Field notes from California's North Central Valley

On aphids, or Why I’d Make a Lousy Farmer

It was a tough choice: Visit a farm or use the weekend to put in my own home’s garden. The latter seemed a little more urgent.

I started the process two weekends ago but was thwarted by aphids. Awful little beasts. In March, I’d held hope that powerful sprays of water from my hose and some choice hand squashing would take care of those beginning to creep in on my fava beans. By month’s end they were devouring them. I took out the whole crop in a flash of anger and panic, hoping to salvage the neighboring chard.

But the other weekend, when I was getting ready to plant some starts, I looked more closely at my chard and saw that they, too, were fully overrun with black aphids. Past the point – at least in my estimation—of hose sprays, soap or pepper insecticide remedies. It became a total chard clearcut, a heartwrenching, demoralizing, humbling mass destruction.

Being the modern gardener I am, I immediately posted a photo of the carnage to Facebook …

chard ravaged by aphids

… after which my friends’ gave me advice like “bring on the ladybugs!” and a link to a magical concoction of mouthwash and tobacco to try.

All good ideas for the future, but too late for me: My beautiful, lush, green garden had become a lonely dirt patch, my only consolation the artichokes and two remaining chard plants that survived.

“It’s a clean slate,” my husband offered annoyingly helpfully. “A chance to start something new.”

My neighbor Chuck said, “The chard was probably about to bolt anyway.”

But all I could think of was, “Man, I would make a lousy farmer.”

While crop destruction for me can be a chance at starting over, it’s life and livelihood for a farmer.

There are a lot of romanticized notions about what farmers do—I’m guilty of holding a fair amount of them. But their job is more than glorified gardening and delicious dinners out by the barn. They keep us fat and happy while sparing us the details of pests, weather, weeds, and fickle markets. And they do it while keeping a vigilant eye on their crops—before it gets to the destructive stage.

Next time I’m visiting a local farm – and it will be soon! — or biting into fresh-grown Delta asparagus or (I can’t wait!) a juicy strawberry, I expect I’ll remember my epic aphid battle and be a little more appreciative of what farmers do.

For now, I’ve replanted my garden. New soil. New seeds. New starts.

Squash seedlings

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7 thoughts on “On aphids, or Why I’d Make a Lousy Farmer

  1. From an outsiders perspective, you’d be a great farmer! Farmers are not, in my perception (I’m not one yet either!!!) perfect, accurate every time, or any of those type things. Instead, the best ones are resourceful, curious, patient, open-minded and willing to try, try, again – all of which, it seems, you are! Keep trying. 😀

  2. I’ve noticed a big increase in aphids this month, too. We started ripping out chard last week because of them and also b/c of leafminer damage. In our case, the chard goes straight into the chicken coop, which eases the disappointment a bit, since at least it’s feeding someone. It always makes me feel a little better to know that it happens to the “real” farmers, too, just on a much bigger scale. When I hear that a local, organic farm has lost an entire crop to aphids, it makes it easier to take a deep breath and start over with one little 4 x 8 bed.

  3. Now that the weather is cooperating, we are switching every weekend. One weekend we are in the yard prepping the garden and maintaining, the next weekend we are out shopping and getting ideas or working in the house. And then back to the yard again. It’s really going to be a great summer.

  4. Aphids are my arch nemesis next to hornworms every year. For us, if I can catch them early enough, a spray with hot pepper, onion, garlic (boiled and strained) and a few drops of dish detergent in a spray bottle work really well. This year I’m also starting some of my greens under cover which will hopefully help with some of the pests we encounter in the North East. 🙂

    BTW: Cute blog! I’ll definitely be back.

  5. Order some ladybugs for your garden. They love, love, love to eat aphids!

    I love your blog!

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