WILDLIFE DIARIES 01
Hello and welcome, this is my first blog post ever so introducing myself is a bit awkward but my name is Will and I am a member of the Happy Food Coop. I am here to introduce to you a celebration of the flora and fauna that call our farm home and who we rely on for the whole thing to work. Each week we will be posting a blog that discusses and holds a light onto a new topic of life that tickles our fancy that week. Now it should be said that I am not a scientist but someone who is passionate about natural history. I will touch on some scientific stuff, and will get some of it wrong in the process, but these blogs will be a place where a wildlife enthusiast can celebrate all that he sees on his farm.
As said so eloquently by our head farmer Matt in his last blog post, so in fact eloquently that I am going to steal it: ‘Our story on the farm is, like all good stories, dependent on good villains’. One of our most affluent villains this season has been the flea beetle. Tiny at 2-3mm the flea beetle is a metallic black, thrives on brassicas* and has enlarged hind legs that to enable it to jump relatively long distances. They are interesting and even cute little beings that aren’t much of a problem in small amounts however become a problem in high numbers due to their habit of creating holes in our salad mix.
To begin with, during our first couple of harvests of salad a few holes here and there were almost quaint and a nice indicator that our organic farm was succeeding in providing a home for more than just our food crops. However, once the salad started to resemble more like my nan’s lace curtains than Rocket, the holes then became more of a problem. By the third harvest and the morning of delivery day where our veg box customers expected, nice somewhat hole-free salad mix myself and Josh (the trio in our farm-worker cooperative) were searching through the salad bed repeatedly asking ‘do you think this one has too many holes?’ as we showed each other fists full of leaves. The answer to this will always be: if you had to ask, then it had too many holes.
Later that week I asked Matt if I should start removing the salad leaves and start planting something new in those beds, however to my surprise the response was to leave them how they were. In my naivety as a new grower I was surprised at this response because we should be using all available space, right? Apparently, no. Matt pointed out the myriad of different species that were currently living within the salad leaves. Not only flea beetles but soldier beetles, ladybirds, weevils, aphids, a couple of different species of wasp and many more different insects were calling this bed home.
We have now since created a new bed with fancy mesh to protect new plants so why not leave the old bed to be a home for insects? We got two good harvests out of it after all and now we have an elite team that has specifically evolved to deal with pests. Many of these species like the soldier beetle, ladybirds and wasp are predatory animals that our farm relies upon to manage the pests that find themselves on our tender leaves. Now that they have found a good food supply hopefully, they should stick around and keep too much damage at bay all over the farm.
This way of working with the ebb and flow and nature is exactly what our farm strives for. Yes, we could have bought pesticides to kill off the beetles but then we would have to spend a lot of money to do so and then because the flea beetles were gone there would be no wasps, soldier beetles or ladybirds. We wouldn’t have our natural pest control, which is free by the way, and our farm would be a lot lesser without them.
By trying to work with the antagonists of our story instead of dousing them with harsh chemicals we are allowing the barren pasture field that our farm started on to begin to transform into a place where life can flourish.
What space do you leave for wildlife?
Thank you for reading, I hope you liked it. Next week I am having a look at a plant that I have spent a great deal of time ripping out of the ground. The persistent and seemingly immortal thistle.
*Despite growing and selling them all summer I had to look up what the hell Brassicas are: they are plants in the mustard family. They range from broccoli to rocket and from cabbage to turnip.