Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Thwack Potato Beetles into Buckets
MOFGA Should Accept Art
Sludge Stance Appreciated

Thwack Potato Beetles into Buckets

Dear Editor,

In the March 2003 MOF&G, Dr. Eric Sideman writes that for the most part only very small scale growers can rely on hand picking Colorado potato beetles in attempting to control them. Some gardeners may not be aware that there is a dead simple and yet much faster method than picking individual bugs. You simply take an empty 5-gallon plastic bucket in one hand and gently thwack the bug-infested tops with the other hand so that the adults and larvae fall in. Since it’s part of their defense strategy to fall to the ground when threatened, it usually doesn’t take much of a thwack to dislodge them. This method is particularly effective on the concentrations of medium sized larvae. It takes me only about 10 minutes to do some 450' of row at the height of the infestation, less as they taper off.

Of course you miss some because they’re hidden, but they’ll probably be exposed the next day, fatter than before. And some miss the bucket, fall on the ground and have to climb up the vines to feed again. I figure I’m just helping some couch potato Americans get a little exercise. You certainly can’t say that they haven’t been eating their vegetables.

The insects can be drowned, but I prefer to put them out of their misery quickly by dusting a teaspoonful of rotenone in the bucket, then closing the lid. Which brings me to another observation. The recommendations in the article seemed to be oriented almost entirely toward certified commercial organic growers meeting the USDA rules. I’m a bit concerned that we are becoming so legalistically strict and commercially oriented that we may be discouraging home gardeners, especially those who may want to switch from conventional chemicals to more organic methods.

For example, for as long as I can remember, rotenone has been one of the basic tools for organic gardeners in saving insect-stressed crops, with the caveat that it is toxic to fish and beneficial insects as well, and so should be used carefully and sparingly. Undoubtedly it’s a good thing that rotenone is not allowed on large organic farms, but I think the home gardener should still be aware of its use as the last resort for some insects.

Rotenone is still arguably the simplest and cheapest way of saving young squash plants from infestations of striped cucumber beetles. I doubt that all home gardeners have the time to track down the only botanical that is still allowed under USDA rules or to mix up and spray the kaolin clay formulation every few days. I think we should try to keep a sense of realism and balance, and not forget that there are still some noncommercial organic gardeners out there and maybe also some chemical-using gardeners looking for a more natural but still workable approach.

– Gene Bryant, Palermo, Maine

Eric Sideman Responds

Mr. Bryant and I agree that hand control of Colorado potato beetles is preferable to any chemical use when it is possible. And we agree that where it is not a regulatory problem, rotenone may make sense as a very last resort to save a garden crop, if the user is willing to take the health risks and to kill the many innocuous insects. Where we disagree is that I think that a floating row cover is preferable to rotenone for protecting the cucurbits from the striped cucumber beetle, even if you are not under the regulations that certified organic farmers work with. Rotenone may be the “simplest and cheapest way,” as Mr. Bryant says, but in my mind the organic grower, whether gardener or certified farmer, must look beyond that and consider agronomic, environmental and health concerns, too.

MOFGA Should Accept Art

To the Editor:

I am appalled at the timidity of MOFGA’s board in accepting the Beehive Collective’s mosaic offer. (See the Sept.-Nov. issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.) A work of art of that magnitude is not something to be micromanaged by a committee, especially when it is a gift. They should either accept the artist’s vision as is, or commission and pay for art that they approve of. What they have done is akin to asking Picasso for another color painting because the first one doesn’t match their couch!

– Jeremy Blaiklock, Arrowsic

MOFGA Responds

Dear Mr. Blaiklock:

Thank you for your thoughtful letter and for your interest in both MOFGA and the art of the Beehive Collective. The MOFGA mosaic does not yet exist, hence the Picasso/couch analogy does not pertain. The concept of accepting sight unseen a work of art that would permanently occupy the better part of the floor of the central building in our “Common Ground” does not seem consistent with the participatory spirit of the MOFGA community. We have put together a collective process, satisfactory to both the Board and the Beehive Collective, to ensure that the mosaic is an enduring and appropriate expression of our common goals and concerns.

– Sharon Tisher
Chair, Mosaic Liaison Committee

Sludge Stance Appreciated

Dear MOFGA Board,

Thank you very much for the article [on sludge] in your newspaper [Sept.-Nov. 2003]. It was written bringing forth all the facts. It was brilliant!

We also express our deepest gratitude to all of you for taking the time to investigate and revise your policy concerning sludge. We have been spreading the word about MOFGA and noticed citizens are seeking to directly purchase produce from organic farmers in record numbers. Stores can barely keep their shelves stocked with organic milk! Thank you all; you are so important to the future.

– Edward and Theresa Pimental
Maine Sludge Alliance

MOF&G Cover Winter 2003-2004