Above is a bed I had originally planted to cucumber. Not all of the plants germinated; therefore I went ahead and planted cucumber seeds in other places in the garden (and oh my we can't keep up with them!), and added collards to this bed. I hoped to have both crops do well in this place, but the cucumbers grew far faster and the collards never got enough height. However, I left them in place for quite a while, because I noticed something:
Can you see them? This collard's stem is covered in aphids. Here's a closer look.
Yuck. I am not a fan of the aphid. However, I am very pleased that these collards became something called a 'trap crop' for the little buggers.
Trap Cropping is a part of Integrated Pest Management, or IPM for short. What is IPM? Here, let UC Davis (our agricultural giant of a school about an hour north of us) explain: "IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties."
The bottom line is, you can't keep aphids, or other plant-eating insects, out of the garden. It's not like you can put up an insect fence. So how to manage them? IPM is a great defense.
As I've written about before, in the last year or so I've started simply doing nothing but waiting and watching, because pest insects in turn attract predators that will feed on them. In the time since I adapted this philosophy, I've seen numerous stages of ladybug around, from nymphs to larvae, which are voracious predators of aphids; and lately I've been seeing dozens of mantids in every growth stage as well, and the lizards have been reproducing like mad, if seeing baby lizards at every turn is any indication. If I poisoned the aphids, these predators would not come to eat them, and the balance of the garden would be upset. I want my own little 'Wild Kingdom' playing out in my garden. (I'm hoping garden snakes will be next. I could use some snakes around here.)
Another approach is trap cropping. Instead of planting a whole bed of broccoli, for instance, knowing that aphids are attracted to brassicas (like my collards), why not plant a few in various areas of the garden? Why not plant more than you could possibly eat? That way, a few of those plants can become 'sacrificial' plants. The aphids will attack some, but most likely not all; if you leave these plants with aphids in place, they will hopefully stay contented with their patch of broccoli and stay out of other plants.
This is what happened with my collards, though I can't say I did this on purpose. It was a happy accident. I care more for cucumbers than collards. I care more for the nearby romaine lettuce than I do collards. The collards became a sacrificial plant so that I could enjoy my lettuce and cucumbers bug-free.
Today, I decided to pull the collards up as they had served their purpose. I collected them and threw them to the chickens, therefore insuring the birds of some extra protein, and therefore the aphids served yet another purpose.
I'll be using trap cropping on purpose in the winter garden. I'm done with planting just one crop in each bed - the insects just find that one crop they like and decimate it. Each bed will be a hodgepodge of different plants, hopefully insuring that at least some of each crop will make it to harvest.
The only place I don't have to worry about this is with garlic, onions, and herbs. The plant-sucking bugs such as aphids tend to leave the smelly stuff alone.
In other news, my new food mill arrived. After reading many reviews, I got one made by Oxo. It comes with a bowl that has three folding legs, the crank and shaft, and three different discs for different sizes of milling - fine, medium, and coarse.
It cost just under $50 at Amazon and is incredibly easy to use. I didn't even have to read directions to put it together, unlike my other fancy food mill which was like an engineering project every single time I used it. Best of all, all the parts are dishwasher safe.
I processed 8 pounds of tomatoes into tomato paste, using the fine disc on my new mill. It was time consuming but very easy. The crank turned easily. I decided to dry the tomato paste outside in the 100 degree sun, and it took just one afternoon.
I added absolutely nothing to the tomatoes, and I wish so much that I could describe the taste of the finished paste. I've read in cookbooks, by authors whose recipes and skills I respect so much, that the flavor of homemade paste is inferior to what you can buy at the store. I could not disagree more. The taste is like the pure essence of summer tomato. It's sweet, and yet it has that bite of acid, and a hint of smokiness (from what? I don't know), and it's rich, rich, rich. By far the most delicious tomato product I have ever made.
However, those 8 pounds of tomatoes made only 18 cubes for the freezer. So it's a luxury.
I figure I won't use these for recipes that call for two cans of paste or whatever. Rather, I'll use them when a recipe calls for a couple of tablespoons. There, this homemade paste will shine.
When our daughter Kate was oh, about ages 5-8, one of her favorite things to eat was tomato paste. I'd open one of those little cans for her and she'd eat it with a spoon. I thought it was the strangest thing, and yet at the time, we were so glad she liked any kind of produce at all! Think of all the vitamin C and A she was getting at the time! How I wish I had been making this homemade paste then. This is pure summer in a cube.