I wished I had known this before, but I made a potentially horrible mistake of using composted mulch on most of my garden beds, including on three Hugelkultur beds. I now have a huge symphylans problem.
Ok, so the problem is the solution, right? I feel like my best plan is to move all stressed perennials out of mulch (after cleaning them carefully) and then grazing heavily the area with chickens. Lots of chickens because there's lots of chicken food. Any other ideas?
I did get a heavy Jerusalem artichoke and cow pea crops from the hugelbeds last year, but doubt that will work this year.
Tilling is not an option for me but I am considering neem and homemade chrysanthemum concentrate soaks. I also had marigolds do well in the hugelkultur beds but the symphylans may have retreated from the hot weather.
Oh. Symphylans. I have those little buggers in my potted avocado trees at home. I wish I could throw chickens at them, but all I have is my rabbit, and she prefers sweet potato. And spider plants, and avocado trees, and anything else growing out of soil, even if it's likely to make her sick. Sometimes, especially if it's likely to make her sick.
Outdoors, yeah, I think chickens or guinea fowl would do well. I'd hesitate to take this tack where you'll be growing bird-sensitive crops later, but if it weren't going to grow stuff that wild birds would come and devour, you could choose plants for the periphery that draw other predatory insects, which will draw insectivorous birds.
Apparently, tilling it into a fine seed bed when the symphylans are in the top strata of the soil will kill a lot of them. Also, reducing the amount of organic matter and compromising the soil structure, compacting it, are suggested.
I think these solutions are rudimentary at best. I think we can do better.
I would try wrapping your bed with black tarps or pond liner before the hottest, sunniest period of the year. You should be able to cook anything alive out of that bed, and keep it cooking until you can go in there with a trowel, or your hands, and verify that there are no symphylans left. You'll then be able to inoculate it with compost extracts and fungal slurries to revivify the hugelbeet.
The main advantage of this is that you get to keep the organic matter where you put it, on purpose, in the first place. The second is that if you want to introduce a specific species of culinary or medicinalfungi, they will have much less native competition. Thirdly, you won't be compromising what is likely already superior soil structure by tilling or compacting it.
I hope this was somewhat helpful. Please let us know how you proceed, and good luck to you.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
Solarizing is not a bad idea but, yeah, I think they hide from the heat much like the worms they team up with.
Right now, in the cold, I see the symphylans sleeping barely below the surface, so I am even more convinced chickens tractoring is the way to go. I can't imagine the chickens can get all of them but at least I can knock them back and hope other predators come in to help out, like big garden beetles. I need more chickens too.
I am seeing other "nuclear options" like fungal pesticides such as PFR 97 but the price and MSDS (material safety data sheet) keep me from considering such options right now.
Not seeing any peer reviewed evidence predacious mites work. In some cases the symphylans increased. I see some evidence they are working for weed growers, but also seeing more success with PFR 97.
The most consistent method that seems to work is growing potatoes and then following with another crop which baffles me. But I'm going to try it, with chicken tractoring before and after. Ordered five more chickens and they can't get here fast enough.
I created a chicken yard around the three hugelbeds I have and dug up all the logs. They were all covered in symphylans. Not sure hugelbeds are going to work here let alone heavy mulching in general.
This has to be a maddening problem for organic farmers doing so much right only to lose a crop. It was mentioned frequently at the Sustainable food and farming conference I just got back from, with no silver bullet proposed for saving that crop once the damage is noticed. Several experienced growers did say in their advanced no till systems, heavy losses generally concentrated to single crops planted in rows, and that a diversity of crops in alternating rows where pathways between are mulched and therefore alive with their own diverse fungally rich seemed to greatly mitigate the spread. I would speculate this is based on the biodiversity in the edges between diverse crop rows and mulched paths. Along with this habitat for biodiversity providing biological controls for the symphylans in fungal and animal predators as well as potential pathogens for them. These farmers (working on 2-5acre scale) also had diverse crops with different growth patterns and harvest times, so they weren’t wiped out by losing one crop to symphs, which again generally hit one clump of one crop at a time. They did not plant more than one bed of any given crop in series, so they would lose 1/20th of a harvest season rather than a devastating amount. So they could see the symphs as just mandating a fallow season for that bed, and likely their no till and no poison methods allowed biological controls to balance out the populations of any given pest. If you want to have green lace wings, you need aphids or some other food source for their larvae. Likewise, if we want symph predators, we need some number of symphs. Considering it appears they aren’t going away altogether, I’d lean into biodiversity as the control.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
Thanks for the reply Ben. It is frustrating! Definitely keeps those chicken yolks extra dark orange though. I am planting 50 trees/woody plants just today in the small 1/3 ac garden I share--just not in the symphlan concentrated areas for now.
So, I agree biodiversity is the solution and I am hoping the predators show up soon.
It also just occurred to me that both the correlative factors of horse and poultry manure mentioned in that article are nitrogen heavy. High nitrogen levels are correlated with a lot of insect/arthropod infestations (aphids come first to mind). I speculate this is due to the protein (nitrogen being a primary component thereof) available to make their bodies from the fleshy and succulent growth spurred on by high nitrogen manures. Anyone else also find this correlation in their experience?
On the bright side that same nitrogen based protein that feed symphs and aphids also feeds their predators. I haven’t had this particular problem, or at least not to my knowledge, but I imagine I might at some point.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
You may be on to something with the protein. I composted a lot of deer scraps from hide tanning and see a higher concentration of symphylans in those compost piles. Around any sunchoke roots I overwintered too there's tons. They definitely like sugar and protein.
In addition to the chickens I am going to add fungi in the early spring to the mulch and see if that gives the symphylans something else to chew on. This is a suggestion by Elaine Ingham which seems flawed, but I'm willing to try. The trees that did best had fungal mats around them despite being surrounded by symphylans.
I may have to give up on strawberries for the near future.
The Greenhouse of the Future ebook by Francis Gendron