Tristan Blommer walks through his farm near Kimberly in this file photo.

Staff photos byASHLEY SMITH

Objective: Intervene against insects

Target: Tristan and Ken Blommer, Kimberly farmers

Melissa Davlin's field report: My garden is under siege. Aphids are swarming. Roly-polies are hanging out, and I don't know if they're friend or foe. And my worst enemy, earwigs, are invading my roses, daisies and lettuce. I hate those buggers.

To help in the war against these pests, I recruited the help of Ken and Tristan Blommer of Kimberly. The father-and-son owners of Four Seasons Farm agreed to help in my battle against the bugs.

The Blommers cultivate several acres, some for a commercial vegetable garden. Three years ago, they began selling eggs and veggies to friends. They use all-natural practices to care for their plants. And that includes insect control.

The first line of defense:birds. The family depends on swallows to take care of many of the bugs, encouraging them with sparsely distributed bird feeders. They also let their chickens into the garden, concentrating them in one area with a moveable wire fence.

Using birds to control insects goes only so far, though. Potato beetles, for example, eat mostly nightshade vegetables and build up the toxicity from those vegetables. Chickens pick up on that and after one peck, they're not interested.

So what is there to do about potato bugs?Rotating crops helps, Ken said. If the beetles nest in the soil around this season's potato crops, there will be nothing to sustain them next season. Rotation helps the plants thrive as well, the Blommers said. For example, corn deposits nutrients in the ground that potatoes thrive on.

"Potatoes love where corn was,"Tristan said.

Sprays fight bugs, too. As the Blommers pointed out, not all sprays are filled with chemicals. Their two commercial standbys use fungus and oil to repel insects instead of chemicals that might harm people if ingested with the vegetables.

Another tactic: using straw as mulch. Not only does it help retain moisture and discourage weeds, but bugs avoid the straw.

"You'd think they'd be happy to inhabit it, but it just seems to deter them,"Tristan said.

Yet another of the Blommers' tricks involves companion planting. They pair beans with their potatoes - apparently, beetles don't like beans.

What about earwigs, my feared foe?

"They say you should encourage them,"Ken said. The ugly little things eat aphids and other unfriendly bugs.

Still, earwigs are destructive, especially to leafy greens like lettuce and spinach. To combat them, the Blommers are experimenting with homemade earwig traps in the lettuce row. The traps are simply large yogurt containers, put in the ground with slits in the lids for earwigs to crawl into. The earwigs get stuck in the containers or are killed with oil.

Ken showed me a trap with earwig corpses piled in the bottom. Yeesh. It looked effective, though, and I'll keep that in mind to help next year's lettuce.

Still quaking from my earwig encounter, this is Agent M, signing off.

Know the enemy

Have a garden insect, but not sure what kind - or how to deal with it? Information on bug identification and pest control: davesgarden.com/guides/bf/.

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