Friend or foe on the broad beans?

P1080750Absolutely no certainty about this 2mm critter on our broad beans, but we discovered there were quite a large number of them when Madame added another tier of twine to support the beans during Storm Hannah which is forecast to pass by tonight. I decided to take it home to photograph and while I was setting up the macro lens and focusing, a flea beetle jumped on to my hand. We’d already seen their work elsewhere on the allotment, cutting neat scallops in the leaves; so neat, in fact, that you might imagine scalloped leaves were part of the design.  So bug-hunting is beginning in earnest and this one is a puzzle since I have a great deal to be modest about in the entymology department.  Is it a cluster of eggs? we wondered. Now I really need that dissecting microscope! If you look closely at the east, northeast side of the photo you’ll see a stumpy brown protuberence and so the next guess was that it’s the hatching of the pupal stage of …… something. We’ve scoured the horticultural pest books and searched the internet too,  but nothing quite fitted.  We hazarded a guess at a big hatch of ladybird eggs, encouraged by the recent warm weather. There were also a number of ants on the plants, and ants have a remarkable relationship with blackfly (bean aphids) so best case scenario is that when the population of aphids explodes fairly soon there will be hordes of ravenous ladybird larvae waiting to take advantage of them. However when I attempted to dissect it with a scalpel and my 15X magnifier I could just about make out a number of apparently empty, hollow chambers.  I finished up not being convinced that it wasn’t some sort of multi-celled seed head.  So  I’ll just wait to see if there are any proper naturalists out there who’ll put me right – just for interest’s sake – we won’t be drenching the plants with neonicotinoids. Ever.

But whilst on the subject of insects I caught the trailer for the BBC Radio 4 programme “More or Less’  and so I dutifully tuned in only to listen to Tim Harford presenting a very poor counter-argument to the recent metastudy that identified a dramatic fall in insect populations and diversity. In essence he was arguing that bcause the metastudy only drew on research from a limited number of largely industrialised western countries, it was somehow rendered unreliable. How they must have cheered at Monsanto and Bayer! It sounded very like the arguments used by the tobacco companies when they were found out – “more research needed”, bigger studies etc etc – anything to delay.

I wondered whether to protest to the BBC but they’re so far gone in their bizarre interpretation of “balance’ it’s a waste of time even trying.  So here are some ideas Mr Harford might like to mull over. Firstly you can’t do proper surveys of the decline in insect populations in – say – the Amazon rain forest because we haven’t even identified most of them and therefore we can make no valid statements about their decline. BUT going back to the toacco argument, if research in the UK or America showed the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer in those countries, it would be a perfectly reasonable asumption that it would also affect smokers in Africa, India and China when (as they are now encouraged to do) they took up smoking on an heroic scale.

Further (I’m only just warming up) the countries where research has been properly conducted are precisely the ones where the suspected cause of the decline, that’s to say industrial intensive farming, is most heavily practised. It would be suicidally unethical to promote industrial farming in pristine areas “just to see” if the current research is correct. How much blessed evidence do we need? Mercifully, in the light of my piece yesterday, the desperation of the agrichemical industry is becoming ever more obvious. The roots of the industry are deeply implicated in the manufacture of chemical weapons during the cold war and when that ended they needed to find something equally unethical to do.

I was only thinking yesterday of a conversation I had in 1971 with a cleaner who worked at the Art School. When I initially wrote that sentence I said “elderly cleaner” but I realized he was probably the same age as I am now. He’d begun life as a farmhand and it must have been early summer because our converation centred on hay. He had recently been watching the haymaking on a nearby farm where he had worked as a boy and he said ” when I was young we took twice as much hay off that field and it was better quality too”.  It made a deep impression on me.  I was then in my twenties and he was in his early seventies.  His boyhood would have coincided with the First World War and the very beginning of intensive farming, as a generation of young farmhands went to war – many never returning. So much for progress. Our agricultural policy has been distorted by a century of inappropriate subsidies and indusrial lobbying, and I can’t remember the last time I heard a cuckoo. The two halves of that sentence are causally linked Mr Harford!

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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