Over the Fence Urban Farm

Top Five Farm School Tips on Pests and Pollinators

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This week’s farm school session was by far the best yet. Denise Ellsworth was the most dynamic instructor we’ve had and the three hours whizzed by. (The art educator in me is convinced this is in some way related to the fact that she started her college career as an art history student.) Denise had so much information to share she ran out of time, which was kind of a bummer. Some of what she shared was a little unnerving – there are so many natural threats to a good harvest – but in this game it’s best to know your enemies. Thankfully, she provided lots of resources we can use to get started on the right foot, to expand on what we’ve been doing well, and make changes as we move forward. She also taught us a thing or two about our allies. I can’t wait to use some of these tips to more effectively lure the bees from the hive down the block to our yard. (Thanks, Jen and Tim, for letting them come over to play!)

Here are the top five things I took away from the evening:

If you see fungus, it’s too late to treat it.
If you want to have a healthy garden, you have to take a long-term and proactive approach to pest management. This includes understanding the culture of your landscape – “how actions impact balances and relationships.” There is so much happening beneath and around our plants that we need to be aware of. Too often we focus too intently on the plants themselves. Attention to drainage, air flow, and crop rotation are examples of areas for pro-action.

Banish old tomato plants from your kindgom.
Most backyard compost piles don’t get hot enough to kill the diseases and pests tomato plants can accumulate over a season. It’s not worth risking next year’s crop by holding onto any part of these plants. Pull roots completely and remove all fruit and foliage from beds as soon as the harvest is over. Bury the remains somewhere in the yard a foot down or put them in the trash. (Need to find out whether they can be put out for city yard waste pickup. Do their piles get hot enough or are we just spreading the disease throughout the city?)

Embrace your inner scientist.
Scientists’ work develops from observation-based questions. Come this spring I’ll be “scouting” for problems in the garden everyday, then exploring options for addressing them. For example, if I see insect “frass” (aka bug poop), I’ll follow the trail and see where it leads and take action based on what I see. I’ll record the “ground truth” for weather related patterns as they arrive at our property like “growing degree days” as they pass.

Be the hostess with the most-ess.
Invite pollinators into your “insectary” and show them a good time. Find ways to provide a successive feast with at least three pollen sources spring, summer, and fall to keep them around your property rather than flying off to the next way station. That’s gonna take some research and planning. We’ll start by rearranging some of our perennials in groups and by incorporating flower beds throughout and around the the farm. This will help us create” corridors of connectivity,” or highways, for bees and butterflies to follow through your space so they don’t have to cross scary pathways where predators might gobble them up.

The more you grow, the more you need to know.
As urban farmers growing a variety of things in small spaces, we are both at an advantage and disadvantage over the large-scale, one product grower. We’ll need to learn the ideal growing conditions for a wide variety of plants. At least we won’t ever get bored.

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