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You Can Take That To The Bank

It is widely known that organic farming greatly minimizes the kind and amount of chemical fertilizers and pesticides used. What may be less well known is that it emphasizes long-term planning and relies heavily on information about crop and pest life cycles and soil. It takes extensive evaluation of the ecological relationships and conditions in the fields and the management options developed for a particular farm’s soil and climate. This means that organic farmers must have an intimate relationship with their land in order to grow the food you buy every day. They also have to be creative in managing pests and plant diseases. This can include ecological and biological controls, such as the use of beneficial insects like wasps, lacewings, parasitoid tachinid flies and damsel bugs, which offer non-chemical pest control.

Here are just a few examples of how growers have become creative with pest control over the years:

Coddling moths can be a major pest for apple growers; instead of using toxic sprays, organic growers use pheromone traps to disrupt the mating activities of coddling moths, resulting in less damage to the crop.

Since the 1960s, tree-fruit farmers have used a predatory mite to control other mites that damaged crops.

Zucchini growers use natural predators such as soldier beetles, wasps, nematodes and even bats. Yes, bats! Building bat houses and encouraging their presence on the farm can have big benefits. Consider that in one growing season, a colony of 150 Midwest big brown bats can eat up to 38,000 cucumber beetles.

Farmers even use plants to control weeds and pests that would have otherwise needed pesticides on a non-organic farm.

Recent on-farm research methods in the Columbia Valley in Washington State have included using biofumigation to reduce nematodes, disease problems and weeds. By planting certain varieties of mustard greens and tilling them into the soil as a green manure, researchers have found that the glucosinolates in mustard produces other chemicals that act against pests. Apparently these chemicals found in mustard are similar to the active chemical in the commercial fumigant metham sodium. Besides the pest control benefits and reduction of disease problems, this mustard green manure provides nutrients and organic matter when turned into the soil – which benefits the overall health of soil and the crops planted in it. Now that’s a powerful green! It’s high in antioxidants, great with black-eyed peas and good for organic pest control.

Growers have long used plants to trap damaging insects or to provide a home for beneficial insects with great results. Another new one emerging is beetle banks. Started in England and widely used in New Zealand, beetle banks are new to farmers in the United States.

Here’s how they work: Beetle banks, designed to mimic hedgerows, are essentially berms of soil anchored by the roots of grasses such as orchard grass and fescue. These banks provide a home and shelter for ground beetles to survive the winter as well as protect them from farm equipment such as plows and discs. From this safe haven, the beetles can head out into adjoining fields to feed on weed seeds and potentially crop-damaging insects.

Although it can take a while to build up a ground beetle population, farmers in Oregon and Washington are willing to give it a shot as another way to control pests chemically free while building habitat on their farms. Who knows, this may be one bank that offers quite a return on a farmer’s investment.
Image of Organic Heirloom Tomatoes
A nice taste of summer pie
August is a perfect month to freeze Melissa’s fresh organic corn and make some of your favorite recipes while the flavors of summer are at their peak. For midsummer, I like just about anything with Melissa’s organic corn and organic tomatoes mixed together, such as tomato-corn pie. I just tried my first one a few days ago and it is something that will now become a summer favorite.

Here is one recipe I adapted from From Eating Well: July/August 2010. I used a frozen whole wheat crust to make the job easier and have less cooking time.

Tomato-Corn Pie
Makes 8 servings | Active Time: 25 minutes | Total Time: 2 hours

3 large eggs
1 cup low-fat milk
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided use
2 medium Melissa’s organic conventional or heirloom tomatoes, sliced about ¼ inch thick
1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 large ear)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon salt, divided use
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. If it’s hot in your area during the day, you may want to make this in the morning and serve it cold with a salad for dinner.
To prepare filling: Whisk eggs and milk in a medium bowl. Sprinkle half the cheese over the crust, and then layer half the tomatoes evenly over the cheese. Sprinkle with corn, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and the remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Layer the remaining tomatoes on top and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Pour the egg mixture over the top. Bake the pie until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving. If you’d like to spice it up a bit, you may want to add some chopped Melissa’s jalapeños. Enjoy the flavors.
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