Early this morning, as Lucretia and I were pulling sea weed mulch over a line of drip irrigation we were laying, we found them. Something has been eating absolutely everything in the garden. We knew we had cutworms in the hoop house with the early tomatoes: Right after we planted them Lucretia found several plants cut off completely at the ground. Then she found the little grey worms. In talking with a friend, she suggested that we poke a few toothpicks around the base of each plant: Cutworms like to wrap around the stem right at the soil line and eat their way clean through. If they cant get a good wrap around the stem, they don’t cut it. This was a feasible solution for the 80 tomatoes in the hoop.
But, since then we have been noticing everything else eaten too: Peas and marigolds denuded to the spines of their leaves, lettuce seedlings disappeared, big holes in the broccoli leaves. The holes munched in leaves looks like it was done by a caterpillar, but what, we asked, is interested in EVERYTHING? We didn’t know cutworms could do all that too. Additionally, we couldn’t see a one of ’em. Usually when something is getting munched you can turn over a leaf and the culprit goes skittering away, or tries to hide. But we couldn’t find anything.
Then this morning, we pulled aside some sea weed mulch in a bed, and there they were: a half dozen little grey caterpillars. We squished those ones. So now what? We cannot put a toothpick around every carrot seedling and onion stalk. We looked them up in our books, we reviewed Eric Sideman’s MOFGA Pest Report (http://www.mofga.org/Publications/PestReports/PestReports2011/tabid/1904/Default.aspx?PageContentID=468 ), we talked with the neighbor farmers.
A neighboring farmer said he has his interns dig around in the soil pulling caterpillars and squishing them. Someone else said to put a dixie cup around each plant and the buggers can’t get to them. The pest report suggested several organic pesticides, but the only organically approved pesticide that we could get our hands on immediately (recognizing that at this point it was Friday afternoon) was Bt from a grower’s supply out in Gray. So we set one of the common garden volunteers (thanks Trish!) to digging around for caterpillars to squish. I took the 4 littlest kids and we had a road trip over to Gray, stopped at Cole Farms for lunch, and picked up a bag of Bt (and some wiggle wire for the hoop houses and sod staples for the irrigation tape). On the way home we stopped at the grocery and bought 1250 toothpicks and 600 dixie cups. We are armed, I’ll let you know how the battle proceeds.
On other fronts, the wind has continued to blow, and everything is thirsty. We spent some time hand watering the peas and garlic. Adam and Sam were really the stars of the day with the immense amount of effort they put into getting the irrigation system set up and running. Our cistern is not yet in place, but they set the lines up and got water in the fields from the well. The little plants that are surviving the caterpillar onslaught were desperately thirsty, and now they are watered. We are hoping that the extra moisture is going to help them grow ahead of the caterpillar damage and we will win the race.