Webworms, Foxes and other details

Webworms at work in my apple tree
Webworms at work in my apple tree. (Click on the photo if you

Webworms are bad this year in our part of Ohio. I’m not sure where they come from or what their purpose in life is, but wherever they build their webs, the leaves die. And this year, I’m seeing them everywhere. Along the roads, in ornamental trees and, most tragic of all, in my fruit trees.

I’ve heard you can control them with Malathion or sevin, but I always prefer and believe in natural solutions, if possible. The “natural solution” for webworms is to cut them out of the tree and burn them. That’s always been my choice. (Webworms can also be controlled with dormant oil spray, usually considered gentle on the environment. But, that must be applied in the Spring before they emerge.)

This year, I was faced with an ethical struggle of mythical proportions in making that decision. The webworms, you see, had built their evil nest over not one but two apples in my apple tree. So, now the choice became a struggle between “save the apples and use chemicals” or “cut out the nest and lose two apples.” I could potentially poison the environment. Or, I could wastefully burn valuable food.

Which is worse? In the end, I chose to cut out the web and throw away two apples. (Most likely, you can only understand what a heart-rending decision that was if you’ve tried to grow your own fruit. I’ve found that quality fruit only happens when the weather, bugs and my own clumsy efforts to help all come together in just the right mix. A large dose of good luck helps, too.)

One of the worms is visible on the apple.  (Click on the photo for a close up view.)
One of the worms is visible on the apple. (Click on the photo for a close up view.)

Thinking of the tension between these two choices, somehow led me to think of my friend Milo Miller. He is the founder of Amish Door, a local restaurant and hotel. (If you ever visit our area, I recommend it as a great place to stay or eat at. It’s about 20 minutes south of our store in Kidron. Map it by clicking here.)

About a month ago, I asked Milo for advice on some operational issue. It must have been a big deal to me at the time, but now I can’t even remember the question.

What I do remember was his advice. “Beware the foxes that steal the grapes.”

As you can imagine, this advice caught me off guard! I wasn’t exactly sure how foxes and grapes applied to hardware stores (or, for that matter, to hotels and restaurants). After a moment to gather my thoughts, I figured it out.

I first of all dredged up from some remote corner of my brain that he was referencing a Bible verse. I thought it might be from Proverbs, but when I looked it up later I found out the actual reference was Song of Solomon 2:15, where it warns about little foxes ruining the vineyards.

I then realized that what he meant is that our lives are made up of millions of seemingly inconsequential decisions. And, that in those decisions it is important to be careful about the “little foxes”. They are a lot cuter than webworms, and much more fun to watch. But, they can do just as much damage to your fruit!

Milo is a wise man I’ve admired for most of my business career. And, with his advice about foxes and grapes he gave me a great gift.

Watch out for the details. Take good care of the things that are important. And, if possible, use a pruning shears instead of powerful chemicals!
Galen Lehman
Galen Lehman, President, Lehman’s

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14 years ago

After visiting Lehmans this week we noticed how bad the webworm infestation was as we drove along the interstate. When I worked in a greenhouse years ago one of my jobs was insect control. I found that Volck oil was very effective against a wide range of pests. I wasn’t dangerous to use and was harmless to the majority of the plants and it did not have to be sprayed before the insects emerged. It was very effective on actively infected plants.

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