Southeastern Permaculture Gathering: INSECTS IN THE GARDEN, with Dr. Dick McDonald and Patryk Battle

Do your cabbages end up looking like this? Ours do. This is one of those situations where, when you find out that your problem is everybody’s problem, you don’t feel so crazy, or so dejected.

Dr. Bug (Dick McDonald, Ph.D, an entomologist) says that this cabbage is over 75% gone, so it’s too late. But 50%? The plant can recover, given enough care.

Here’s Dr. Bug (notice the beetle on his t-shirt, more on that later):

And here he is with his compatriot, Patryk Battle, who runs Living Web Farms (“where hands on learning comes to life!”), and lives near Dr. Bug.

They often consult one another, usually over the phone. Their conversations can run something like this:

Patryk: “I think I need to introduce X now, given the problem I’m having . . .”

Dick: “I’d wait a while, see what happens.”

Pause. Then, Dick: “And wouldn’t you know, one time I waited a few days, and there came a flock of swallows out of a nearby barn, heading in a long line for that plant. They picked it clean, and flew the food back to their babies.”

Moral: You never know how nature will respond to events. And sometimes it’s worth the wait.

“Most important,” chimes in Patryk, is balance. Unlike Big Ag, we’re not trying to eradicate “bad” bugs with chemicals and other poisons, but to introduce “good” bugs and other biological agents that will keep the predatory bug numbers down.”

Like, in the case of cabbage, both Japanese beetles and harlequin beetles.

And yes, like that drat little white cabbage moth, darting all over the garden, pretty as can be.

Dick points to the cabbage leaves, says, “Early in the season, look at the tops to see where the discoloration spots are (lighter than usual). Turn the leaf over, and you’ll discover the cabbage worm behind the spots. Pick it off and drop it on the ground. Anything you drop on the ground will get eaten by something else.”

And about here, they lost me. Just too much info for this old crone brain to absorb. I did get the idea that you have to keep checking the cabbages, from the time you plant them to when you harvest them, and know what remediation to introduce at various points in the season. This includes picking off worms and other bugs, introducing a substance called “surround” (a type powdered clay) to sprinkle around the base, plus BT when the leaves are mature. (BT is an alternative to row cover, which moths can get under.) Spray BT thoroughly on the leaves, to the point where they look milky. This will not only protect them from the moths, but since white is reflective, will also protect them from the heat!

Somebody later compared Dick and Patryk to “Click and Clack.” And that’s just about right, including the easy laughter. The two are obviously old friends, as well as share an enormous wealth of knowledge between them.

BTW: Do check out Patryk’s livingwebfarms videos. Hundreds of them, on any aspect of farming you can imagine.

And Dick, or Dr. Bug — again, see his beetle teeshirt, above? — figured out that the extensive southeastern hemlock forests, which were dying due to an infestation of some kind, could be brought back to life by introducing a single change: a certain type of beetle, found in the Pacific Northwest. Nobody believed him, especially those in “authority” didn’t believe him. But he showed them! Dick actually took 88 plane trips to Seattle, stayed in hotels, and, with his web (to catch them) and upside down umbrella (to poke the tree branches and, I presume, open for the beetles to drop upon it), he personally and single-handedly managed to save the southeastern hemlock forests by introducing this beetle to different areas of the forest over time. A book should be written about this heroic one-man feat.

But back to the cabbage, which inevitably, includes the cabbage worm, which then graduates to the pretty little cabbage moth, and apparently wreaks havoc from the very beginning of the cabbage growing season, if you don’t keep checking on the cabbages for times when you should interrupt the wrecking process. I refer you to his website for all the information needed to rescue cabbages.

After about an hour, my 76-year-old body/mind was full up with all that they both had to offer about insects in the garden under the hot afternoon sun. Extremely impressed by both their collective knowledge and what it takes to really even begin to get a glimmer of understanding of the depth, complexity, resilience, and brilliance of Mother Nature, I made sure I had both their websites, and decided to take my leave, but not before memorializing the scene with a view of our intensely informative little class from afar.

Just now, as I’m about to post this, an email alert from Dr. Bug, with this comment: “Bayer making too much money from neonics . . . even as EU and Germany ban neonics.”

American Dependence on Pesticides, Especially Neonics, is a War on Nature.

Next up: Tomorrow, “Regenerative Universe,” with Rob Messick.

About Ann Kreilkamp

PhD Philosophy, 1972. Rogue philosopher ever since.
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