A friend called to seek our ‘expert’ advice as to whether he can eat the tomatoes from his garden that have been damaged by aphids. After I asked for a little clarification, he described the affected fruit as bumpy with spots of discoloration “where aphids have sucked on it.”

Now, tomatoes are susceptible to many tortures, by both insect and disease, but never have I seen aphids go after a ripe (or unripe, for that matter) tomato.

“You sure it’s from aphids, and not stink bugs?” I asked carefully, not wanting to insult his gardening prowess by blurting out what I knew to be the real problem.

“Oh, I guess it’s stink bugs – they’re shaped like a shield.”

Thank goodness. Those would be some BIG aphids. If we were faced with a new strain of mutant aphids that size, I do believe Farmer John and I would throw in the towel and go look for real jobs, something (anything) indoors, air-conditioned and bug-free.

We have enough non-mutant invaders to deal with as it is. We’ve been in constant battle with squash bugs since the spring, and lately even more varieties of insect pests have descended upon the farm.

The grasshopper population has exploded tenfold. We haven’t had to fight much with these destructive – and mostly indestructible – creatures the past couple years, so I suppose we’re due for an infestation. I’d hoped the wet winter and relatively cool early spring might deter the hoppers a bit, but we’re seeing these massive hatchings on a daily basis.

Shielded stink bugs (NOT mutant aphids…whew) are doing their dirty work, as well, lumping and bumping and discoloring our tomatoes just like they’ve done in our friend’s garden. A partner in crime to the shielded stinker is the equally irritating, and smelly, leaf-footed bug.

Fortunately, we have thousands of tomatoes for them to suck on so they can’t ruin them all (yet), but believe me, they’ll try.

Added to the fray is the infamous tomato hornworm, Public Enemy Number One to every tomato grower. This is an adolescent, moments before its fate was sealed by the photographer’s foot.

And this is why the photographer did it.

A voracious tomato hornworm can defoliate a tomato plant in no time.

Notice the photographer’s brown stained fingers. If I’m remembering correctly, that stain was once a grasshopper. Or maybe it was a stink bug. Or leaf-footed bug. Because this is a certified organic farm, hand-to-yuck combat is pretty much our only defense against all of these harmful insects.

Now, tomato hornworms can indeed be killed by an organic pesticide – the biological control Bt – yet more often than not, we’re busy with other chores and just can’t find the time to spray rows and rows of tomato plants. There are some other forms of liquid death we’re allowed to use as organic growers, as well; however, the problem with almost everything except Bt is that these other products kill beneficial insects too, like bees, lady bugs and lace wings.

Unlike the majority of pesticides, we humans are more discriminate. While I’ll let this pepper rot on the plant rather than ever consider picking it, since attached to its underside are the delicate eggs of the lacewing…

…I’ll go to great lengths to capture and decapitate a grasshopper.

When you consider how many insects we’re able to kill, as compared to how many millions more survive, crushing only a few per day might seem futile. I’m certain it is. But it’s a sanity issue, really – were we to simply pass by each and every grasshopper, stink bug, leaf-foot, squash bug and hornworm, it might be too much for us to bear. We have to at least pretend we’re making some kind of impact, even when we know deep down that we aren’t.

The most common question we hear when people find out we farm organically is, “What do you do about bugs?” Not wanting to show our true colors right off the bat, we usually smile and tell them we “share” the bounty. Our answer probably makes us sound downright benevolent.

If they only knew.

* * *

Here’s what we’ll be bringing to the farm stand on Wednesday:

Icebox watermelons (the cantaloupe-type melons have suffered greatly from too much rain so there likely will only be a few of those); lots of Asian cucumbers; summer squash – yellow squash, Zephyr, zucchini and a little bit of pattypan; some tomatoes (**see note, below); some cherry tomatoes (pink ‘grape’ tomatoes, red ‘grape’ tomatoes, and golden Sun Sugar); four varieties of eggplant; bunches of basil; green bell peppers; white bell peppers; red bell peppers; sweet Corno di Toro peppers; jalapenos; red onions; Delicata squash; two varieties of acorn squash; spaghetti squash; and some of this and that.

**Our tomato crop is still in a lull, and the 5” rain that fell on the farm last week didn’t help. Still, we WILL have a few crates of tomatoes at market this week – with larger quantities (we hope!) coming soon.

***We found this sweet little blankie beside the melon trailer last Wednesday. We’re thinking somebody might be missing it pretty badly! We’ll bring it to the farm stand this week, and hopefully get it back to its rightful owner.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin on Jollyville Road at the Asian American Center (1-1/2 blocks south of the intersection with Duval); and
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light