On ecosystems, wasps, and sustainable cut flowers

On most mornings, before I start my first task, I walk by almost every plant.  Up and down  the rows of burgeoning veggies, one can just feel the buzz of energy that is whirling about the garden in these warm days bathed in sunlight.  Some days my thoughts focus on individual plants and on other days I ponder the entire farm as a bustling and interactive ecosystem.  As an organic farmer I realize that I do not control this ecosystem but instead try to act as caretaker.

On Tuesday I was having one of these “my farm is an ecosystem” days and absolutely in love with the cardinals and mockingbirds, toads and grasshoppers, even pigweed and crabgrass that are nestled among my vegetables.  On this walk, as on many before it, I stopped occasionally to squish a marauding caterpillar or two (because I am not a passive caretaker!).  I also stopped to squish a number of white cottony egg clusters which I assume belong to a caterpillar.  Squishing these is particularly satisfying because this one tiny act of pest control stops dozens of caterpillars and untold amounts of plant damage.  Well, later on Tuesday we were graced with the presence of a local Agricultural Extension Agent.  I showed her a few things that I wanted identified and on a whim I showed her the egg cluster.  “Interesting,” she replied, “We just identified these in the lab yesterday.  They are eggs from a parasitic wasp.”  Some caretaker I am!  I have been squishing those little egg clusters more habitually than I floss my teeth (ok, bad analogy) and it turns out these were little goldmines of organic pest control.  In my defense I was not all wrong, they were in fact caterpillar eggs at one time, but this neat little insect, the Cotesia parasitoid, can destroy hundreds and hundreds of caterpillars in one generation.  I’ve included a photo of one of these egg clusters that was resting on a Brussels sprout leaf.  Of course, we are not 100% sure of this identification so any entymologists in our group are free to offer opinions.

This week we will again be at both the Riverside Arts Market from 10-4 and the Green Market at Jarboe Park in Neptune Beach from 2-5pm.  We will have a wonderful harvest this week including some dazzling flower bouquets for Mother’s Day. Now, why buy local, organic flowers for the woman who gave you life?  Well, flower production is not nearly as regulated as food production and the environmental costs are positively staggering.  Seventy percent of cut flowers sold in the US are grown overseas where there is minimal environmental regulation.  The result is that high concentrations of pesticides are applied, which damage ecosystems and severely compromise the health of the workers in the fields.  Check out this article when you have time:  http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-05-04-organic-flowers_x.htm

Our veggie harvest this week will include our delicious marketmore and diva (seedless) cucumbers, zephyr and pattypan squash, romaine lettuce heads, sweet onions, kale, healthy amaranth greens, colorful and tasty swiss chard, fancy edible flowers, a few strawberries, and aromatic basil and dill.


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