What's a Harlequin bug you ask? Well it's quite a colorful but nasty little bug that loves to feast on all members of the brassica family. So that means kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, cabbage, and the like are attacked without mercy.
While we have many different methods of deterring and combating the various pests we face, Harlequin bugs stand out as nigh impossible to kill and fully get rid of an infestation. Therefore, we do "No Brassica July" in an attempt to break the life cycle of the bugs by ridding our farm of their main food source.
This technique was dreamt up and initiated by Farmer Mike's mentors, Joan and Drew of One Straw Farm in Baltimore County. By mowing down all crops in the brassica family, we can get rid of their food source and habitat in one fell swoop. Hopefully then our baby plants in the fall can get started without being attacked by these bugs.
Harlequin bugs lay their distinctive barrel-shaped eggs on brassica plants and can go through 2-3 generations in one year. The adults and nymphs alike feast on the leaves by piercing and then sucking out the plant juices. This can really decimate a crop, especially when the plants are young.
Another problematic feature to this particular bug problem some from climate change, hardly a surprise huh? Harlequin bugs are sensitive to cold weather, so are normally found mostly in the southern US. However, this is changing as our climate warms; these bugs can now survive further and further north. Adults can overwinter by hibernating in plant debris and then come spring, emerge and lay eggs. As our winters get warmer and pass with little to no snow, we lose that natural life cycle disrupter for pests like the Harlequin bugs.
Thankfully lots of smaller scale farms in this area are adopting the No Brassica July technique, for the benefit of everyone! And who wants kale in July anyway? Not when there are tomatoes and cucumbers!
So, for CSA members, this coming week will probably be the last for kale and its family members. Enjoy the last hurrah for leafy greens for now, they'll all be back in the fall.
Thanks for reading and happy eating!