05 November 2006

The Cutworms Have Landed

Yup!  It's that time of year again.

A couple of days of great rain, followed by a warm, humid day, and out come the Ravening Cutworm Hordes.  I must have lost about 40% of the baby lettuces so far, and the soil is so wet that actually finding the little bastards is extremely difficult.

As far as I know, every organic farmer faces this problem.  You build up the soil - years of backbreaking composting - only to create the perfect conditions for Cutworms.

tomato plant in a collar, in amongst lettucesI know of only two successful approaches to managing the Cutworm Problem:
  1. For widely spaced, high-value plants - Tomatoes, Chillis, Eggplants, Artichokes and similar - cardboard collars to protect every individual plant.
  2. For denser plantings, mass-planted and direct-sown varieties like Carrots, Mustards, Beans, co-planting a decoy or sacrificial crop.
The first method, pictured here, is quite labour and material intensive, though it does provide a good use for toilet-roll inners, which are otherwise a "waste product".  Never truer, the dictum, "One person's shit is another person's gold."  Collaring works pretty well.  The collars are pushed into the ground, so that what you see in the picture, is only about half the length of the collar.  This stops the cutworms from getting in either under or over the fence, and seems to have a better-than-90% success rate.

Decoy, or sacrificial planting is a method I have not had a lot of experience with.  The trick is to plant your decoy crop a couple of weeks before your real crop.  Buckwheat is a good decoy, since it seems to be very attractive to Cutworms, and is good for the soil besides.  The idea is that there is a forest of Buckwheat, which the Cutworms are more likely to encounter than your precious crop plants.  The Cutworms chow down on the decoy plants, giving themselves away, and satisfying their hunger on plants that don't matter to you, leaving most of your crop plants (hopefully) untouched.

The difficulty I have with this is that my veggie beds are in such intensive use that there really is no gap between one crop and the next.  Frequently I find myself planting a new crop in amongst another that is approaching harvest - such as in the picture, where baby Tomatoes have been planted among teen-stage Lettuces.  This makes it very difficult to get a trap-crop into the bed in the correct timeslot.

I would love to hear of any other Cutworm Management Strategies that you use - successfully, or un...

No comments:

Post a Comment

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...