When Things Go Wrong 2: Man vs. Pest

in homesteading •  7 days ago  (edited)

Thank you all for tuning in to episode 2 in the series of things that give me headaches. We'll begin today's episode with a little more character development...

Well folks, things are not going smoothly so far this season for your dear friend and humble narrator. Aside from the tragedies that we will see in pictures, my partner in dirt has also been seriously ill. It is not CoVID related. It does however, all by itself, lend a touch of extra anxiety to everyday life. It also effectively doubles the homestead chores, which also adds anxiety as well as physical work. This is currently happening while my work week will begin moving north of 50 hours. The sad result of this is that the homestead suffers, but fear not! Arborvilla is designed to be resilient, and we have lemon balm in abundance, which helps soothe anxiety.

This episode will feature two antagonists, the first of which is the unnamed bug below. I haven't had the time to research this little critter, and I'm not familiar with it. Whatever it is has become too familiar with my hot peppers. It doesn't seem to actually be harming the plants so far, but I'm not putting any faith in that first impression.

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To remain honeybee friendly, I've been vehemently opposed to using any pesticides stronger than neem oil, and I very rarely spray that outside. Once I've used up what I have left, I'll probably drop it altogether, since it has only been minimally effective with any of the pests I've encountered. Once I have a greenhouse set up, I might try growing my own neem plants, and see if I can improve on the commercial options.

What I've been doing to deal with these guys, and many of my garden pests, is to spray them off with water. For these seedlings, I use the sprayer in the kitchen sink. I can't take a good picture of it, because I support the plant with one hand and hold the sprayer with the other. If you do this, spray from the middle of your plants towards the outside, so you wash the bugs into your sink instead of into your dirt. Wherever possible, apply the same principle if you're spraying bugs off plants outdoors with a hose.

It works better than any of the neem oil I've tried, but it's time consuming. For these peppers, I have to spray them every 2-3 days. I get a beetle on our tall lillies that need to be sprayed off every day, and twice a day would be better.

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The star antagonist in today's story is like the devil in that it goes by many names. Locally we call him woodchuck. More commonly he is called groundhog. Some call him gopher. In each case he is fat brown rodent that is the embodiment of the sin of gluttony. If I manage to get any pictures if him, it will only be because I finally managed to kill him.

We have done battle for many years, and he usually wins. I've only ever had 1 good brassica harvest, and between him and the beetles, I've never gotten any cauliflower or Brussels sprouts. This year, I thought I'd get a jump on the war, and I sunk the spiky ends of some galvanized fence (that was supposed to be more chicken run) into the ground all the way around my brassica bed. You can see here just now well that worked.

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I've shot woodchucks before, but I'm in a different situation than I was back then. First, I pre-pubescent young back then, and had all the time in the world just to sit and wait for them to show up. I no longer have that luxury. Last, my piece of forested heaven is technically inside of Village limits, and the local authorities reply fairly promptly to most reports of gunfire. They do not have a sense of humor about it, and do not understand my thirst for vengeance.

I don't think they would be swayed by these images of my brutalized broccoli...

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...or the cadavers of my cauliflower, the bodies of my Brussels sprouts.

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Believe it or not, past experience has shown me that many of violated vegetables will in fact grow back. It has also shown me that the woodchuck will return, more determined than ever to eat them.

For the first volley in this year's war, I'm covering his known access points with extra layers of fence, in such manner as time allows. Tossing the rest of the roll of fencing helped cover a couple of the areas he had dug at.

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These guys are pretty clever. He actually went around and probed a few spots of the new fence before he decided where he wanted to make his entry. He was probably casing the joint from the shrubs while I was out here on my hands and knees planting these poor vegetables. All this sawdust is left over from my wood processing, and I'm trying it this year as a border between my lawn and gardens. When the lawn grows into the fence, it is impossible to weed whack or mow, and very difficult to pull by hand.

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For other spots he was digging, I repaired the hole and poked in an extra layer fence that was previously used to mark off an area for a new plant. As persistent as this guy is, he's still kind of an opportunist. Another measure I've taken that won't really be shown in the pictures is to cut back some more of the forest shrubs around this garden. The woodchuck will only dig his way in here as long as the reward outweighs his anxiety. Every foot of open field he has to cross between the brush and my garden adds to his anxiety, and increases the chance that my dog will spot him. The dog isn't really a killer, but the woodchuck doesn't know that, and doesn't seem inclined to find out.

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Another measure taken this year was to plant some Chinese pink celery around the border. It was a new plant we tried last year, and though I liked the flavor and it's very easy to grow, it is way too woody for me to enjoy. The woodchuck however seems to hate all forms of celery, and I had several seeds left. I didn't have enough to plant the whole perimeter, but there are no signs of him testing the fence where the celery was on the edge.

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He also avoided the area with the peppermint, which was actually started out here because it is a very effective deterrent for many of my local bugs. This is spreading fast enough by itself, next year I might be able to start enough celery to cover the rest of the perimeter.

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If beefing up the fence fails to the little brown devil out, I'll move my dog run over here and post him as guard for a while. He doesn't particularly enjoy being tethered all day, but if I have to coax him to do his job, he's stuck with the methods I choose.

Thank you all for reading about my frustrations, I hope they can help you overcome your own. If any first-timers are reading this, I beg you not to get discouraged, and try your level best to garden pesticide free. Poison, like so many other forms of violence, may be a great deal easier, but is very rarely ever better.

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  ·  4 days ago (edited)

I would follow @goldenoakfarm's suggestion about the woodchuck.

Your sucking pests look like aphids of some kind and the best medicine for them is prevention. All plants become vulnerable to pest attack when they are routinely water-stressed. I can see that your seedlings are already large and still in trays, which means that they are probably heavily root-bound and they need to either get into much larger pots or into the ground. I think that your climate doesn't allow you to put cold-sensitive plants in the ground for more than 2 months in your growing year ?

They should have been potted up, but the hot peppers will go in the ground this weekend. They are getting large, but are still kind of small for their age. These were actually overwatered for a short time, causing the stress.

I see. They'll shake them off once they are in the ground and growing normally

I've always buried this type of fence 8" down and in 37 years the 'chuck only got in once when somebody left the gate open all night.

I thoroughly enjoyed your narration and feel for you. An effective all around safe pesticide is good old dawn dish soap. I know it's good for white fly, but not sure if it will help with these guys.

If they are eating any parts of the plant, it should help. I know of no living entity that likes the taste of soap.

The Natural Medicine Community supports homesteaders and has an #in-the-garden channel to share knowledge and hopefully find solutions for this type of thing from others with experience.

Here's the Discord invite if you would like to check it out. Discord

I haven't tried the Dawn on these guys yet, but have tried it in the past. It hasn't worked any better than the neem oil for me so far.

Mix the two😀

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although I have absolutely no experience with a large scale project, I look forward in our homesteading project, to using the techniques I have found from reading and applying the works of Machaelle Small-Wright from Perelandria https://www.perelandra-ltd.com/https://www.perelandra-ltd.com/, and Theresa Crabtree - working with Nature Spirits. Behaving As If The God In All Life Matters was the first book I read of Machaelle Small-Wright back in the 80s that led me to the other works.

This work originated at Findhorn Garden and the work of Robert Ogilvie Crombie, books which are available for free on libgen.is. Whenever I have done this, I have been successful using alternative methods such as prayer and communication with Nature Spirits: http://www.theresacrabtree.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Communicating-with-Nature-Spirits-eBook-by-Theresa-Crabtree-100812.pdf and http://www.theresacrabtree.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Four-Point-Coning-MSessions-eBook-by-Theresa-Crabtree-120915.pdf from this page https://www.theresacrabtree.com/nature-spirits/

This work has been amazingly helpful in "working with a squirrel in the garage", "working to move prairie dogs along so we did not have to shoot them", and "asking rattle snakes and wasps to move before we dug out what may have been their homes" - Nature is just waiting for us to ask Her help but instead we just barge in and put in gardens - gardens are not a part of Nature - as is explained in these ideas but we can work with Nature to have amazing gardens that do cooperate fully with Nature not against Her- the way they did at Findhorn - by accident - in the early 60s. Other books I have read are The Magic of Findhorn, by Paul Hawken and other books by other early members.

I have used the M.A.P. also successfully. This is the way I hope to go when we move to our property.