This Week in Jewish Farming: The pests arrive

Ben Harris

(Cara Paiuk)

The author waters some plants, while a young friend (not a pest) watches. (Cara Paiuk)

Miracles pour forth daily from the earth. Each day — often several times a day — I’m momentarily overcome by something magical in the fields. Those tomato plants that seem to expand by the hour, some of them now reaching my chest with their dank stalks bursting with yellow flowers. The plump purple kohlrabi bulbs almost psychedelic in appearance. The tiny baby squash protruding from a plant still robust despite the nibblings of cucumber beetles.

Forget seeds. Did you know that if you cut a potato into quarters and drop it in some soft soil with a little fertilizer it will spawn a feisty little plant? I know it, but seeing it still blows my mind. We have 800 feet of potatoes reaching for the heavens and it’s impossible for me to walk by them without stopping for a moment just to enjoy the view.

As we ascend toward the year’s longest day, it’s as if some magnetic force is drawing the energy up from the earth, swelling roots, expanding foliage and filling our fields with luscious green. Everywhere I turn, things are growing. Our fully planted acre, now bursting with more than 30 kinds of plants, is nothing short of beautiful. It’s almost enough to make me forget about those still-struggling onions and beets.

fredtrellisingWith so much deliciousness approaching its peak, I’m not the only one salivating. This week the cucumber beetles arrived, picking their way through the melons, squash and, of course, cucumbers. Those incredibly precocious potato plants are beginning to contend with their own kind of beetle. Before that, I nearly lost a fat bed of Napa cabbage to worms, but I caught that one in time (I think).

There’s a full-on war unfolding in the fields, and having eschewed the chemical arsenals much beloved in other parts of the agricultural world, I’m left with some rudimentary tools: exclusion, biological pesticides of highly variable effectiveness and my own two hands.

Lately, I’ve been spending the last hour of the day on insect patrol. My first victims yesterday were a copulating pair of cucumber beetles shamelessly getting it on inside the moist growth tip of a squash plant. I confess to a sort of Game-of-Thrones-like delight in squeezing the two little bastards between my fingers. With less than a week till our first CSA delivery, I can ill afford to have beetles procreating in the squash.

I keep imagining there’s some hump I’m going to get over and the rest of the season will cruise to the finish. The pests will be under control, the weeds manageable, the routines established. But the horizon just keeps advancing. Each completed task begets two new ones. Fortunately, I’m starting to believe in miracles.

Veteran JTA journalist Ben Harris is chronicling his new life as a Connecticut farmer. Read more of his weekly dispatches here.


From the annals of Jewish farming: Israeli farmers successfully raised an experimental potato typically grown only in cold-weather climates. The Israelis raised the potato in the Negev desert and shipped it to England.

Ben Harris is JTA’s former associate editor.