Monday, June 13, 2011

Spinach Leafminers

We've always felt blessed when it comes to garden pests.  I've heard horror stories of seed-pilfering birds and plant destroying slugs.  We had one troublesome bunny, but that was about it.  Or so we thought until I discovered something interesting and bit gross in the garden yesterday.  We'd noticed that our spinach leaves had some discoloration and slimy spots on the leaves.  It was the same way last year as well.  Typically, I just rip those parts off when I harvest and eat the parts that still look good. 

Yesterday I noticed that the majority of the spinach plants had this affliction on at least one leaf and thought perhaps I should try to get ahead of the problem by picking every single leaf with the discoloration.  I was thinking it was some sort of mold or slime or fungus or something that was being spread between the leaves.  So I picked all affected leaves.  Then as I am ripping off what I've come to call the "nasty bits" (the slimy, discolored parts) I noticed something MOVE inside! 

"What the heck was that!?" I thought.  Upon closer examination it was a tiny, almost clear worm, or as I later learned actually a maggot, but that sounds much nastier so I shall call it a worm.  I say almost clear because you could see its insides were deep green, as if it were full of spinach!   This tiny worm was inside of the leaf.   That was the most impressive and intriguing part.  It was INSIDE the leaf.  It was hollowing out a leaf!  It seems impossible.  I mean, leaves are so thin and flat, not exactly something I figured could be hollowed out.  It WAS a pretty small worm I guess.  In any case, I have been tearing "nasty bits" off for many, many, many harvests both this year and last year (and possibly the year before that!) and never before noticed these little wormy guys. 

I must say it forced me to stop and think things over before proceeding with the harvest.  Especially once I noticed that in addition to the worms there were teeny-tiny white eggs on the bottoms of some leaves.  So, even after I picked around the worms I would have to thoroughly examine every single leaf for eggs the size of, oh, a carrot seed or smaller...and I had quite a basketful of leaves.    We tried washing the eggs off  several times, but they were sure sticky little things and held fast.  So, what to do?  What to do?  Throw out spinch that looked lovely unless you looked really, really closely and that we'd watered and tended for so long?  Or eat bug eggs?   Neither option seemed ideal, I gotta say.  I KNOW there are bugs and things in my garden and thus in my food, but still knowing it generically is a lot different than SEEING it specifically.

In the end we decided to just go for it.  I mean, we'd probably eaten the eggs before as we'd had freshly picked spinach with breakfast that morning!

The worm wasn't listed in either of our gardening books, but from a little online research I think I've got it figure out.  A spinach leafminer

I also read about a simple solution: rotate our crops so that the spinach isn't in the same bed year after year as the little buggers overwinter in soil in the puparium stage.  Rotating our beds around is something we'd been talking about anyways.  We are just so very, very limited by the fact we rent and thus are rather limited in space and plant arrangements.  Still, I think lesson learned.  If we are still gardening at the rental next year--which I hope we are not--we WILL rotate crops somehow.

And that is my tale of the leafminers.  So, now you know, if I perish in the next couple weeks from a mysterious illness it was probably the leafminer eggs.    (I kid, I kid!)

I actually feel it will be a very good experience for me.  Hopefully it will teach me not to be quite so superficial when I purchase/pick produce.  I've read that as far as consumers of produce go Americans are the worst.  We are so picky that we won't buy produce unless it appears nearly "perfect."  I suppose that is why we use so darn many pesticides on our food!  So, we shall see, but I think I'd rather eat a dozen microscopic bug eggs than spinach doused with poison any day!

3 comments:

  1. It sounds like you may have two problems.
    http://www.garden-helper.com/Learn/Plant_Pages/Spinach.asp
    Some day, I want to plant spinach and other salad greens, so I had to look this up.

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  2. I'd rather eat bug eggs than poison~! (Many cultures love to eat insects...they are a good source of protein and calcium) hehehe. My mom told me that while she was growing up, it was common to snack on grasshoppers after they were caramelized in sugar & soy-sauce. Takes care of the insect problem and the lack of snacks problem! I for one have not tried eating bug on purpose yet, though I'm sure I've eaten them without knowing. My son told me he used to eat ants and said he liked them because they were peppery!

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  3. I ate a grasshopper in honey one time. It was okay. I might like it better with a little soy sauce too! Ah, I might not start eating bugs on purpose, but I've made peace with incidental bug eating. Bugs definitely beat poison.

    Your son is a hoot!

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