I recently read a piece about Rachel Carson* on another blog; the post was written by a first-time reader of Carson’s Silent Spring.
It has been many years since I first read Carson’s great work, and probably 10 or more years since I read it the last time. However, some of the blog's quotes had me bringing some sub-conscious thoughts (relative to the quotes) to the surface. Bear with me as I get to the point!
Last year my tomato crop was destroyed by Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs* and 2 years ago by blight. Not one single tomato survived intact either year, and there is no known remedy for those stink bugs of last year! I know the stink bugs lay eggs which will hatch the following year, so I have avoided the general area from last year from planting anything this year they may attack. (Fruits reported to be attacked include apples, peaches, figs, mulberries, blackberries, tomatoes, green peppers, lima beans, citrus fruits and persimmons. This bug has also been reported on many ornamental plants and even weeds.)
Meanwhile, my tomato plants are interspersed here and there in my flower beds (some, but not all, tomato plants are volunteers growing among the volunteer winter squash and covering the leeks where the peonies are), and so far I have seen no sign of infestation on the fruits. (Crossing my fingers!) I wonder, since the tomato plants are hard even for me to locate in the jungle, if it may also hold true for the increasingly spreading and invasive Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs? I have seen just a few of the bugs, so I know they are here, just not on my fruits thus far that I can tell. (Actually when I went out this evening to take pictures, I tore off about 25 squash leaves with eggs attached.)
More than likely though, I think it is possibly just as Carson said, “One important natural check [for insects] is a limit on the amount of suitable habitat for each species. Obviously then, an insect that lives on wheat can build up its population to much higher levels on a farm devoted to wheat than on one in which wheat is intermingled with other crops to which the insect is not adapted.”
In only one spot are there 2 tomato plants next to each other in my flower beds; all the others are single tomato plants snuggled among the daisies, zebra grass, gladiolus, yarrow and sage, or among the monarda, coneflowers, chives and flat leaf parsley. I'm thinking this close inter-planting rather than an isolated row or two of tomatoes is an idea worth watching. Of course it wouldn't be practical on a large scale, but surely there is something viable in mixing crops somewhere between my small garden layout and huge mono-cropping.
|Tomatoes in front of hyssop and zebra grass, with (heat-wilted) winter squash in between|
I'm anxiously and hopefully awaiting the tomato harvest for verification. There are a couple of tomatoes that look like they are about to show a slight blush of color!
Rachel Carson (1907-1964) spent most of her professional life as a marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By the late 1950s, she had written three lyrical, popular books about the sea, including the best-selling The Sea Around Us, and had become the most respected science writer in America. She completed Silent Spring against formidable personal odds [She apparently wrote Silent Spring while suffering from rapidly-metastasizing breast cancer, racing against the disease to finish her life's work. Source], and with it shaped a powerful social movement that has altered the course of history.
(This biography was copied from Amazon, except for the parenthetical note )
*Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs are the typical “shield” shape of other stink bugs, almost as wide as they are long. To distinguish them from other stink bugs, look for lighter bands on the antennae and darker bands on the membranous, overlapping part at the rear of the front pair of wings.
The eggs are elliptical, light yellow to yellow-red with minute spines forming fine lines. They are attached, side-by-side, to the underside of leaves in masses of 20 to 30 eggs.
Adults will emerge sometime in the spring of the year (late April to mid-May), and mate and deposit eggs from May through August. The eggs hatch into small black and red nymphs that go through five molts. Adults begin to search for overwintering sites starting in September through the first half of October in cooler zones.