Weeds are an evil that cannot be altogether contained in a place like New Orleans in a time like July. They will exist despite your best efforts to stifle them with fresh dirt and any or all of the mulches, be they cardboard, plastic, landscape fabric, or wood chips. Even if you lay concrete over your gardens, it’s going to crack before long, or a bit of dirt will accumulate in that not quite even spot, and there will be weeds. There will be weeds.
And you must weed them. And if you want to weed them less later, weed them better now.
I heard tell from a certain celebrity chef in New Orleans of a yardman who defined weeding as the spraying of weeds with Round-Up. He also swore up and down that Round-Up was totally organic. I am certain this yardman was being honest to the best of his knowledge on both fronts, though whether one should consider themselves a yardman if their knowledge is so limited as this is very questionable.
Weeding does not happen with round-up. Weeds are killed, but so is everything else you love about your garden, especially its heart. Also, Round-up is extremely not organic. It is far less organic than genetically modified foodstuffs. Leave it alone if you care about your soul, or the soul of the universe, which your soul is arguably a part of if you go for that all one Gaia principle on a cosmic scale stuff.
You can plow and rip at the soil to take care of your weeds if you like, till hard, turn the soil, refresh the earth. It will look gorgeous for a few days, but a few days after that you will likely find more weeds than you had the first time around, for you will have unearthed millions upon millions of weed seeds that had lay dormant beneath your garden soil before.
What then, if you cannot till and you cannot spray, can you possibly do? Get on your hands and knees and pull. Pull the weeds up, grab them close to the soil, tug gently but firmly, learn to feel for the loosening of the roots underground so that you may release the entire plant from its mortal coil rather than give it a measly haircut. It is an art form at least as subtle as fly-fishing, and its rewards are many, if less immediately tangible than a filet on the dinner plate.
Pull with your hands and know the soil, learn what lies there, learn what thrives and what withers, and learn how to make what you want to thrive do it’s very best by being there next to it.
Weed frequently. If you allow your weeds to grow tall and put out seed, you will have to conquer their children who will be many and ever so slightly more adapted to your garden. Weed before you allow your weeds to plant their roots so deep that you cannot pull them out with a firm flick of the wrist, or even a bodily tug. Weed often and you will find that as the seasons go on you will not have to weed so often. This is an IRA for your garden, invest now.
And finally, if you have been to the Urban Farmstead or any of our other gardens, remember to do as I say, not as I do.
Fine dining in the western world is slowly and perhaps not so successfully coming around to the idea that eating insects for protein is not such a bad idea. Everything tastes great if it’s seasoned appropriately, the proteins in the little guys are crazy nutritious and virtually fat free, and growing bugs is easy and crazy sustainable. Still, insects gross ostensibly cultured people out. Insects gross ostensibly uncultured people out. Insects gross out the western world, save for a few hundred thousand curious children and a select fewer gourmands. So when I say the western fine dining world is slowly coming around to the idea that eating insects for protein is not such a bad idea, I mean a few experimental restaurants are giving it a shot and a few journalists are paying attention, but really nobody wants to play this game in their mouths. Not really.
I speak of this because when the paradigm shifts I will be ready. These days all the real money in growing produce is in micro-greens. By weight, you can sell micro-greens for almost as much money as you can sell drugs. Almost, like for a tenth as much. But that’s about 20 times the amount you can sell regular produce for. Yes, wholesale, drugs sell for about 200 times what most produce goes for. And that’s the cheap drugs. And the expensive produce.
So, my idea: aphids as the new micro-green. They come in all kinds of colors and could complement most any meal both visually and gastronomically. A dash of yellow aphid on your creamed cauliflower, that’s meat and potatoes, but classy. Sprinkle some green aphid on that tuna sashimi, you just tripled your fat free protein intake and that slab of meat looks almost too good to eat out of your bento box. Mix some red aphids with paprika and throw it on a deviled egg. That tiny crunch exploding in your mouth, you will experience it a thousand times with every bite, it’s like pop rocks, but organic. Artisinal pizza restaurants could provide a little shaker full of aphids right next to the chili flakes and Parmesan cheese. Multicolored aphid party packs could be packaged and sold to help kids eat their vegetables, it’d be like rainbow candy sprinkles full of omega threes and so much more.
This is what fully integrated pest management should be about, holistic and permacultural in nature. Let the bugs eat your baby veggies and when they get too greedy, eat the bugs. It’s like raising cattle. Ants farm aphids, why don’t humans?
All this to say today we discuss managing aphid infestations, and while I long for the day, I don’t believe you will be eating the little guys anytime soon. Aphids are a more or less unavoidable nuisance in the South, but they are relatively benign as pests go, and fairly easy to manage, though near impossible to destroy.
What are aphids? They’re tiny little sucking insects that eat the chlorophyl out of your delicious greens and other plant leaves. They live on the underside of leaves, so if you are an inattentive gardener they can be easy to miss. If you notice leaves curling or yellowing in concentrated areas, or young leaves becoming stunted and silly looking, it is very likely aphids are vampyrically sucking the soul from your plant, hidden from the sun and your puny human eyes. Flip your misshapen leaf over and you will likely find a gaggle of tiny little beetle like creatures, each about the size of a pinhead, not moving, just sitting calmly and eating slowly.
Fortunately, aphids rarely decimate plants. A gardener will have to be exceptionally ignorant to let an aphid infestation get out of control to the point of destroying a crop. They will slow down production and growth of your plants significantly however, and should not be allowed to coexist with you in any real numbers unless you want to eat them. Aphids do carry a number of diseases and can screw things up in your garden this way, but it’s a rare thing so do not worry your head.
The best way to keep aphids away is to treat your plants with respect. Though it’s still in the realm of mystical magic plant prowess, science more or less backs up the fact that when plants are unhappy because of nutrient deficiency or desperate thirst, they scream out to the universe and ask that their lives be ended. Plants pray for suicide if you torture them. Also, more pragmatically, plants have immune systems and methods of keeping insects away from them, but just like every other living thing if they do not have proper nutrition, their immune system and other defenses are weakened and they become helpless to the ravagings of pests and disease. If you treat your plants very well, you will probably not have an aphid problem.
If you treat your plants well, you may still have an aphid problem, but likely you will also have a few ladybugs. Ladybugs love aphids. If you have a happy healthy little ecosystem with healthy plants growing, you may find that a few aphids colonize your young plants here and there, but they never seem to gain a real foothold on your precious foodstuff. This is because your friendly ladybugs are culling the population. So there’s that. I don’t advise buying ladybugs to this end. It only takes a couple of ladybugs hatching a few babies to manage aphids in a moderate growing space. If too many ladybugs are introduced to an aphid population, they will quickly destroy their food source, the aphids, and move onwards, away from your garden. Think white people and buffalo. This would never happen in nature. Ladybugs aren’t that stupid, only people are. Let the ladybugs come on their own. If you have aphids and you don’t use pesticides, they will come. Also, don’t kill these:
This is a ladybug baby. Remember this face, as these are the ones who will devour your aphids and look really great doing it. Those little things around the ladybug larvae are your enemy, the aphid.
Using any strong organic pesticide (and especially any strong inorganic pesticide) to control aphids is grievous overkill. Even something as relatively benign as neem is going a little bit too far in the endless war against aphids. The best way to destroy the little beasts with store bought bug killing prowess is by drowning. Horticultural oil and insecticidal soap are designed specifically to this end. A fine coat of either of these products will smother aphids to death, but the spray must be applied directly to the aphids themselves. So pay attention to where they lay. This will be the undersides of leaves, remember.
You will find all over the internet and amongst your friendly diy gardening friends advice that horticultural oil and insecticidal soap are a gimmick, and that olive oil or dish soap will do the exact same thing. It’s not true. Both insecticidal soap and horticultural oil are manufactured in a manner that makes them a little less viscous than your homemaking products. I believe this is the right way to explain this? The liquids are separated into smaller bits so that they fit better into an aphids mouth. Imagine a closeup image of an ant on top of a raindrop. You have seen a picture like this. The concept is the same. If you use dish-washing soap on aphids, the soap will not penetrate their mouth or cover their bodies, but will roll right over them. Insecticidal soap is made of smaller drops that will roll into as opposed to around the insects breathy bits. Same goes for horticultural oil. It’s a thing.
All of that is behind us though from where we are now, and truly you don’t need pesticides at all to massacre festering populations of aphids. All you need to control aphids is a bit of persistence and a hose. Where there are aphids, spray them down with a somewhat strong burst of water. I say somewhat, because you don’t want to power-wash your plants into oblivion. They are the ones you want to save. You don’t drink bleach to get rid of syphilis. The water won’t kill most of the aphids, but it will bring them to the dirt where their lives are in serious peril derived from all manner of predator and disease. A lucky few aphids will make it back to the underside of your precious plants, but you need only spray again, and again, and again, day after day. In this manner the aphids can and will be conquered within a week’s time, perhaps two at worst. However in order for this to work you must be persistent and observant. These are traits you should aspire to in gardening anyhow, so this is a good wax-on wax-off practice, this aphid spraying.
In conclusion, don’t do any of this stuff. Harvest your aphids gently, groom them into lethargy and fatness, keep them alive until you are ready to use them for sustenance. They are the gourmet food of the future. If you live anywhere that’s not New Orleans, start a business, market the little guys. We can start a movement together, across the nation, around the world!
If you live in New Orleans, don’t you dare try to make any money off of this. I will salt your earth, seed-bomb your garden with Bermuda grass, and tell all your clients that you use Roundup pretty much every day.
Here’s a picture of a baby purple cauliflower head. It tasted great.
Ian writes these. Fearlessly.