Well, the weather is finally warming up and it’s starting to feel at least springlike if not summery. Every day on the farm continues to be a delight and a joy for me. I feel extremely lucky to be here.
Betsey has started a new blog for her farm! We’re working on getting it up and running, at laughingcrowfarm.wordpress.com.
I wrote a little post on there about our recent trip to Sequim, which was *awesome* as we got to learn about draft horse farming and drive a team of draft horses. More pictures from the trip are on my flickr page, http://www.flickr.com/photos/warnerbecky/
I have a lot of prior horse experience, but it’s all been with riding. I was really surprised at how hard it was to drive the horses while sitting behind them on a wagon instead of on top of their backs. It’s the same communication, right? Wrong — when riding, you have your whole body (seat and legs) to use for communication. When driving you just have your hands on the lines and your voice. John, the horse trainer whose farm we visited and who taught us the driving lesson, has amazing communication with his horses. He can be standing across the field and say “back” and that horse will march backwards. It comes from a lifetime of learning on the part of the trainer and years of building up a relationship with that particular horse. I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to own horses again and experience that relationship as a daily part of my own life.
Mainly, I wanted to write this post about beneficial nematodes. What are those?? I wrote about soil microbes in my compost post and then realized I didn’t really know what I was talking about. What is a microbe exactly? And why exactly is it good to have them in soil that you want to grow stuff in? I decided to investigate one type of microbe.
A microbe or microorganism is an organism that is too small to be seen with the naked eye. Nematodes are one type of microorganism I had already heard about from Betsey. She applies a spray to her fields containing these little guys as a preventative against pest problems.
A nematode is a wormlike creature that lives — get this — in the film of water surrounding soil particles. Crazy! There are many types of nematodes. In fact, they are the most numerous multicellular animals on earth. But one type of nematodes are what we call beneficial or insect-parasitic. What they do is burrow inside a larger insect, entering through one of its natural body orifices(!), and then emit a bacteria that kills the host via blood poisoning. The nematode then feeds off of the host and multiplies inside it. Yikes!
As much as this sounds like some terrifying horror movie, the fact that this happens is great for farmers because having a healthy nematode population will keep down your soil-dwelling pest poulation. Pests like black fly (Brian worries about them on carrots) and root maggots (Betsey had some failed onion transplants because of them) can wreck your crops if they get out of control. In organic farming we can’t (and don’t want to) use chemical pesticides to kill those bugs. What we have to do instead is make sure there is not a good environment for the bad guys to flourish. This includes making sure we have really strong and vigorous plants that will be more resilient and not overwhelmed by a bug attack. It also helps to keep natural predators like bumblebees, ladybugs, and nematodes happy.
To that end, Betsey uses the beneficial nematode spray. The nematodes come via mail order from someplace that grows them (can you imagine being a breeder of microscopic wormlike creatures as your job?) She mixes them with water and sprays them on the fields. I see Betsey out there in the onions occasionally with a backpack sprayer in the evening and I know she is spraying her nematodes — ultraviolet light and heat will kill them so it’s best to apply in the evening.
So…… now we know!