Monday, April 27, 2009

"A lot of people are up from the city and they're not used to critters." Craig Coon,
Nuisance Wildlife Expert (pest controller) from Saratoga Springs, NY.

In my experience, women seem to have the incredibly efficient capacity to competently deal with more than one thing at the same time; were it so for us men. Forever burdened, like Sisyphus,with our “List-of-Things-to-Do”, I can become quite entrenched in a single-minded sort of way and sensitive to any suggestion that I must attend to something else. So it was when Gabrielle recently disturbed my concentration to tell me we had an infestation of flea beetles on our oriental salad Green-in-Snow, who’d chewed unsightly pinprick holes in the leaves. "Pesky darn critters, disturbin’ muh day." Go away and look it up, I probably said. The RHS book Pests and Diseases—which, I have to say, has never proved desperately helpful—said that we could kill them with Derris. As I believed that Derris is permitted in organic gardening, I temporarily, and oh-so-easily, forgot my permaculture principles and was keen to instantly solve our problem.

A short digression to explain that Derris, along with other plant-derived-organic-gardening-approved chemicals aren’t necessarily benign. In fact Derris, used by gardeners since the mid-19th Century, is due to be banned this year. HarrodHorticultural’s website explains: “Rotenone - the active ingredient obtained from the crushed root of the derris tree - has been linked to the progressive brain disorder Parkinson's disease, and a subsequent investigation by the Pesticide Safety Directive has led to the decision to withdraw all derris-based sprays and powders.”
My dad has Parkinson’s.

The book did also say that affected plants should be watered during dry spells, which we’ve just had. This is a permaculture approach: understand the issues, observe and then help the ecosystem to rebalance. Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible: Successful Gardening the Natural Way was more helpful. Flea beetles, when disturbed by a sticky card waved just above the plant, jump and get stuck. Gabrielle caught two by this method. Laying on various leaves of plants such as mint, wormwood, elderberry and pieces of tomato plant apparently deters the pesky perforators. We have several elderberries vigorously growing and Gabrielle laid a few leaves over one of the affected plants (see photo) leaving one plant unprotected as a control (other photo). Bear in mind that the treated plant had already suffered some damage, you can clearly see the difference the elderberry leaves make. With a bit of forward planning, an even better solution presents itself (also courtesy of pony-tailed Bob) interplanting with lettuce or spinach. I feel embarrassed at how quickly I was prepared to forget my principles; it won’t happen again …