3 Steps to a better way
A nearby farmer was developing their land which had an overabundance of centipedes. Centipede bites are painful and sometimes they crawl into bed at night and bite people. So understandably, they actively helped
their chickens search out all the centipedes and successfully wiped them out. It turns out, however, that centipedes eat cockroaches. It also turns out that these cockroaches carry a parasite which infect chickens. Without the centipedes the cockroach population exploded! The chickens happily ate the endless supply of cockroaches and then ended up getting the parasites which grew until the chickens had worms crawling out of their eyes. That’s right, eliminating centipedes killed their chickens. Blindly killing pests can lead to unintended consequences, serious consequences.
As a consultant, in my role as a Master Gardener helping home gardeners with problems, and looking at garden and farm sites online, the leading problem I see is, “How do I kill it?”
The “How do I Kill it!” reaction comes from fear. OMG this is going to kill everything and I’ll never eat again! It is a primal instinct. But reacting the wrong way may end up killing your food.
Fear is useful for situations of danger. It allows you to rely on instinct when you come across a snake, which could be poisonous and kill you. You could run, try to kill or disable the snake, or freeze and hope the snake leaves you alone. The fear response is designed to provoke best actions when there is no time to ponder best actions.
The problem with applying a fear based reaction to problems that are not a fight or flight survival problem is that logic and reasoning are left out of the response. In other words when you act out of fear you make stupid mistakes. Pests and Disease are symptoms of a problem. They are not the cause. Fear needs to be left out of the response. Pests and disease are not an immediate threat to your life. Use sound judgment and reasoning. Get sound results.
If you have a pest or disease problem there is a reason why. You always want a little pest and disease pressure around. It makes plants and animals stronger just like humans build an immune response to getting a cold. We don’t get the same cold virus again because our body learned how to destroy it. Pests in the garden provide food for the beneficials that will control them for you.
I remember coming back to the farm after a few days away. My nasturtiums had such a bad infestation of aphids that the leaves looked black from a couple hundred meters away. Because I had been away it took me a couple of days to have time to deal with the aphid invasion. The day I walked out to take care of my serious aphid problem I couldn’t find them. At firsts I thought I was on the wrong row, but there were no aphids anywhere in the field. What I did see, however, was a lot of ladybug beetles. It turns out that even though the nasturtiums are a bait crop for aphids, it also turns out, I learned, that nasturtiums are beneficial for the ladybugs as well. Our favorite beetle, the ladybug, doesn’t just eat aphids and other pests, they also like a little bit of nectar from the flowers, much like a cat will eat a meal before heading out to hunt for mice. My nasturtiums then, are a perfect solution to eliminate aphids. It not only brings in the aphids, but provides a strong habitat for ladybug beetles to thrive and feast on aphids, keeping them completely under control. This is a perfect example of using the system to keep pests under control. I didn’t need to kill a single one.
If your strawberries are full of powdery mildew, for example, you definitely have a problem. Most people panic and want to kill the mildew. Just attacking the mildew is a fear based reaction. Logic and reasoning are better tools. The logic and reasoning reaction is to figure out why the mildew likes your strawberries so much and figure out a way to change the system so mold is no longer happy on your strawberries. Is the soil too wet? shade too deep? not enough fresh air flow? So many times the things we go after in food production are the symptoms and not the real cause. So learn to ask the question differently.
Change “HOW DO I KILL IT”
Into “What is this problem telling me?”
You have a problem. What to do? Here are Three Steps to help
1. Don’t panic
2. Logically assess the problem and contributing factors. Do this in the field with your plants and animals. Don’t ask the internet machine for other people’s fear based solutions. What works for someone else may not work for you. The causes may be completely different. Observe all your growing factors, like light, temperature, water and moisture, humidity and airflow, the state of the soil, what inputs have been used, what has the weather been like, and what things have you noticed that are different. Has the problem come on suddenly or been building for some time? When I consult with a garden problem I don’t start by giving an opinion or solution. I begin by asking a list of questions that help tease out the real problem.
It is important to note your environment in addition to symptoms. A plant with yellow leaves may have too much water. It could also have too little water, or have nutrition deficits. Furthermore, simply patching up symptoms is like putting a Band-Aid on a serious injury. It is also likely to make things worse in the long run, inducing you to buy and use more products in a negative feedback loop. Solving the problem is a better, longer lasting solution.
3. Once you think you know what is wrong
try to fix what you think is wrong with the system.
If it helps you were most likely right. If not perhaps you were right but other things are still wrong. Trying ideas is how you learn how your food system grows. It’s not the same for me as it is for you. It is not necessarily the same this year as last year. Don’t fear trying your ideas, but you might want to try on a small section first, depending on the solution being used. If you are paying attention to your growing system you are probably right. If not try something else. Bottom line, you are better off trying to balance the system. Broadly killing elements in the system will unbalance the system even more. Observe the system in order to react to unbalances before problems become critical. And keep good notes. You will figure things out much faster if you keep notes.
Let Nature be your Expert and your Teacher. Be like Nature.