The Legendary Praying Mantis

Last week, a praying mantis made headlines after being discovered in the Washington National’s outfield during a game against the New York Mets. My sister, knowing my fondness for mantid-kind, alerted me to the story and assured me that the mantis was caught with a baseball glove, wrapped in a towel and carefully escorted from the field to be released elsewhere. A luxury that a mantis in close proximity to my sister may not have been afforded.

The news sparked quite a few discussions with friends regarding whether or not the insect is endangered and/or protected and if it is illegal to kill one. Nearly everyone I spoke to that day and night was certain it was a crime – albeit a difficult law to enforce. By dinner time, we Googled and found lots of hits with the terms: “myth,” “urban legend” and “$50 fine.” The short answer is: No, it is not illegal to kill a praying mantis BUT it should be because they are beyond beneficial for your garden, farm and outdoor life. Here’s why:

  • Praying mantises are 24/7 predators of harmful/annoying insects like mosquitoes, flies, aphids, roaches, beetles, grasshoppers and night-dwelling moths.
  • Even small, newborn mantises are hungry and will immediately begin feeding on the smaller pests.
  • They’re just plain awesome. Their triangular heads can turn 180 degrees and their compound eyes can detect movement up to 60 feet away.

An exact history of the myth is hard to isolate. It appears to date back quite a few decades (to the 1950s) and seems to have been born in the creative, collective imaginations of backyard gardeners. My best guess is that after witnessing the healing power the mantis and its prayer pose have on pest-ridden patches of produce, household rules about protecting them popped up.

While I feel some journalistic duty to report here that mantis homicide is not technically a crime, I’d like to propose that we continue to perpetuate this fantastic myth and protect these awesome creatures. If it means getting my sister a mantis-moving baseball glove, so be it.

*Special thanks to Rebecca Carter, John Rorapaugh and Jennifer Beidel for their thoughtful conversations that contributed to this post.

Bug-Lover Walks Onto a Production Farm

“Oooooohh look at this happy little caterpillar I found! I’m just going to move him over to the fennel where he will have plenty to eat, k?”

Not exactly. Although the pollinating butterflies these cuties become are very welcome at organic production farms, their larva stage is better nurtured in say… a nearby demonstration garden or conservancy. Lucky for me, I just landed a gig working in a new Loudon County, VA community, Willowsford, built around conservation, sustainable cultivation, real food, really cool farmers, and a really great garden.

Chances are, I will be doing a lot of posts born from experiences at Willowsford Farm throughout the 2012 growing season so for now, here are the top ten highlights from Week One:

10.) The masterminds behind this community are incredibly down-to-earth, determined, and committed to conservation as much as they are committed to the growth of the farm (in terms of acreage, value-added products, biodiversity, and profitability).
9.) The bees and their keeper are going to be producing local honey and educate the community on the importance of pollinators.
8.) The garden is bonkers amazing and already includes: tons of berry bushes, herbs, fruit trees, tomatoes, flowers, and gated entrances as adorable as the open-air structure slated for a classroom/market/shed.
7.) Somehow, I have not picked up a single tick yet – which leads me to number six…
6.) Not only is there deer fencing around the farm – it is around the garden too!
5.) There are tons of Mexican sunflowers, zinnias, and other butterfly-attracting plants in rows between tomatoes, peppers and other edibles which makes times spent harvesting extra beautiful.
4.) Pretty much all-you-can-eat  fresh and healthy “seconds” all day long.
3.) Everyone I have met is keen on bringing our beloved Eco-Goats out to help clear weeds!
2.) Fellow Farmers: Nick, Jen and Kathryn and Farm Manager Mike Snow are pure sunshine – even in the hardest, back-breaking moments, and have gone far out of their way to teach me tricks of the trade, welcome me to the team, and accept the fact that they may have to kill my share of tomato horn worms.

And the number one thing to come out of Willowsford this week (worthy of a photo):

1.) Husk Tomatoes. Sometimes called “Ground Tomatoes” because you harvest them from the ground once they have fallen off of the plant. If you have not yet tried one, step away from the computer and head to the closest farmers market.

 

July: What’s Growing?

Here in Plant Hardiness Zone 7a, many of us are enjoying our first tomato harvest of the season and keeping a careful eye on the squash and zucchini in order to scoop it into the kitchen before it gets too big and loses that sweetness. Here are a few pics from the past couple of weeks of farm and garden fun that we hope will inspire our readers to head to their local farm market this week!

One of the first Public Health Garden tomatoes (7/5/2012)
First Fish Peppers
Allison’s New Vegetable Garden: Cukes, Squash, Tomatoes, Peppers, Melons
Chioggia Beets: Potomac Vegetable Farms 7/6/2012
Nasturtium – Edible Flowers – at the University of Maryland Public Health Garden
Zinnias: All over the place (lucky us!)
Eggplant: Black Beauty – At a Farmers Market near you!
Okra: Another one seemingly capable of doubling in size overnight
Berry-picking season 🙂
Hardneck Garlic
Shallots: Farmer Ellen Polishuk
Moutoux Peaches: Purcellville, VA
Sweet Onions at Five Seeds Farm: Sparks Glencoe, Maryland
Carrots at Willowsford Farm: Loudon County, VA
Potatoes, melons, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, herbs, cukes from Willowsford Farm CSA

The Secret Life of Peas

Check it out! The common pea is capable of processing, remembering and sharing information with its neighbors. Michael Marder, for the New York Times Opinionater, reports:

“…a team of scientists from the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University in Israel published the results of its peer-reviewed research, revealing that a pea plant subjected to drought conditions communicated its stress to other such plants, with which it shared its soil. In other words, through the roots, it relayed to its neighbors the biochemical message about the onset of drought, prompting them to react as though they, too, were in a similar predicament.”

Any scientists/geneticists out there know if these findings have anything to do with how or why Mendel was able to study and and demonstrate inheritance through peas? Were those peas co-evolving with us and telling each other that being relevant in modern scientific experiments would foster future generations of intelligent peas that could one day outsmart their human predators? Nah… probably not… but it certainly doesn’t surprise me that they grow and work together.
Read Marder’s full article “If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them?” examining the ethics of eating such intelligent life forms here.

In The Meantime

Dear Readers,

It came to my attention last night that we may have lost some of you during these last two months of heavy future harvest and herd planning so I’ve decided to continue to post to Just Saying while the new site is under construction. Please forgive us and add us back to your reading list!
Lots of new posts will be up this week but in the meantime, perhaps the greenest and awesomest thing you guys and gals can be doing this month is start researching and supporting your local farmers by purchasing your 2012 share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Here are a few resources about CSAs:
Thank you for your patience,
Deborah Lakowicz-Dramby
Founder and Editor-in-Chief