OFF Program? If Only...

At least the bunny leaves us a share...

We are invited to participate in the OFF Program. For a moment, my mind drifts into happy thoughts about a really effective OFF Program. It would rid us of stink bugs, bunch rot fungus, coddling moths, gophers, and maybe even that little bunny rabbit that hides in the woodpile stacked against the barn.

But, no. This is a threat, clothed in dense bureaucratic phrases – not an antidote to any problems we face daily. The government has found the Oriental Fruit Fly (thus, OFF) in the Meadowview area. Once they determine the scope of the problem, they will establish a quarantine area within which no fruit or vegetable can move beyond their place of origin. If we get unlucky and they draw the circle big enough, our little farm and its thrice-weekly produce stand will be shut down for the rest of the year.

Their invitation is that if we sign up now, we can preemptively spray our two acres of produce with a malathion concoction or spinosad and shorten any time we might be affected by a quarantine. You have to be as old as me to remember the first Jerry Brown years when the Mediterranean fruit fly caused widespread spraying of malathion and public panic. Brown’s sidekick BT Collins drank some to prove it wouldn’t kill you. (If I had a different sense of humor, I would point out Collins is dead now, but there’s no link and it isn’t funny anyway.) Spinosad is actually on the two-page-long list of things you can spray produce with and still claim organic status.

Nonetheless, we don’t really want to spray anything when we can avoid it. Ken studied the map and determined they would have to enlarge the quarantine area by a factor of three to reach us. So, no OFF Program for Full Flavor Farm.

The stink bugs are a bigger threat than far-off fruit flies, anyway. Ken tells me he is throwing away about as many tomatoes as he harvests because of visible damage that would bother consumers, although it doesn’t affect taste. He’s tried traps described on the internet; no go. He has now promised to plant marigolds among the tomatoes next year as a preventive, my long-time solution to tomato pests.

He has also said there will be coddling moth traps so our apples will be marketable next year (this year, the trees are young and he knew the crop would be small). Right now, the bunch rot in grapes can be weeded out by hand; in future years, there will be government-approved fungicides applied closer to harvest to halt the damage.

The bunny rabbit is a survivor. His siblings have fallen to coyotes, traps and other barnyard dangers. I admire him, and he has his uses. When we find a ripe melon or cucumber with his teeth marks, we salvage the rest for our own dinner table. When you run a produce stand, sometimes you feel like all of the good stuff goes to customers. At least the rabbit leaves us a share.

I’m also grateful we have not seen the stink bug’s cousin, the avaricious leaf-footed bug, on our tomato plants. Leaf-footed bugs are invariably described by experts as no great cause for concern because they cause little damage. These experts, several of whom I consulted in person a few years ago, apparently have never seen the likes of the flash-mob infestation we had at my previous home. Our introduction to these guys came when I discovered our cherry tomato bushes undulating from the weight of five- to six-bug teams covering the surface of each tiny tomato. I had to give up harvesting and leave the plants to the bugs.

When they migrated across the yard to the Better Boys and Early Girls, I would flick them off each tomato, one by one. But the damage was done and most tomatoes were so ridged and hardened with the effects of the bugs’ piercing-sucking mouths that they had to be tossed.

Ken tried everything to eradicate them that first year, including natural predators, sprays and cleaning up over-wintering debris. The problem was much less intense the following summer. Still, they were a constant challenge. However, moving to Wilton seems to have solved the problem.

I guess they didn’t get our forwarding address.


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