It’s really very rewarding to grow good organic vegetables and to hear people say how tasty they are, and it’s equally satisfying to know that you are helping to build up biodiversity both in the soil and above ground on your plot. However, there are always problems with pests which can’t be solved simply by going out and spraying poison on your plants as in conventional farming. Every morning Bhola gets to the farm at daybreak and chases off the crested mynahs or, until recently, the white-shouldered starlings which would descend on the crops. Shooing them from one area would, of course, simply incite them into transferring to our other plot 60 metres away, so he’s now unwound old video tapes and tied them to stakes so that they are stretched out about two metres above the ground. Twisting in the wind they are in perpetual motion, flashing slightly in the light and creating a bit of wind music to charm Bhola as he works. Whether it will keep the birds off, we’ll have to see.
Mabel, I think, discovered that birds have their advantages, because once she’d bought her polytunnels and was able to keep the birds off her plants, she found that there was nothing to eat the insects, so her Chinese Cabbages were being devastated. We’re also finding that certain plants, such as pak choi and mizuna get attacked by what I think are flea mites, which leave the leaves riddled with tiny holes. Bhola has mixed up a concoction of chilli peppers, garlic and neem leaves to spray on the plants. The mites leap away as soon as he sprays, but then they’re back again the next day. Some kinds of pak choi seem more resistant than others, so we need to be choosy about which ones we use in future, and I’ve been told that mizuna is grown in Japan in the winter, so maybe I’ve chosen the wrong time of year for that particular crop. We’re learning on the hoof, as it were.
One other problem which is waiting to happen is hornets. There’s an old fig (?) tree right between the two areas that we farm and Bhola often wondered why the feral cattle that wander around thereabouts would suddenly start running away wildly when they went too close to the tree. One day Bhola went to get some sticks from the tree to use as stakes for tomatoes, and he too was soon running wildly away with a swarm of hornets after him. He didn’t get stung, although a number of them got stuck in his bobble hat. Well, we are waiting for a delivery of two bee hives, one for each of our plots (one actually belonging to a friend) which I presume we’ll get once the weather finally warms up. Unfortunately, hornets prey on bees and can be so aggressive that they can cause a whole swarm to leave the hive and find a new home. So, although hornets have their place in the scheme of things, I shall have no qualms about killing any that come near my hives by swatting them with a home-made swatter.
Grasshoppers and butterflies – especially cabbage whites – are another problem. Fine mesh nets can keep them out, but during hot weather they act as a kind of oven, so the plants being protected by them are put under severe heat stress. No simple answers, but it’s truly an absorbing and fulfilling activity trying to find solutions that enable us to grow good crops as well as keep a healthy, balanced ecosystem on our land.