Insects, insecticides and growing vegetables you can eat

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By Broccoli Billy

I cannot, after much silence, think of when I lived without bugs and insects in my life. They are all over the planet! There must be one million bugs for every human on earth, perhaps more! They live under ground, in the trees and in the water as well. When there are no vegetables in your garden they attack. Something else, then, when you plant your garden they concentrate, attack and destroy.

When I plan the vegetable garden I plant it for humans to eat and not the insects, worms and wildlife. Now that America is finally supporting the “Green Movement” and awareness is high, we give much more thought about how to control insect pests in our gardens. I remember as a youngster my father would buy lead arsenate dust, dump some in a sock and have me shake it all over the potatoes. So much for the potato beetle but I wonder how much lead was in the potatoes I ate.

I know of no vegetable plant that at some time will not be attacked by insects at some stage of its life cycle. Also, many vegetables are attacked by diseases and viruses. The “Night Shade Family” such as tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant are targets for a disease called blight. Remember the Irish Potato Famine? There are fungal diseases which can create all kinds of brown, gray, white and black spots all over the garden. A number of insects lay eggs inside the outer plant leaves such as the cabbage worm (from the white cabbage moth) and corn silkworm. An insect will piece through the outer layers of plant parts with its ovipositor, lay an egg, putting the hatched insect in a “bunker” of protection from elimination. Once this process has happened, say goodbye to that wonderful veggie.

If ever there is a hot topic in gardening it could be spoken in one word! Pesticides. Idealist versus realist, organic versus chemical, and the high pitched arguments go on. I think we all agree none of us like poisons put on our vegetables. The plant kingdom has many cases where natural toxins are produced to ward off insect devastation. I know of no garden vegetable that produces insect toxins, though the tomato leaves, stalks and roots are toxic to humans. The potato plant, excluding the tubers, is toxic to humans as well. However, what is toxic to humans is not necessarily poison to insects.

How do we get that poison free vegetable without being chewed to pieces and free of worms? We don’t! The closest I can envision is controlled atmospheric chambers where all viruses, insects and diseases could be eliminated. This view may well be used on the moon and mars but is nowhere near practical on earth.

Protecting our food sources is vital to survival and our national security. Crop failures cause famine and war. Europe even had a war over roses. Rose petals being edible, incidentally. Worldwide there has been a reduction of chemical pesticides. The “Rachael Carson” DDT is gone. Some third world countries use DDT for malaria control and I would think some of it slips through to our imported produce. Dursban is now banned in Florida for general self-purchase. Our insecticides today are much more “Green” friendly and have a formulation safer for our environment.

I would be the first to admit I don’t want insecticides on any vegetables I consume. The reality is they are going to be used for many decades to come with no “magic bullet” in sight. If you are going to use insecticides, of course, use limited amounts only when needed. Remember, you’re eating it!

Squash your pumpkin,

Broccoli Billy