Battle of the Beetles

In 1993, I had a bad infestation of cucumber beetles. Oddly enough, cucumber beetles didn’t like my cucumbers. But they loved my squash, melons, spinach, chard, beets and green beans. To help control the beetles, I applied the ground-up root of a tropical plant called Rotenone. Unlike a chemical insecticide that persists in the environment for weeks, Rotenone breaks down in sunlight in a few hours. I had to reapply it every few days.

My second crop of green beans in 1993 had just poked their leaves out of the ground on a sunny June Wednesday. I sprayed them with Rotonone on Thursday. On Saturday, hordes of beetles moved in and completely devoured the tiny green bean plants. If I had sprayed them with a chemical insecticide, the insecticide would have protected them for weeks and you would have had my green beans in the latter part of August, insecticide residue and all. But I didn’t.

Organic farming not only provides you with chemical-free produce, but also benefits me as the farmer. I do not have to handle chemical poisons or breath their fumes and risk serious chemical contamination. The hundreds of birds and other wildlife that populate our farm appreciate organic farming also!

Eventually, I noticed that the bean plants tolerated the swarms of beetles feasting on them. The first few leaves were almost entirely eaten, but the plants eventually grew leaves that were unappetizing to the beetles and provided a bounty of tender green beans. I no longer spray with Rotenone.

I also learned to grow squash plants in a greenhouse instead of planting the seeds directly in the field. Then I transplant them into the field when they are strong enough to withstand the beetle attacks. I do not plant spinach, beets and chard in the summer. When I do, the beetles make “Swiss cheese” out of the leaves. I have learned not to try to conquer nature, but to cooperate with nature.

“Natura enim non imperatur, nisi parendo.” — Sir Francis Bacon

“Nature cannot be ordered about, except by obeying her.”

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