I don’t want to start bashing any particular farming resource—they are all valuable! However, this article from Urban Farm is an example of the thing that drives me crazy about most rural-living reference material. In their mania to sell copies, the publishers sell hope by making farming seem natural and effortless.
In this piece, the author grows broccoli. Awesome. Broccoli is indeed a great over-wintering plant. However, it is also a favorite of aphids. Organic food-growers love to downplay the threat that pests can pose to a garden. Just spray a little soapy water on the aphids, and they’ll disappear! So easy! Go play with your children!
Guess what: “a misting of insecticidal soap on the morning of a sunny day” is not going to cut it. Firstly, the aphids I’ve dealt with are not so stupid as to hang out on the topside of a leaf, where they’ll get dried out by the sun, eaten by birds and noticed by you. They congregate on the undersides.
Secondly, they reproduce faster than rabbits. In fact, rabbits could learn a thing or two from aphids, whose females can reproduce asexually, as many as twelve times a day! Before I took aphids seriously, I would give my brassicas (the family of plants that includes broccoli and also collard greens, Brussels sprouts, etc.) a cursory glance, not see any trouble, and move on. Then, I turned a leaf over … and gaped. There were thousands of them, green so they blended in. Clever little things.
I had read in some book or article to “wash aphids off with a garden hose,” so I tried it. I got some, but most just dug in their mouthparts and refused to budge. I think I heard them giggling. Insecticidal soap (part vegetable oil, part dish soap, mostly water) was slightly more effective because it sticks to them and desiccates their soft bodies. The best means of killing them was to smash/smear them all with my thumbs, but this took a long time. All of it made a mess of the poor plant.
So, what to do? The best thing is to catch them early. I resigned myself to harvesting warped, half-eaten broccoli spears and Brussels sprouts. Maybe you’ll do better! Share your struggles and successes in the comments field—but no false organic happy happy joy joy, please …