Wednesday, March 10, 2010

One for the cutworm…

While weeding, I noticed an awful lot of these fat little caterpillars hiding in the grass.

Oh crap, I thought (poetically). I’ll betcha those are cutworms…

Sure enough. We don’t just have “some” cutworms, we have a wriggling backyard full of the blasted things.


But, now I know why the birds are out there first thing every morning hopping around as fast at their fat little bellies will let them. Go, birds, go!!!

I am a bit discouraged by the advice given for non-chemical cutworm control. Mind you I’m not above using the stuff; like most things in my life, I’m a big believer in moderation over elimination.

But my big thing (well, apart from the cost of those chemical aids) is, I don’t want to use anything back there that would cause me to have a heart attack and die if I looked up the next day and saw Captain Adventure eating a handful of dirt.

Which he still does, although not always intentionally. He just like to really play in the dirt, and he’ll sink his hands up to his elbows in the stuff, and then he’ll rub at his face, lick his fingers, etc. etc. etc.

And I don’t want to be putting anything in the ground out there that turns his play into a trip to the emergency room, thanks all the same.

So, I’m looking for good ways to get rid of those little bastards – good, thorough ways – that don’t involve labels with warnings about not allowing pets or children to come near the dirt ever again as long as they live.

It’s a depressing list for the time-impaired gardener.

Hand picking? Yeah, I’ll get right on that, just get out there all night long crawling through my garden with a flashlight looking for the nocturnal little lumberjacks. Argh.

Installing little paper collars on all my plants? Ahem. Yes. Well. If I had, you know, a dozen plants, or even three dozen, that might be a workable solution…but tomatoes alone, I’ve got over 160. Plus, well, a whack of Other Stuff. I haven’t bothered to count all the way up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the plants needing protection will hit the thousand mark by the end of spring.

And how many hours do I have available for fiddling around with little paper collars to protect each and every precious little blossom…?

I suspect my best bet may be cutworm-eating nematodes, or a bag of Bacillus Thuringiensis. Although I haven’t been able to look at a label on that stuff yet, so, I guess we’ll have to see on that. “Organic” does not always equate to “harmless” or “safe.” Which is a pet peeve of mine that could take about sixty thousand pages of ranting. This thing where people automatically assume that ‘organic’ automatically means ‘better,’ or worse, ‘safe’…ARGH.

Did you know (oh boy, here it comes) that apparently there is a growing trend out there where people do not wash “organic” vegetables when they get them home? While a certain percentage of our population has always played roulette that way, apparently the trend among organic buyers has been growing at an alarming rate – alarming because farming, especially on a scale that results in a market stall, is a dirty business.

Two words for you, folks: Cow. Poop.

That’s right. It’s probably on your organic vegetables. And chicken poop, too. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re great natural fertilizers.

But do you want to be putting it in your mouth?

Didn’t think so.

Wash the danged vegetables.

And with that, I’m off to work. Where I will undoubtedly spend a fair amount of the day fretting about cutworms, and with the old cant running through my mind… one for the cutworm, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow…


Lon said...

I looked at Bt (and went with) Bt for controlling mosquitoes in the mini-pond that's the water supply for my honeybees. It acts by binding on certain receptor(s) on the target's gut, so you have to get the right strain for the critter you want to attack, as otherwise it's ineffective. It's also, therefore, pretty benign toward any non-buggy thing that ingests it.

Of course you wouldn't want to eat bags of it, and I'm just some random non-chemist stranger so my opinion and two-fifty will buy a cup of coffee... :)

RobinH said...

E.Coli is both organic and all-natural. I'm with you on the washing!

kimbobim said...

Have you tried Diatomaceous Earth? You sprinkle it around the base of the plants, it looks like a talc-y sort of powder. The diatoms have razor sharp edges, so whatever worm/tiny critter that crawls through it dies. I use it to dust my chickens for lice & mites, and sprinkle it on their food as a de-wormer. Works great, and no chemicals are involved. Some people even eat the stuff (one website I read said 1 heaping TB a day).

Just make sure you get the "food grade" DE. The kind used in pool filters has been heat & chemically treated and can't be ingested by humans or animals. You can find it at health food stores and some animal feed stores.

There are lots of websites with information on its uses - good luck!

Barbara said...

How about some chickens - added benefit of eggs....

A lot of cities allow the keeping of just a few chickens as long as you don't have a rooster.

The Incredible M. said...

I've used predatory nematodes (this kind: on a container herb garden to get rid of fungus gnats and bloody loved them. I can't vouch for them on actual dirt, because I have none in which to plant things.

Wyldchai said...

Could you get a half dozen or so bantam hens? Guinea hens might be even better. They're small, have a good sense of self preservation, and like to eat bugs. Plus... Eggs! You could probably get by with three hens, but four or five would be thorough.

21stCenturyMom said...

Apparently some people have never heard of toxoplasmosis let alone cow poop born e. coli.

The Bug Man knows stuff

And that's quite the garden you have there. I haven't even started!

kimbobim said...

A cautionary note - chickens are FABULOUS for lots of reasons, including eggs, free organic fertilizer, and bug control. However, at a certain point you cannot have them anywhere near/in your garden. We love our chickens, but learned last year that they love Love LOVE tomatoes as soon as they turn the slightest bit pink. They will also strip strawberry plants (any berries, really, anything red or orange), denude beans and peas of their blossoms, and take bites out of peppers and leave the rest of rot on the plant. And corn - they will strip the ears they can reach, and keep the earwigs out of the plants like nobody's business. We actually grew corn in their run - they got shade and the lowest ears, and we had earwig-free corn. They will eat anything green - this morning I caught them nibbling the garlic scapes that came up through the snow.

I'm not sure how your garden areas are laid out - seems like you've got a lot of space. Last year we put up a temporary goat-wire fence around the garden beds after the plants were in. (chickens love to dig in freshly turned soil, so they dug up half my newly planted seeds). I was surprised they didn't fly over the goat wire (only about 25 inches tall). Instead, they patrolled the perimeter, eating bugs. It actually made a huge difference - we didn't have to spray at all and had no bug problems in the beds.

Christi said...

Guinea hens are effective tick-eaters and would probably think cutworms are delish (and make better watch-critters than most dogs I've known), but I don't think the neighbors would be impressed. :) They tend to roam widely if they're not penned, they're a bit nervous in my experience, and their call sounds like a loud rusty gate. Not as bad as a peacock, but worse than most roosters. Oh, and they LOVE tomatoes.

Ours were early risers, and used to hang out under my parents' bedroom window at the crack of dawn, chattering. Dad wasn't real happy about that.

The folks who think that natural and organic = automatically safe make my head hurt. Rattlesnake venom is 100% natural, but I'll pass. Ditto for drinking hemlock or smoking Jimson weed.

Science PhD Mom said...

Bt is perfectly safe for you & your kiddos, I would not hesitate to use it. The bacteria don't target humans or even close--you don't have anywhere near the stuff they target (cellular level receptors and such). It would be like expecting you to eat paper for your main food--just not going to work, ever. So perfectly safe and easy to apply.

Beneficial nematodes are fantabulous and I would heartily recommend them as well. Diatomaceous earth can be great too, but as someone else noted, be careful what kind you get, and know that it doesn't work for everything, and it harms indiscriminately--i.e. it will also harm your beneficial insects, such as bees, praying mantids, etc. So it is not something that I use on a regular basis--sort of the "nuclear war" option, and I try to keep it off the plant's flowers.