Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hazardous Duty at New Moon Farm

Hi to everyone. Welcome to yet another chapter in the saga of My Life on an Organic Farm.

I think that Farmer's Wife should be on the list of most dangerous jobs. So far this year I have been bitten by spiders at least 3 times, twisted my ankle about 10 times, been sunburned and windburned, had poison ivy in places where I can't figure out how the heck it got there in the first place. I have been out in the wet and cold until I had a sore throat and bronchitis, in the heat until I almost had sunstroke, nearly been killed about 5 times driving produce around, stepped on a poisonous snake, I have repetitive motion injury from picking and pulling weeds, my hands and feet are so rough and dry from constantly being in water, dirt, heat, cold, you name it, that I could refinish wood without sandpaper. I have had splinters of wood everywhere you can imagine and almost lost a fingertip from an infection from a eucalyptus spine that got lodged under my fingernail. I constantly have itchy watery eyes because I am allergic to most pollens and get contact dermititis when I touch okra, eggplant, squash and tomatoes. Plus, I can't take anything for it because I am allergic to and/or overeact to most prescription drugs. One benadryl will knock me out for 8 hours and I can't work when I am comatose, so I just suffer mostly. Yesterday was a new one, even for me.

Last night, about 8:45, as I was getting out of the car from yesterday's delivery route, something hit me in the chest and then fell down my shirt and started stinging me. Next thing I knew I was swooning and experiencing the most excrutiating pain I have felt in a while. My entire upper torso felt like it was on fire. I started screaming and literally ripped my shirt off and flung it into the air and ran into the house. I am allergic to many insect bites ands stings (not deadly but bad enough....) because I have an overactive immune system (mosquito bites swell up like marbles when I get bitten and itch for days on end). I don't know if that is good or bad. I read today online that wasp/hornet/yellow jacket stings are not nearly as painful or venemous as a bee sting, UNLESS you are sensitive to them because you have an overactive immune system. Welcome to my world.

The culprit this time was a baldfaced hornet. I DO NOT recommend getting stung by one of these buggers... the bald faced hornet is not really a hornet, just a giant yellowjacket about 3/4 long. These are the things that build those big papery nests that look like gray footballs. We have been seeing them quite a lot recently, even had a couple on the back porch, but can't locate the nest anywhere, so it must be up high in a tree. Thank goodness they will be gone by the first frost (can't take the cold...think they hibernate) so we should be able to find the next when the leaves fall, so hopefully they will go elsewhere. Because they are beneficial insects, we won't try to kill them but I am not sure they will do me the same courtesy.

Today I have a handsized bright red welt on my chest that is mostly red and hot as a firecracker. It itches like crazy, but at least the pain in my shoulder and neck has abated. Anyway, I didn't get much picking done today because I didn't sleep last night and then I took benadryl after lunch and was on the sofa for most of the afternoon. The Farmer and I planted all morning, til lunch time...I mostly handed him seed packs but at least I was out there. Go, me.

Anyway, given the state of the financial industry right now (had a 25 year career in that biz), I think I will continue to take my chances on the Farm. At least I don't have to swim with sharks or cozy up to rabid wolves out here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Spit bugs and barking dogs

Well, that title certainly got my attention. Of course, it was my title, so I guess I should explain the significance.

After the rain a couple of weeks ago, we had an unprecedented number of spittle bugs all over the place. Spit bugs are one of my least favorite bugs (next to the chewing gum bugs) because they make this "nest" that literally looks like a big lugie. And they put them on everything. Imagine going out to the bean patch to pick green beans and finding that the entire patch hosting a spit bug family reunion. It made me so mad I screamed really loud, hence, the barking dogs part of the title...three of our JRTS thought something required their chorus of barks and howls and the melee that insued over the spit bugs was quite chaotic for a few minutes.

Chewing gum bugs, thank goodness, are not very prolific. But every once in a while, I turn over a leaf and there is what looks like a big wad of chewed gum. Same texture, same color, same random shape. Closer inspection reveals that it is actually a cluster of really large white eggs but the first time I ran across on of those I started to get all hyper because I thought one of the interns was spitting his gum out in the rows. After I looked closer, I realized what I was really looking at but they are pretty icky, too.

Some of the insects in the garden are actually quite beautiful. We have a predatory spider in abundance in the okra, the Green Lynx Spider. They are pretty shy and hide under the leaves, but they are voracious and will attach insects much larger than themselves. They don't appear to make webs and more or less ambush their prey. When I first saw one, I was fascinated and looked them and and discovered they were important to agriculture as a biological pest control so
I was pretty happy that they are occurring here at the Farm without any intervention from humans (like relocating them to the fields). The fact that they are there naturally speaks to the health of our biodiversity here.

The Red Velvet Ant is another spectacular insect we see often. Although it is called an ant, it is in fact the flightless female of a species of wasp. While they are very beautiful, like the aforementioned spider, they can deliver a powerful sting, so painful that it has earned them the nickname "cow killer" because supposedly the sting is enough to "kill a cow". They are very shy and I have never been stung and don't intend to be anytime soon.

Some of the other insects I have seen in the gardens over the years include several I have never been able to identify satisfactorily and of course, couldn't or didn't try to catch to research. Two examples that I spent an inordinate amount of time researching (yes, it was that impressive).One I discovered was the Golden Tortoise Beetle (picture at right) and it really is a metallic and shiny gold as the picture appears. The other still eludes me.