Good Bug, Bad Bug

By Farmer Connor

From an ecologist’s standpoint, each part of an ecosystem serves its purpose and, ideally, ought to be left to fill its niche – as Aldo Leopold put it, “to keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering”. The entomologist, too, will be able to fill you in on all of the details for each of the probable dozens of species living within a few steps of your back door. The farmer and gardener, on the other hand, has long had a different view on insects and the roles they play. Since the days of dusting crops with arsenic, to modern-day RNA rewriting sprays, the general idea has been “the only good bug is a dead bug”. Other than honey bees and writing spiders, this was often my viewpoint as well. I am no stranger to the cringe factor when looking over plants and finding insects, regardless of what they were and assuming they were up to no good. The farmer and gardener are not hard sells on any number of methods promising to drop the hammer on the creepy crawlies that are methodically laying waste to all of their hard work. Often a full season of blood sweat and tears put into the land, only to watch cutworms wriggle under freshly shucked corn, or aphids dining on long-awaited strawberries. 

That being said, we all know that there are good bugs out there – honey bees, garden spiders, butterflies, and even the rolly pollies that are so important for breaking down leaf litter and entertaining kids – but how does the big picture really weigh out? When a broad-spectrum treatment is used, are we sacrificing a few to save the many, or is it the other way around? Many would be surprised to learn that most experts agree that for every one species of detrimental insect, there are another 400 species that act in beneficial roles, with some estimates putting the ratio closer to one pest to 3,000 beneficials. Another interesting fact is that most pest species are not particularly well equipped to defend themselves and are, in nature, typically found in isolation and relatively small numbers due to a wide array of well-equipped predators. A grasshopper, for instance, may be bad news for young plants, but his enemies in a healthy ecosystem might include spiders, wasps, ants, praying mantis, snakes, birds, frogs, bats and those are just a few potential foes. However, many of these natural bug hunters disappear overnight when faced with broad-spectrum pesticides, tilled earth and the simplification of habitat that comes with everyday tasks like mowing and weed eating. Now, having said all of that, I can almost feel eyes rolling with the notion of just letting nature take over, tossing vegetable seeds out and praying that natural selection picks tomatoes and carrots over nutsedge and pigweed (not likely) and that spiders and wasps take care of all of the hornworms and potato beetles. This is not what I’m suggesting and I myself have followed through on similar experiments and they have proven, for the most part, to be miserable failures. However, it also doesn’t make sense to take a sledgehammer to your car for every rattle and whine. Nature really does have a pretty good thing going and has been at it for a while and with a little time and effort spent, we can probably learn to keep more and more pieces intact, while still achieving what we set out to do. “The eye cannot say of the hand, I have no need of thee nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you” suggests that intelligent tinkerers have been paying heed to intuitively important pieces for longer than science has been telling us what they’re for.

My final thoughts? Don’t take an economic loss on your farm, or in your garden for fear of disrupting nature – you already disrupted nature when you cleared land to plant an artificial landscape. What I would suggest though, is to make use of your extension office agents, the public library and the amazing technology that we all carry around in our pockets to learn how the pieces go together and which you can rearrange, or remove altogether with as little time, money and effort spent as possible. You’re still the steward of your land, but who turns away good help when they can get it for the price of a little research and consideration?

Your Job, As the Gardener

 

Written by: Farmer Connor Newman

Without getting too philosophical, the job description for the gardener is pretty simple – create and maintain conditions, in which, your plants can thrive. The normal tasks might include things like watering, working the soil, planting, pulling weeds, treating pests and feeding. It is also said that the job of the gardener is to act as the staff scientist – looking, listening, feeling, tasting and generally learning from time out amongst the plants. Push your fingers into the soil to feel for moisture, to check the structure of the soil and gauge its temperature. Bring a fistful of earth to your nose and smell for the, well, earthy aroma of “geosmin”, the byproduct of Actinobacteria and the tell-tale sign of a healthy subterranean ecosystem. Our brains are wired for pattern recognition and we can use that skill to look for pests and disease, as well as healthy plants and improving conditions.

However, do we always balance thoughtful observation with the tasks that we believe have to be done?

Do we always use the best tool for the job?

All too often, we succumb to availability biases that justify expensive chemical habits, intensive resource use, and tedious tasks, ad infinitum. Much like parenting, the gardener’s job is not so much to enforce rules and micromanage but to nurture and, often, to simply provide an environment conducive to growth. For instance, is watering every single day, always the best idea? Even in the heat of summer, not only is this practice wasteful, it is usually unnecessary. Most (not all by any stretch) plants suited to North Carolina’s climate enjoy about one inch of rain each week, or the equivalent thereof. Doing some admittedly disputable math, this works out to about 62 gallons per one hundred square feet and, by measuring the output of your choice watering device and crunching some basic area numbers, you can create the ideal conditions that your plant would encounter in nature. Watering deeply and infrequently encourages deep rooting, which pulls the double duty of promoting drought tolerance and having your plant’s roots gain access to leached nutrients deeper in the soil. Frequent and especially shallow watering will encourage shallow roots that succumb to drought stress, increased surface temperatures, wind, pests and other inherent risks to generally weaker plants. This may come as a relief to those who are forgetful about watering, have little free time and/or would even like to see lower utility bills. Another point worth considering would be to look into the needs of particular plants. Sage (Salvia officinalis), for instance, is a Mediterranean species and will readily drown if watered too often. So, watering less is not only easier, environmentally sound but also typically better for the plants?

Where else can we cut corners for the betterment of our gardens? Pesticides (applied broadly, for the purposes of this article to include all of the ‘cides) are another area to consider cutting back on, for the sake of your plants, the environment, as well as your own time and budget. Most “ready to use” pesticides are broad spectrum and should really be thought of as a last resort. Firstly, your garden is not as defenseless as it may appear at first glance. Most plants can actually change their chemical makeup in order to repel pests – they produce toxic “secondary compounds”, increase the woodiness of their tissues and even call in hoards of predatory insects to fight on their behalf. When attacked, or chewed on, tomatoes release a sticky substance that can repel or poison the critters feasting on it and, failing that, the plant will release “herbivore-induced volatiles”, something like a lure for predatory insects that can come even the playing field. However, as soon as pesticides are sprayed, most of these natural defenses disappear and the plant becomes dependent on your constant diligence to fend off pests. Likewise, before spraying fungicides, it is worth noting that somewhere around 95% of the world’s vascular plants form beneficial fungal associations that increase a plant’s reach for water and nutrients, as well as protect against soil-borne pests and disease. Even weeds may be worth taking a second look at. If the plants that you don’t want (literally the definition of a weed) are doing better than the plants you are trying to grow, then perhaps there is an environmental factor, like poor drainage, low nutrients or too much bare ground between plants, that you could alter first. After all, what gardeners and farmers call weeds, ecologists call “pioneer species”. These are the plants that begin the recovery process on abandoned fields, replacing nutrients, preventing soil erosion, collecting sunlight and providing the stepping stones for biodiversity – so it may pay off to think of weeds as informative “pop-ups”, letting you know what problems you may have and even how to fix them.

So what does this boil down to?

You’re always going to have to work in any garden, but by using your senses, along with some common sense and even a little R&D, you can save yourself and your gardens from the oppression doing things simply because that’s “how it’s done”. In the words of Johnny (1953’s The Wild One), when asked what he was rebelling against – the thoughtful gardener retorts, “what have you got?” While I’m not suggesting firing up your Harley, along with 50 of your rowdiest friends, to invade quiet suburbia, I do advocate questioning the status quo and going against the grain until you find answers. Rebels, scientists, and innovators alike are always asking “why” and the gardener should too. This is how the gardener performs his, or her, job well.

Hodges Farm to Offer Farm Raised Angus Beef

New this spring, Hodges Farm will have farm-raised beef for sale.

Angus beef raised on our pastures will be available in our farm shop which opens April 19. We raise our steers in a free range, diverse forage environment, so we are able to manage them without antibiotics or added hormones. We give our animals good living conditions, use grain to supplement their diets during the winter and finish them solely on grass and hay in the Spring. Humanely processed in a USDA certified facility, vacuum packed and frozen for freshness. We are excited to offer healthful food responsibly produced by our family for your family.

The Hodges Farm Shop will be open every Wednesday 4 – 7pm and Saturday 9am – noon.

A “Herd of Horses”, a “Fluffle of Bunnies” – A Gilt, a Heifer and a Filly

cows

Most folks are familiar with the terms used to describe large groups of common animals – a flock of birds, a herd of horses, etc. – and a few trivia buffs have probably even heard of a “crash” of rhinos, or, a “murder” of crows. That being said, how many have given a second thought to the nomenclature used to describe animals on the farm? Well, this is where it becomes a little bit complicated – for instance, a group of piglets is called a “farrow”, juvenile pigs group together in a “drift” and older pigs can be found in a “saunder”. Similarly,  you might stumble across a “down” of hares, a “warren” of rabbits, or a “fluffle” of bunnies. Most will also be aware that a rooster is a male chicken and a hen is the female, or that “stallion” and “mare” are the terms used for male and female horses. But this too can be further broken down. A young female pig, who has not yet had piglets, is called a “gilt” and is only called a sow after farrowing (giving birth). A young female cow, who has not calved, is called a “heifer” and is only called a cow after giving birth. The same conditions, applied to a young female horse, is called a “filly”.

Why are there so many terms for different breeds ages and even conditions of certain animals? Counterintuitively, this reason is to make things simpler. While there is a learning curve involved with committing the various terms to memory, a single term can replace an entire sentence and convey a concise meaning. This way, farmers can have a brief conversation and know exactly which animals need help, are being introduced to the farm, or need to be fed. Just for fun, I’ve included a (far from exhaustive) list of terms for groups of animals from www.yourdictionary.com… enjoy!

  • Apes: a shrewdness
  • Badgers: a cete
  • Bats: a colony or a camp
  • Bears: a sloth or a sleuth
  • Bees: a swarm
  • Buffalo: a gang or obstinacy
  • Camels: a caravan
  • Cats: a clowder or a glaring; Kittens: a litter or a kindle; Wild cats: a destruction
  • Cobras: a quiver
  • Crocodiles: a bask
  • Crows: a murder
  • Dogs: a pack; Puppies: a litter
  • Donkeys: a drove
  • Eagles: a convocation
  • Elephants: a parade
  • Elk: a gang or a herd
  • Falcons: a cast
  • Ferrets: a business
  • Fish: a school
  • Flamingos: a stand
  • Fox: a charm
  • Frogs: an army
  • Geese: a gaggle
  • Giraffes: a tower
  • Gorillas: a band
  • Hippopotami: a bloat
  • Hyenas: a cackle
  • Jaguars: a shadow
  • Jellyfish: a smack
  • Kangaroos: a troop or a mob
  • Lemurs: a conspiracy
  • Leopards: a leap
  • Lions: a pride
  • Moles: a labor
  • Monkeys: a barrel or a troop
  • Mules: a pack
  • Otters: a family
  • Oxen: a team or a yoke
  • Owls: a parliament
  • Parrots: a pandemonium
  • Pigs: a drift or drove (younger pigs) or a sounder or a team (older pigs)
  • Porcupines: a prickle
  • Rabbits: a warren
  • Rats: a colony
  • Ravens: an unkindness
  • Rhinoceroses: a crash
  • Shark: a shiver
  • Skunk: a stench
  • Snakes: a nest
  • Squirrels: a dray or a scurry
  • Stingrays: a fever
  • Swans: a bevy or a game (if in flight: a wedge)
  • Tigers: an ambush or a streak
  • Toads: a knot
  • Turkeys: a gang or a rafter
  • Turtles: a bale or a nest
  • Weasels: a colony, a gang or a pack
  • Whales: a pod, a school, or a gam
  • Wolves: a pack
  • Zebras: a zeal

Blog written by: Connor Newman, Hodges Farm Manager

Reference: https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/word-lists/list-of-names-for-groups-of-animals.html

Spring 2019 = Fruit and Vegetable Production at Hodges Farm

We have finally gotten a break in the torrential rain that has plagued the area for several months and that means that we are hitting the ground running! We are working on a host of new and exciting things to offer our customers in 2019. One of our major projects is fruit and vegetable production. We experimented with growing strawberries for the first time last year and have expanded the garden to include salad greens, radishes, peas, beans, cabbages, bok choy, and a variety of other produce. We are learning more every day about managing a healthy crop of veggies but hope to be able to offer patrons fresh food all throughout the summer starting April 19th and 20th, and we are thrilled to announce that our farm shop for road-side sales on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings throughout the season.

Another exciting prospect for food sales is our venture into locally and humanely raised meats and eggs. We work hard to provide the best life possible to all living things here on the farm and hope that will translate into high quality, altruistically raised meat products including beef, pork, and eggs.

Farmer Connor and Farmer Kim are trying to ensure that all the foodstuffs raised on the farm are done so in a compassionate manner but also in consideration of all USDA and FDA guidelines. They have gone to several continuing education classes in the past year, have put together a Food and Safety Guideline, and are looking to become GAP certified in the near future. Follow our Farm on Facebook, Instagram, and sign up for our newsletters to stay in touch and hear about all the exciting things we will have available for customers in the upcoming months.

Let’s Begin with a Seed – A Perfect Biologic Package

By Connor Newman

What is a seed? Most people are familiar with the idea – put a seed in the ground, add water and a plant happens. This is true, but many are not aware of just how amazing seeds are. A seed is a perfect biologic package, consisting of a protective outer coat, “shelf stable” food storage and all of the genetic material needed for a mature plant. With ideal conditions, and only then, the seed coat will allow oxygen and water inside the seed and begin to germinate. Seeds can stay viable for a very long time, waiting for that ideal environment. Seeds have been found in the Siberian tundra, radiocarbon dated to 32,000 years old, and scientists were able to germinate them. So, if you’re not getting the moisture, light, and temperature right, you may be holding your breath for quite some time, waiting on results. Continue reading