Cleaning up water, passing a farm bill and squashing squash bugs

June 24, 2012

Debra Shore of the MWRD

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to have Commissioner Debra Shore of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago back on the program…especially on Pride Day. The LGBT community couldn’t find a better representative in public office than Shore, who, in the March 22 primary, once again garnered the most votes–more than 190,000–and who will undoubtedly be elected to another six year term in November.

That’s a good thing because Shore is a true environmentalist in a job that calls for people with that sensibility. After all, as she says on her website,

…water matters. The District, with its mission to protect the drinking water supply for five million residents of Cook County (by treating sewage and keeping it out of Lake Michigan), has enormous impact on our quality of life. Through its policies and practices for stormwater management, the District affects flooding, beach closings, and the health of our streams and rivers. As owner of more than 7,000 acres of land, the District protects vital habitat, including several dedicated Illinois nature preserves.

Perhaps the most important accomplishment of the MWRD during her tenure was the vote last year to (finally!) approve disinfection of the wastewater discharged into the Chicago waterways at two large treatment plants to improve water quality and recreational use. But there are many issues to address. After all, the MWRD has an annual budget of more than $1 billion and most people have no idea what it does.

Debra Shore will help us understand that on the show today. Then she’s marching in the 2012 Pride Parade. Good thing that rain isn’t in the forecast. She would be spending most of her time explaining how the MWRD is helping to keep it out of our basements.

Understanding the 2012 Farm Bill…one issue at a time

Many of you are aware that the 2012 Farm Bill is making its way through the hollow…er, hallowed halls of Congress. But even if you saw the headlines the other day trumpeting the fact that it managed to survive 73 amendments in the U.S. Senate, I’m pretty sure that most of you don’t have a clue as to what is actually in that bill. I’ll bet that many of our lawmakers are just as clueless. Probably more so.

And since most of us don’t have the time or energy to figure out the byzantine ways of Congress, I can give you a crash course on what you can expect from the bill by offering this article by author Michael Pollan and this op-ed in the New York Times, which present a slightly bigger picture of how the more things don’t change, the more they remain the same, to coin a phrase.

But back to the accomplishment of the Senate. It’s been non-stop voting in the Senate on amendments on the 2012 Farm Bill (S.3240 Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012) lately. As I said, seventy-three amendments were proposed. The Senate rejected some that needed to be rejected but also rejected an amendment that would have allowed states to label GMO products. The bill puts limits on the crop subsidies that are given to the wealthiest farmers, thanks to an amendment co-sponsored by Dick Durbin, who came through all this looking darned good. The full Senate voted 64-35 to pass the final bill. According to Wes King of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, who commented in an Advocates for Urban Agriculture post,

The sustainable agriculture and good food movement did fairly well when it came to positive amendments that improved upon the committee’s bill and defending against attacks on commodity subsidy reform, conservation and local foods. Senator Durbin voted with the good food movement and sustainable agriculture on nearly every single pertinent amendment.

Click here for a list of some of the key amendments . You can also get a pretty good overview of the Farm Bill at Huffpost. King also suggests that you look at what the Environmental Working Group and Food & Water Watch have to say about the bill.

And if you feel overwhelmed by all of this, welcome to U.S. legislation in the 21st Century: hard to understand, even harder to control.

When squash bugs attack

In other breaking news, it’s time to protect your squash, cucumbers and other cucurbits from some critters who are determined to do them in. Cucumber beetles, squash vine borers and the like are poised to wipe out your crop, but you can do something about them.

Cucumber Beetles are a triple threat. Adults that have overwintered munch on young plants and deposit larvae in the soil. The larvae eat tender young roots and then turn into a new generation of adults that chow down on plants leaves and blossoms. They also transmit bacterial wilt and squash mosaic virus, according to the University of Minnesota .

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach is to begin with delayed planting, floating row covers and trap crops, which are only practical if you grow lots of cucurbits. (Trap crops are squash varieties that beetles love even more than your zucchini. The pests go after them and leave your less tasty (to beetles) plants alone.) Predatory organism can help you out—if you don’t mind trying to attract bats and wolf spiders to your garden. More attractively, there are some earth-friendly insecticides, such as neem oil and cedar oil.

Squash Vine Borers are thedirty little sneaks of the cucurbit world. They get inside the squash vine and feed away. You don’t even know they’re there until your whole zucchini plant collapses in a heap.

It may be too late for the first line of defense. Dr. Wally of Pesche’s says you shouldn’t plant your vines until the first of July. He swears that’s the best defense against borers. The second line of defense also may be moot at this point. Baby borers hibernate in the soil over winter, so you need to get rid of them before you plant if you had an infestation last year. Cultivate your soil an inch or two down and kill the little buggers between garden-glove clad thumb and finger. The same thing applies if you’re using floating row covers.

Jennifer Brennan , my esteemed co-host on Dig In Chicago , likes to cover the vines with mulch so that the borers can’t get in. You can also wrap the vines with the row cover material. Finally, you can spray the vines with insecticidal soap or BTK, or even better, wipe them down with same every week. And watch for that tell-tale borer hole. If you spot one before the plant starts to collapse, you can slit the vine carefully with a razor, take out the borer and apply the afore-mentioned thumb and finger technique. You can find more information about Squash Vine Borers at Gardens Alive or at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture .

And last, but not . . . well, actually, it is the least. The squash bug is nasty, but it’s somewhat easier to control than the cucumber beetle or the squash vine borer. For one thing, you can see their eggs. They lay them on the underside of the leaf, in the angle between veins. You’ll see groups of a dozen or so reddish eggs, and you can just wipe them off. You have two weeks to do that before they hatch. You can find out more at the University of Minnesota Extension .