Insect Management Guide

Everything you need to know about insects on your produce

Written by Lorraine Glazar

How to deal with insects on your organic food.

Free Riders

One of the interesting things about getting truly organic produce from our farmers is understanding Integrated Pest Management. By understanding natural cycles and the interaction of insects that we consider as pests, farmers can harness a powerful tool for keeping their crops organic while also keeping their crops!

By allowing some crops to go to seed, Farmer Frank encourages birds who love both seeds and bugs. Companion cropping pairs a plant prone to pests with one that discourages them, perhaps with a strong odor (marigolds) or an unpleasant taste—to the pest, that is. Traditional pairings like corn, beans and squash (the Three Sisters) are based on this wisdom.

We all know that supermarket produce is selected to ship easily and graded to be a certain marketable size. Most CSA members understand that vegetables can vary in size or shape and still taste delicious.  They can also come with insects at certain times of the year. Here’s a quick guide to understanding and dealing with these free riders.

Does the insect damage matter?

Two years ago, Sleeping Frog Farms was mobbed by grasshoppers. The grasshopper is my personal demonic pest, owing to memories I have of driving through the middle of a storm of them on a car trip when I was five (they crunched under the tires!).  They are one of the most destructive pests and are hard to predict. The melon crop that was in the ground at Sleeping Frog at the time was chewed up by the hordes of grasshoppers. The cantaloupes were on the small side and had marks on their skins. Yeah, not pretty—but you don’t eat the skin on a melon. These were some of the best melons I’ve ever tasted. Because of their appearance, they were at the farmers’ market late into the season and their small size made a perfect serving for one.

Can you wash away the hitchhiker?

Aphids seem to blossom about the same time my roses do. They provide a tasty snack for ladybug larvae, and there can be a time gap between the appearance of aphids and the maturity of the larvae.  Soon nature will balance, but in the meantime, wash those aphids off!

Heading vegetables like cabbage or iceberg lettuce will most likely have aphids only in the outer leaves. Remove the outermost leaves and wash them separately. I sometimes use a sponge to provide a little more traction to get them moving. Vegetables like Red Russian kale are hard to wash this way. Go ahead and separate them from their stems and plan two trips in the salad spinner or two dunks in the kitchen sink.  It can be helpful to lift them out of the spinner or sink, leaving the water and pests behind. As Sara suggests, a little white vinegar in the water can speed the process. If you are washing them off something firm, like an artichoke, or something with a skin, like a zucchini, you can use a tiny amount of a non toxic dish soap and rinse well.

And always, always live like a desert dweller and repurpose the washing water!

Wigglers

For some reason, worms have more specific tastes (perhaps they are more gourmet than we give them credit for).  You won’t find a corn borer in a cabbage, or a tomato hornworm on the grapes.  As a child, I asked my dad how to get rid of the tomato hornworms (which look like miniature dragons) on my plants, and he said “a heavy foot”.  Should you find one of these larger pests in your vegetables, consider it a mark of distinction—it wouldn’t be there if the corn, cabbage or tomato wasn’t delicious or if your farmer used pesticides.  Take the pacifist way and relocate it, toss it out where a bird can eat it, or dispatch it with a boot.


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