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May 28, 2010

Very interesting day today. How many of you have heard of this pest? Symphylans? Apparently, they are a big problem in the Pacific Northwest, and are often misdiagnosed by gardeners as either problems with low fertility soil, or cold soils or poor transplants or a variety of other factors… I had never heard of such a thing before today.

But this afternoon, at the McMinnville farmer’s market, I had 2 conversations with 2 very well-informed gardeners. When I told them that my broccoli hasn’t gotten any bigger in the last couple of weeks they both said, “SYMPHYLANS”. 

I couldn’t help but think this was a variation of the “Snipe hunt”, farmer-style.

So, I looked it up. and Steve Solomon has a lot to say about it in Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. Turns out the issues we were having last spring with what we thought were “problem soils” were anything but that. Symphylans are small root feeders that thrive in soils that are high in organic matter. They graze on roots until the plants just appear ‘stunted’ and fail to thrive. They decimate gardens with good balanced soils. They leave gardeners completely stumped.

So,  last year, thinking we were dealing with a fertility issue or compacted soils, we responded of course, by adding more and more compost… which the symphylans LOVE more than anything. When the early season crops didn’t grow, we ripped them up and planted big transplants to catch up with the season. Those did great.

Problem solved.

Well, the research shows that symphylans prefer young, small, tender roots above all else. Big transplants seem to do OK. As do some crops over others… tomatoes and potatoes seem to do fine. Broccolis and beets, not so much. 

This year, when I turned the soil over and saw the luscious crumbly, black structure and big fat squirmy earthworms, I thought we had licked this problem of infertile soils… but then those sweet little romanesco broccolis just didn’t seem to be doing much this past month. I thought it was the hail, then the rain and cold, then more hail… turns out it’s the symphylans! The little rascals!

Well, farmers here used to fumigate soils before those chemicals were banned. Now, aggressive crop rotations are the key. Steve Solomon also recommends inter-planting buckwheat or sacrificial radishes right there alongside the crop. Once the symphylans have something young and tender to eat, they leave the veggies alone. So, I’m going to try it tomorrow. If in a week or so, I don’t see a difference… those little romanescos are getting ripped out and replaced by bigger transplants.

I just love this stuff. A couple of unintended conversations with veteran growers at the farmer’s market and all of this info gets uncovered! Farming in a new area is really an incredible journey and I love this tackling these problems. These are the kinds of problems that have solutions!

Stay tuned… we may be on to something.

Thanks to Pam, who helped me get the peppers and eggplants in at the ROCO site today. Which is totally virgin soil by the way… no way there can be symphylans there. But I’ll be watching…

Thanks to Joel (go see him at the farmer’s market… he sells grass-fed beef) who told me about the chapter on symphylans in Solomon’s book. And thanks to Mike from Gaining Ground, who has been farming here forever, and told me about these little buggers as well as dropping some other valuable “veteran CSA farmer” wisdom on me today.

Sounds like a sci-fi movie, but I swear it’s true. They’re even worse than aphids. Uglier, too.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Cat permalink
    June 4, 2010 4:18 pm

    neat! enjoy the buckwheat ya JERKS!

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