Squash Borers, Drought, Global Warming, and Potatoes and History

Sadly, although we have had lots of lettuce, sugar snaps, cabbages, beats, even some potatoes (heat killed the plants, so I started digging up the tubers that had developed), and tomatoes, squash, peppers; the heat and 7 days ago the attack of the squash borers wiped out my pumpkins and squash. It looks like I may get a half dozen nice size pumpkins, but there is no guarantee given the drought and conditions they grew in that they will last till November, even if I move them inside in the next couple of days. It is a big disappointment, because I like to grow at least a dozen pumpkins every year for display, and some sugar pumpkins for pies. The rabbits or deer ignored the water scarecrows and pretty much destroyed my attempts to start okra this year.

So it has been a mixed bag. Including three rows of bountiful bush green beans, which I forgot to mention above. So many they filled a tall kitchen garbage bag.

I came in yesterday, and told my wife that most Americans simply had no idea anymore what it takes to grow the food they eat, how tenuous and difficult a proposition it is. The vast majority of Americans think food comes from the supermarket, and their chain of thought and evidence stops right there, in an air conditioned aisle, with music playing in the background.

Actually growing stuff is one of the most painful existential experiences there is. It is genuinely a daily life and death struggle.

My wife noted that although Iowa has escaped the recent drought declaration covering 1/3 of the counties in the nation, temperatures that hit 108 degrees within the past week apparently cooked the corn crop in the field. It is pretty much destroyed.

Perhaps when the Peeps suddenly see food shortages and rampant increase in food prices because of the effects of global warming, the reality of what is happening will finally sink through their thick little skulls.

One can only hope.

I just finished an article in the Smithsonian Magazine from the past year or so that covered the history of the potato. It literally changed the course of history. Within decades, Europe changed from a continent of hungry, often and repeatedly starving and famine devastated peasants, to a country of farmers and working class people who got so many calories that the population and western civilization jumped ahead dramatically.

The flight from Ireland after the potato blight hit occurred in the context of one million people who died in the famine years. The population of Ireland TO THIS DAY is still below the level it had reached before the potato famine.

In Peru and much of the parts of South America where the potato came from, farmers in the rural areas still cultivate around 5,000 varieties of potatoes, of all colors and flavors. The rest of us are pretty much stuck with the half dozen major varieties that are the result of monoculture, and the annual battle with the blight and the potato beetle, both of which are kept at bay by an annual rotation in the arsenal of chemicals, changing each year hoping to stay one step ahead of the evolutionary arms race being waged by the blight and the beetle.

That is the problem with monoculture. When disease or a pest emerges that can wipe out a crop, it does exactly that. It wipes it out. All of it.


Author: Ron