This season CFSA asks expert farmers about pests and weeds.

Our expert farmers teach you to tame these pesky potato beetles and other pests using organic tecniques. Photo from

Judy Lessler of Harland’s Creek Farm in Pittsboro, NC.
Daniel Parson of Parsons Produce in Clinton, SC
Pat Battle of Sparkling Earth Farm in Burnsville, NC
Stefan Hartmann of Black River Organic Farm in Ivanhoe, NC

1)  What disease or pest issues are you dealing with so far this season?  How are you managing them?

JUDY: We have faced the usual BEETLE MANIA on the farm–flea beetles, bean beetles, cucumber beetles, potato beetles, and Japanese beetles.

As an organic farm, we first try barrier methods and lures and then, as a back-up if these do not work, we use natural product and biocides permitted in organic farming.  Tatsoi, arugula, and beans were covered with row covers when they were planted, and these covers remained in place until they were inhibiting the plant growth.  We then followed with a pyrethrum compound product called PyGanic.  We were able to control the bean beetle very early and have had not had a need to use the spray in quite some time.  We were less successful with the flea beetle and had considerable damage.  For the second year, we used lures for Japanese beetles.  We have also been fighting tomato worms, treating for downy mildew, had rabbits and ground hogs breach the fence, been visited by harlequin bugs and two types of squash pests, and so on.

DANIEL: Our most damaging pest this year was the Colorado potato beetle. They reached nightmare proportions!  I am averse to using the organic pesticides, so twice I had helpers go out with soapy water in a bucket to collect as many as they could.  It actually had a significant effect on the pests.

My holistic approach is to attract beneficial insects by using cover crops that have good blooms.

Tomatoes host our biggest disease problem.  We are mulching and caging, of course, but this year I planted paired rows with an open bed between the pairs to provide air flow.  So far it is helping, but disease season is just getting started!

PAT: Insect pressure for us has been low to moderate hopefully because of extensive Farmscaping.  But maybe we’re just lucky.  Our biggest problem has been rodents, such as voles and chipmunks, and actually they are minor.  It is the damage done by dogs and other animals attempting to get at them that has been significant.  Our solution, which has been moderately successful, is a product called Shake Away, which when applied to the holes and runs repels pests. Problem is it has been canceled, and the holes and runs are extensive.

I’m expecting the usual bean beetle, squash beetle, and Japanese beetle damage.  My solution will be Surround.  We reapply it after heavy rains. It has been fairly effective, but it tends to slide off brassicas.

So far early blight on tomatoes has been our most significant disease issue.  By and large, Serenade does the job of controlling early blight.  We also had issues with cercaspora on beet and chard in hot humid weather. For beets, we grow ACE, which is quite resistant. For chard, the best we can do is to mulch heavily and pick the most diseased leaves off.  If it gets terrible, we cut the entire plant back and hope for better conditions later. The other issue, which is new this year, is extensive ozone damage on beans, calendula, and okra family plants.

STEFAN: We have had to deal with bacterial wilt in tomatoes.  Grafting has been a real success for us.  This is a very promising technique and I’m trying to graft summer squashes, which have been hit by fusarium solani.  I still haven’t found a good root stock, but our technique seems to work.

Aphids are always a big problem in the greenhouses, but outside our beneficial insect habitats have provided a 100% control, even if we transplanted aphids out into the field.

2)  What is your approach to weeds this year?

JUDY:  We make use of landscape cloth, mulch, and cultivation.  Last month, we finished hoeing, side dressing the okra with feather meal, and mulching it to get it ready for the long hot summer, which it likes very much.  We planted the eggplant in landscape cloth this year, as well as all of the tomatoes.

DANIEL:  This is my second year on land converted from pasture, so I’m battling nutsedge and bermuda – the two toughest weeds I’ve seen.  I hand-pulled nutsedge in the crop, then mulched heavily with barley straw. My potato field (now harvested) is full of coastal bermuda from previous pasture and I’m using repeated tillage followed by cover cropping to try and weaken it.

PAT: We rely heavily on black fabric mulching and cultivation and manual labor to control weeds.  I try to get them small.

STEFAN: We got hit hard by all kinds of amaranths (some pigweed!) and now we will cultivate those areas, encourage weed germination now and knock ‘em back until it’s time to plant the fall covers of rye, vetch and clover, or plant the fall crops.

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