Friday, July 10, 2015

Full Confession: I am no longer an organic gardener

After this past week I can no longer call myself an organic farmer. Sigh.

The Japanese beetles got me. I’ve put up with squash bugs and voles and those nasty invisible beetles that eat up my beans. And while we’ve had Japanese beetles before, I’ve never reached for the chemical weapons with any of them. I moved plants around, incentified the cats, and picked thousands of beetles off plants to drop them to their certain death in my bucket of dish soap.

But then last year happened. I wrote about it. It was devastating. They killed my peach and my nectarine trees, both of which were loaded with their first real crop. I was heartbroken. We ardently applied the milky spore – spent hundreds on it to be sure we treated all the ground around the gardens and fruit trees. We ordered new fruit trees and chalked the whole experience up to the difficult but noble pursuit of organic gardening.

And then I came home from my camping trip in June to find the Japanese beetles were back by the millions. They were devouring my grapes which had barely survived the onslaught last year. They had lived, but been reduced to the size they were the second year of their lives (they are eight this year). The beetles swarmed my gorgeous plum tree which was loaded with beautiful tiny purple plums for the first time ever. The raspberries and asparagus, even the rhubarb were swarmed by beetles.

What the heck? How did this happen? What about all that milky spore? Seems last year’s beetles must have sent out a message and it went viral and now all their friends and relatives had converged on our little hillside for a mass feast.

I fumed. I filled buckets with soapy water. I picked beetles three and four times a day, but it made no difference. I sat down in the grass in tears when I discovered there were beetles covering my three baby cherry trees (the replacements for the ones blighted a few years back), and then I notice them on my new peach tree. The gorgeous healthy replacement for last year’s loss.

That was the last straw. This meant war.

I am smarter than a beetle and Home Depot is less than a mile away.

I took my shocked husband to the store and we read the labels. He’d forgotten his reading glasses so we shared my lovely flowered spectacles. Pretty much every product said it was “organic” since there’s no law against it. I allowed myself to be greenwashed into believing this, because the only other option was moving far far away or bulldozing my trees and grapes and raspberries
We toted home two bottles of concentrate and three tubs of powder. And we dosed everything. And then we sat on the porch and drank some wine and imagined the beetles dying.

I’m not a violent person. Really, I’m not. I’ve never played a video game that involved anything dying besides the little yellow dots my pacman gobbled up. But I took great joy in walking past the grapes and noting the dead beetles tumbling from their leaves.

So there you have it. I am no longer an organic farmer. But be certain, this is not an opening of the flood gates. I’m still planting organic heirloom seeds and pulling my weeds by hand. I’m still fertilizing with compost tea or seaweed and mulching my fall gardens in horse manure and clean saw dust. I’ve ordered beneficial nematodes to let loose on the ground surrounding our gardens and fruit trees in the hopes that they will be more effective than milky spore against the beetles. I’m watching many of my tomatoes succumb to the blight from this rainy, humid summer, but I have not even filled my sprayer with copper oxide. It is what it is.

Truly, I have no desire for any more modern chemical warfare in my garden.

But don’t take any of that to mean I won’t turn lethal weapons on Japanese beetle again. They are a completely other story. They’ve eaten their last tree on this hillside. I’ve still got two tubs of toxic beetle-killing powder and I’m not afraid to use them.
Okay - this isn't a pic from my property. Hopefully it's not yours either.
It's the image in my mind that makes me reach for the bottle (of bug killer).

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