I'm always amazed that every year some new pest or disease finds my farm. So I'm constantly learning new things about how to grow food here in the tropics. Today while going back to harvest from a remote sweet potato patch, I immediately noticed something was wrong. First of all, the patch didn't look lush and happy. The growing tips were small, curled, and bunched. Below is a sample of what the tips looked like.....,,
Normally the growing tips have smooth, flat leaves fanning out, like the variety showed below......
On closer inspection, when I touched the vines, a plethora of small whitish flies jumped or flew this way and that. There were dozens of them flying from one vine tip. So I flipped some leaves over for a closer look. The bottoms were covered in small, light colored insects of varying size. Below, I've circles in yellow some of them for you to see.
One flying adult happened to land on an adjacent potato patch and I managed to take a photo of it (circled below).........
Back at the house, I pulled up the Internet for a search. Conclusion : sweet potato whitefly.
Control of this pest didn't sound optimistic. But then, I'm not a big user of chemical pesticides, so I immediately planned to fall back to my usual solution --- remove and destroy the infested plants. Then don't replant a susceptible crop in that area for a while.
My plan was to harvest this patch anyway, but I did so very carefully so as to not spread the problem to other areas of the farm. None of the plant material went to the compost bins. Instead it went to the dump in order not to perpetuate the problem on the farm. It was carefully bagged, the bags sealed, and placed into the bed of the pickup truck for disposal. I next dumped several bags of fresh compost over the growing bed and immediately tilled it in. I'll then plant a non-suspectible crop. Don't know yet what I'll plant, but I want to get something growing that the whitefly doesn't like so as to starve out any survivors. Oh by the way, I was also careful not to spread the bugs back to other sections of the farm by immediately changing my clothes and showering. While the wind could easily be the culprit for introducing this pest to the farm, there's no need for me to help spread it around by being sloppy.
I also harvested every sweet potato that I found while removing the infested vines, or when rototillering. These went into a bucket, then taken to the chicken cookstove for making into mom's famous slop & glop. Boiling water was used to rinse out the bucket to kill any possible white fly eggs that tagged along. At least the chickens and piglets will benefit from this crop failure.