The Coming of the Cutworms

Difficulties, blessings and harvests.

“But God prepared a cutworm when the morning dawned the next day, and it smote the gourd so that it withered.” Jonah 4:7

In the central interior region of British Columbia, the talk this summer has been about cutworms. These little worms are larvae of a night-flying moth. Most of us who have encountered them before remember putting little collars around tomatoes or other plants. We do this because cutworms usually crawl out of the soil, where they have been peacefully sleeping during the day, wrap themselves around a seedling stalk, and . . . when you check your garden in the morning you notice decapitated plants. Every morning more tragedy until you intervene or the whole row is gone. Cutworms make singing “This Is My Father’s World” difficult at times. 

“Our” cutworms – perhaps a new variety? – have learned a new trick. They don’t kill the plant, but climb the stalk and take chunks out of the leaves until the whole plant is either dead or skeletonized. Some of my friends lost 60 percent of their brassica family (cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower) earlier this summer. They are market gardeners, so this is nothing to sneeze at. A crop consultant wrote to me about seeing as many as 45 cutworms per square foot in barley fields, although the average was one to three worms per plant. Even timothy hay was harmed, meaning that the product of one farm’s 145-acre field was unfit for the buyer.  

BLESSINGS IN DISGUISE
Farmers and gardeners often are dour folk. Ask them what the hay crop was like and you might get an answer like, “not terrible,” or “could’ve been better.” This translates into “really good.” But when it truly is a bad year, dour becomes sour. Watching a whole garden or crop suffer or be destroyed by wet (Upper Midwestern USA this summer) or drought or insects or disease. . . well, that’s another matter.  

There is, however, another side to things. One of my favourite dairy farmers was complaining about the horribly late silage corn crop and the reduced energy ration it would produce. His wife said, “yes, but you know, this is the best year for grass we ever had.” Another year the weed control didn’t work and the corn was short and infested with Atrazine-resistant lamb’s quarters (a weed) almost as tall as the corn. After the harvest, I noticed the farmer smiling: “I got two full cobs per plant from that weedy field and won the prize in the corn silage division contest for highest protein; I think from now on I’ll grow weeds.”  

I can show you a lot of images of crop damage from our area, almost all due to cutworms. I can also show you these early cabbages, grown in the same garden as those munched on by cutworms.  

IN SEEDTIME AND HARVEST
Here, let me say that I am a little hesitant about sharing my affirmation of faith, an affirmation about the essential reliability of our garden and farm to produce food in spite of untimely weather, insects, disease and/or equipment breakdowns. I do not want to trivialize or minimize the suffering that people endure due to misfortunes, nor to sanctify hunger or economic disaster by saying, “it must have been the will of God.”

With some hesitation about being misunderstood, then, I boldly affirm the truth of Psalm 65 (Psalter Hymnal¸ 1987, versification by Stanley Wiersma): 

“You bless the earth with streams and rivers and with the gentle rain. 

You settle ridges, soften furrows, and bless the sprouting grain.

You crown the year with ample harvest; a rich abundance springs.All flocks and grains and hills and meadows – yes, all creation sings”. 

  • Curt Gesch and his wife lead the singing via Zoom for a combined service of small United Church congregations in central B.C. each Sunday morning. In the afternoon, they lead a Friends and Family Zoom worship from their home. If you'd like to join that service, please write Curt at moc.liamg@36hcsegc

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