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Trouble in the Garden

June 23, 2010

Gosh-darn-it! Loopers (Trichoplusia ni) ate most of my Mesculun lettuce crop. The Mesculm was beautiful, and almost ready to harvest. Darn insects! 

Loopers are green caterpillars with several white stripes down their backs. When they crawl, Loopers arch their backs creating the appearance of a loop. My bug book didn’t explain how large Loopers grow. The ones munching on my Mesculun were only an inch, and smaller. Hard to believe these tiny insects could eat so much in an evening. One day I had a wonderful crop of leafy greens and then the next morning, skeletons and partly chewed lettuce. All infested with fecal pellets.

Unlike the red-skinned potatoes harvested a couple of weeks ago, there was no joy in pulling up the lettuce. No ceremonial gratitude for a blessed crop. Instead, I tossed the entire crop and as many Loopers as I could gather from the soil, into the incinerator. I will have to watch my other plants closely now. Loopers like a variety of cultivated plants.

I want to bag up all the soil in my raised bed, take it to the landfill, and start over. But that would be impossible, a ridiculous step to take. Instead, I’ll wade through the mourning period and plant lettuce again, perhaps in the fall. Horticulture isn’t all happiness and success. It’s also life and death, rewards and disappointments, a learning arena of seasonal challenges. Farmers face this every day on a larger scale. If they’re not fighting insects or disease, they’re facing unfavorable weather. Unlike the farmer, my loss is minimal.

For now, I’ll depend on the local farmers’ market for fresh lettuce.

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