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Leaf with disease spots

Becoming a Disease Manager

Know Your Crop

Managing a farm or forest ecosystem comes naturally to the person who is in tune with its biology. Becoming a prudent maintainer of any system means becoming an observant and creative participant . Walking through your crop of hydroponic lettuce, or of any crop, regularly—checking under its leaves, inspecting its entire physiology, understanding the nuances of its anatomy by research—allows for a clear picture; knowing likely culprits of disease, knowing the least-invasive solution, and even allowing for improvisation in phytopathological methods.

Use Your Feelings

It is common to confront problems in plant cultivation that are beyond our knowledge. One realization, that may come as a source of relief to many, is that plants are unlike machines, for a few important reasons related to solving the issues that come up. They are very complex systems, which may add to the anxiety of diagnosing disease and curing it, but they are, in fact life-systems, and so they behave like other life-systems; in some ways behaving like ourselves. What this means is that caring for our plants is rarely a lock-and-key situation, where there is a specific problem and a sole solution; in reality there is more room for improvisation, and for feeling out the issue using our senses. Of course, reading plant physiology and pathology texts is invaluable. But the science really finds its meaning in the field, where science meets art. The most powerful use of knowledge is the felt implementation of methodical inquiry. The disease manager is most effective when both knowledgeable and ecologically confident, knowing intuitively the management decisions which will bring out the most life.

Presently I work as a maintainer for a plot of Dutch Elm Disease resistant American Elm cultivars; at this research we are pushing the frontier of knowledge. Every disease on every plant is similar, in a way, to the needs of plants for pruning. It is a biological growth, which interferes and interrupts the normal, healthy progression of a plant towards itself. Envision the plant as it wants to be; and through various management protocols, sculpt that plant that you see—from the ways branches want to grow, to the ways the leaves are offended when webworm larvae harm their ability to receive light. Applying the amounts and kinds of treatments that are in touch with these feelings about the plant’s vibrancy is key, in not treating the plant as a machine, but as a life-system.

Read Nature

Ideally, we get to a point as disease managers where we know our crop well enough to be both preventative and effectively responsive. We are going to be continuously reading, and learning about new treatment techniques and technologies; but we will also be at the fore of making those new treatment strategies. There is a time when we must put our books down and
begin to read nature . This is an exciting proposition for people who began farming and involvement in ecosystem cultivation, inspired to be in contact with life. They will find there is plenty to learn and do, and anyone who truly masters this art will be indispensable in the professional world; for disease is very often the limiting factor in agriculture.

Become What You Grow

Disease is even an opportunity to learn more about a plant’s physiology; our attention is called to be more aware. We are no longer piles of knowledge sitting on top of a mechanical system which inputs genetics and nutrients, and outputs vegetable products; we are our plants . And maybe there are flaws about you, and the plants think about healing you in the same critical way. 



About Erik Vegeto

Erik is a student of Plant, Soil and Insect Science at Umass Amherst. He has a passion for restorative agriculture and environmental stewardship that drives him forward into new frontiers of thought. Erik loves to read, play guitar, and be creative. One day he hopes to have his own farm and write for a living.

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