Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden
by Charles Capaldi
Dateline – May 1st, 2010
Today, Paul Bishop lives in Houston, Texas. But his farming roots reach far back into a childhood with time well-spent on his grandparents’ farm in Tennessee. Now that he’s a grown up, with a day job requiring a deft hand at tying a tie, Paul’s farming consists of a couple 18″-deep raised beds set right on the lawn. He trucked in a pile of black, fertile, organic soil and planted his crop right there. When he told me that, I knew that I had a kindred spirit on the other end of the phone. I also know from the indoctrination tapes on the interstate as you drive into the Lone Star state: Everything in Texas is bigger, better and above all, warmer than most of the nation. While a late season weather event left my Vermont garden blanketed in snow, Paul’s cukes are blooming in Houston. Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have …
“At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked them up on the web and they turned out to be striped cucumber beetles.”
Paul did what most of us would do in our right mind. He ran out to a local garden supply store and asked what he could use. Sure enough, the clerk sold him a bottle of something he promised would work and that he reassured him, was indeed organic. Of course, the idea that we can just spray something on our crops to protect them from predators, or add something to our soil to make everything grow better, oversimplifies the relationship between the relative order of a kitchen garden and the chaos of nature. Where the raison d’être of a garden supply store is to sell you something, the raison d’être of an organic garden is to find that balance between order and chaos.
In a small garden, picking off any visible beetles only takes a few minutes each day. My youngest son regularly cashes in his haul of potato, asparagus, and Japanese beetles to the tune of a penny a piece – and then promptly feeds the contents of his container to the chickens who provide the service of turning them into eggs. We also use floating row covers to confound the wee beasties – Remay, for instance, is a woven horticultural fabric, permeable to light, air and water. At its simplest, it can be laid directly on top of the crop to confound the pests whose stomachs are way bigger than their brains.