by Sara Skelton
On my first morning of farm work, I woke up early and ready, mostly for breakfast (the thought of peanut butter mixed with jelly or yogurt swirled with granola motivates me to get out of bed every morning). While enjoying my PB&J, I overheard Matt giving the list of tasks to Molly, another intern. I heard, “beetles, blah, blah, blah, white noise, blah”. My mind chose to fixate on this creepy, crawly word and push everything else aside. I’m not afraid of beetles, but that doesn’t mean I want to handle them, either.
Of course, being on an organic farm, we do not use synthetic pesticides to kill bugs. However, these pests are a very real problem which, left unattended, will consume nearly all of certain plants.
In order to get rid of harmful insects like Japanese beetles, potato beetles, and cucumber beetles, and squash bugs, we pick the creatures individually from each plant. Molly gave me a bucket with some water and a little soap. She explained that the drowning insects can’t reach the surface and fly out if a layer of suds blocks their path and that beetles are easiest to catch in the morning. We then headed to the asparagus fields, a popular beetle hang out, where Molly showed me what to look for and how to knock them into our soapy death traps.
The Japanese beetle is actually very pretty. It is iridescent and can shift from amber to a greenish blue depending on the angle. The insect was first introduced to the U.S. around 1912 from a contaminated shipment of iris bulbs from Japan. In Japan, the beetle is controlled by enough predators so that it is not a serious problem, but in the U.S. the beetle feasts nearly freely on over 200 plants.
After the first few moments of hesitation, I was comfortably knocking and plucking each beetle to its death. In the following days, I came across some plum trees that were totally infested and soon found a satisfying joy in killing beetles every morning. I appreciated the job even more when I learned that the dead beetles are one of the chickens’ favorite snacks. Ultimately, I am benefiting from the morning beetle massacre as the bugs nourish the chickens that nourish me with eggs. This morning I even made a beetle round although today was a day off. Now the thought of breakfast and beetles gets me out of bed early and ready each morning.
Sara Skelton is an intern in residence at Harvest Table Farm in Meadowview, Virginia.
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