Reflections of the Med-fly: Time for Common Sense, plus Tips for the September Garden

At Camp Joy this summer, since we haven’t been allowed to move any fruit or other host crops from our property, we have delved deeply into every piece of fruit on the place in the process of drying, canning, juicing and eating like mad. Every unusable fruit has either been eaten by our animals or gone into large fermenting vats in order to keep possible med-fly larvae from burrowing into the ground and continuing their life cycle. We have diligently kept the dropping fruit from lying under the trees, which, by the way, will also help lower our local codling moth population next year. Codling moth larvae are the most commonly found worms in apples and pears; they have legs, unlike med-fly larvae. If home gardeners take the problem seriously, they can also deal carefully with whatever host crops they have growing to prevent med-flies from propagating. This does not, of course, address the situation of the native hosts – but neither does the current policy of quarantine and aerial spraying.

However, the excessive quarantine and hysterical attempt to “eradicate” an insect which will inevitably be introduced again and may have been around undetected all along, make it hard to co-operate, and create an atmosphere of apathy and frustration. Many commercial growers who are unable to sell their crops profitably are just letting the fruit lie where it falls, creating the perfect breeding situation for the pest.

If, as some experts say, only 3 to 5% of the crop would actually be affected and that the matter at stake is the “image” of California agriculture to the world at large, why not confine the spraying to agricultural export areas? Here the minute dose of malathion seems inconsequential compared to substances already in use. If Japan won’t buy your apples, then spray all you want in your orchard, but keep your helicopters out of my back yard!

According to a USDA spokesman, the quarantine situation will go on throughout next summer. “You can’t just not see a fly for six months, and assume the infestation is over,” he said. So I strongly urge anyone preferring not to be dependent on Safeway to start now, planning as big a garden for next year as possible. No one should be reduced to eating supermarket tomatoes, med-fly or no med-fly, and a splattering of malathion once a week is far less offensive than what you’ll find on store-bought food.

Ground for next year’s garden can be turned shallowly soon and seeded with a “cover crop” to hold the soil together through torrential winter rains and increase its fertility at the same time. Grasses like oats, barley and rye have many tiny root fibers that keep topsoil from washing away, and when combined with bell or fava beans and vetch (which have bacteria on their roots which make nitrogen from the air available to other plants’), they make the perfect winter collector of solar energy for later use. Cut and composted, or trenched in, they will be wonderful fertilizer for next spring. Although frozen apple juice and organic unsulphured dried apples, apricots, pears and cherry tomatoes are the closest we can get you to the delicious summer fruits you have been accustomed to in years past from Camp Joy, the cart is still open on Tuesdays and Saturdays. We have many vegetables for you including sweet beets, fresh carrots, cucumbers and the prettiest red chard in town – plus beautiful bouquets of fresh flowers! So come by (we’re in the alley next to the Encounter)

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