash leaves. There was frass (bug poop) found here and there, and lo--little caterpillars were found.
The little critters were a concern, to be sure--but it seemed as though upping the rigorous nature of our daily plant patrols paired with hand-squishing and extra sprays of amped-up juice and tea were doing the trick.
I couldn't identify the beasties, no matter how many books I leafed or sites I searched. That was almost the most infuriating part.
Then one morning, we found this:
And then one day, we went from this...
and our luscious green fields changed into a crumbling graveyard.
They are everything. Leaves became skeletons, fruits became love tunnels, and through it all, that damn frass covered everything. And it happened in a matter of days. By the time we started applying Bt, an organic bacterial spray (generally considered the Big Mama of organic pesticides and one we had hoped to avoid just because of its BigMama-ness), it was too late. A total crop disaster.
I finally did find out the name of our alien invaders. Cucumber moth. Actually, I had celebrated having a name to put to our little cucurbitae-loving burdens. Taxonomy gives me a feeling of control and order.That was before they decimated 7 beds of vegetables and wiped out all our squash.
I have a few other names for the cucumber moths now. And I had no control.
But, what do you do?
Besides stamp your feet for more or less 5 seconds, fling multiple curses into the heavens and maybe pout for a 1/2 day,
you get over it.
This is farming. And nobody, nowhere, has the upper hand. This life choice means playing pawn to something bigger than our own choices and plans, and we'll get plenty of practice at changing all of those from moment to moment as the years grow on.
Now, we give those beds a nice long rest, compost the dead plants and remember how this went for next time.
And so, I vow to do two things. One, admire how cool the cucumber moth really is. I mean, look at her weird tail. And dude, can she EAT!
As for number 2, I vow to be wary of feeling any kind of agricultural hubris ever again. And if somehow I forget, I promise to NEVER advertise it on facebook.