By most measures it’s spring in the northern hemisphere. Technicalities count: regardless if you live in snowy Labrador City (pop. 9354; high of 15ºF) or greater Miami, Florida (pop. ~5.5 million and summery 76ºF), the vernal equinox marked the official start to spring.
Whether or not the weather concurs with your expectations, of course, depends on your point of view. (Here in New York, opinions are mixed.)
This Federally-endangered dragonfly is an indicator species — and indicates a healthy ecosystem. (Courtesy Xerces Society)
A month and two days later, scores of countries worldwide on six continents will celebrate Earth Day.
Issued in 2005: Even a tiny stamp can raise awareness of dwindling resources and the importance of living in harmony with nature. (Courtesy designer Chen Shaohua)
Our question to you — what does Earth Day mean for our homes and forests, our farms, lakes, and rivers? And how does IPM help?
Join the conversation via photos, Facebook, tweets — and ThinkIPM. After all, April 22 is just around the corner.
March 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Invasive species New York: save the date for IPM conference
Christy Hoepting grew up on a small farm north of Toronto, Ontario. Enrolling at the University of Guelph, a top-tier ag school, was a natural fit. And though she focused on onion production while earning her master’s degree, she never dreamed she’d make a career of it. But then her advisor told her that a job with cooperative extension had opened up in western New York. She suggested she apply. The interview, after all, would be a good learning experience.
“What’s extension?” Christy remembers asking. But exceptional preparation and delivery were second nature. She got the job.
“I didn’t know the destination on the road I was traveling,” Christy says. “But I sure knew when I had arrived.” Need we say she loves her job?
This cover shot says it all.
Few people know onions inside-out as well as Christy Hoepting does. That “inside” part is critical. If you’re a farmer, you win when your onions pay their way; in a good year you could make upward of $4000 per acre. But you lose when one too many onion thrips — tiny pests, hard to find — sneaks between the leaf folds and starts laying eggs within its tender tissues. Or when pathogens hiding beneath the skin of healthy-looking onions trigger the long road to decline in a crop you counted on to get you through the winter.
Which is why Christy has conducted hundreds of on-farm research trials in plant pathology, entomology, weed science, cultural practices and crop nutrition. She’s presented at scores of stakeholder and scientific meetings and published scores of articles and research papers.
It’s also why she scouts farm fields relentlessly — a core practice of IPM — tracking every movement of insect and disease pests. And growers from miles around know that when Tuesday morning rolls around, they’ll meet at a corner of the road and Christy will recount what she’s seen.
It’s Tuesday. That means it’s muck donut hour.
Christy calls it the “Muck Donut Hour,” and it doesn’t take long for the conversation to start rolling. “I’m constantly tweaking our recommendations based on our research, of course, but also on what I hear from growers at the corner of the road,” Christy says.
Now for her exemplary work on behalf of farmers, not just in the rich muck-soil region of western New York but statewide and nationally, the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM) presented an Excellence in IPM award to Christy Hoepting on March 8, 2017 at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s “Elba Muck Region Onion School” in Albion, New York.
Good work, Christy.
February 22, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Happy Cows, More Milk — Organic Dairy Guide en Español
Happy cows. More milk. Now let’s try it in Spanish: Vacas felices. Más leche.
Pests can pack a wallop to a dairy farmer’s bottom line, costing between five and 20 percent of lost production. For every 100 cows you’ve got (and most farmers have many more) that can run to the tune of $23,000 to 95,000 per year. Of course, these estimates are based on data that can vary from region to region and year to year.
Misery loves company, and the time cows spend huddling for relief from stable flies is time not spent grazing. Less grazing, less milk. [Photo credit follows.]
But you get the idea — which is why the NYS IPM Program’s guides for organic dairies are so valuable. In fact, in the past six months alone these guides have garnered nearly 340 “pageviews” — a geeky term for how often someone explores an online document. After all, pests have no more respect for organic farmers than they do for conventional ones.
Before we say more about cows or our organic guides, though, let’s talk about people — namely the people who do the work. Because even on a small farm, the farmer can’t go it alone. Yet it’s hard to find good reliable labor for this difficult, labor-intensive work.
Stable fly bites hurt. What to do? Many tiny parasitic wasps attack stable fly pupae (no, they won’t sting you). Releasing parasitoids and other natural enemies is a core IPM practice.
That’s why dairy farmers in New York and across the nation have come to rely heavily on Hispanic workers — workers who are more tech-savvy than you might think, says Cornell Cooperative Extension bilingual dairy educator Libby Eiholser. Eiholser provides training programs and reference materials in Spanish and translated NYS IPM’s Spanish-language organic dairy guide — which has received 130-plus pageviews as of this posting. Now Hispanic workers have the opportunity to become yet more invested in the value of their work.
So … for all those pests that pack a wallop? Now Hispanic workers can open Guía del Manejo Integrado de Plagas (MIP) para los Ranchos Orgánicos and it’s all right there — the pest, the damage … oh, and the unhappy cows. IPM answers are right there too.
Informed workers, happier cows. Trabajadores con conocimiento, de vacas felices. Happy cows, more milk..Vacas felices, más leche.
For Robert Corrigan the moment was pivotal. Enchanted from childhood by the story of iconic oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Corrigan enrolled at the State University of New York at Farmingdale with one dream: to be the next Cousteau. That changed the day biology professor Austin Frishman was a substitute teacher. So riveting was that one class that Corrigan immediately switched majors to Frishman’s specialty — pest management.
Pest management on a par with oceanography? Metaphorically, yes — for pests inhabit unseen worlds of their own. Corrigan had stumbled into a vocation that’s earned him accolades wherever pests and people collide.
Grates aren’t so great at keeping rats out if a hole has rusted through.
Now for his unparalleled integrity and expertise, Corrigan has earned an Excellence in IPM award from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM) at Cornell University.
NYS IPM’s Matt Frye says Corrigan was pivotal to his own life. “Bobby inspired me to pursue pest management as a passion, not just a livelihood,” Frye says. “I’m not alone. If you’re in roomful of pest management pros when Bobby speaks, and you see light bulbs blinking on all over the place, you get a feel for the impact he has had — not just in New York, but around the world.”
Corrigan is best known for his work with rats, and it’s no wonder. “Bobby’s Rodent Academy is a golden experience, an epiphany of information,” says Gil Bloom, Director of Public Affairs at the New York Pest Management Association. “That he gives out his email to his students is a risky gambit few would take. But this is the man.”
On the surface, Corrigan’s approach is simplicity itself. Keep parks, building foundations, alleyways and streets (not to mention kitchens) clear of all dropped or discarded food scraps, and you’ll put a serious dent in how many rat complaints you get. Daunting, perhaps, but doable.
In his work with the New York City Department of Health, Corrigan took the time to really listen to people, says Caroline Bragdon, director of Neighborhood Interventions. “His greatest achievement was integrating the people management part. He was so graceful in sewing together the layers of our bureaucracy to create a working, science-based program.”
Now Corrigan, a founding member of the Scientific Coalition On Pest Exclusion (SCOPE 2020), brings decades of field experience and data to the cause. “Bobby’s breadth and depth of knowledge are key to crafting promising new ways to prevent pests from taking refuge in buildings and public places,” says Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, chair of SCOPE and coordinator of Community IPM with the NYS IPM Program. “Once these methods are in place, we can say goodbye to chronic pest infestations.”
“Bobby is young to be a legend, but it’s true,” says Jennifer Grant, director of the NYS IPM Program. “From rats to roaches, he’s an expert at preventing, excluding and removing urban pests. He knows the community is key to success, so he involves everyone along the way—always the consummate teacher.”
Corrigan received his award at the Food Processing Sanitation and Pest Management Workshop on February 7 in Rochester, New York.
February 10, 2017
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on Lawn IPM – the February Edition
I love any excuse to come to New York — when it’s not February. — K. A. Applegate
Ahh, February. The Monday of months. Yet even with a foot of snow on the ground over most of New York, you can take steps now for a healthy lawn.
The Feb. 9 U.S. Drought Monitor shows 35% of the Northeast in a drought.
First, be grateful for the snow — and add more to your wish list. The Northeast Regional Climate Center notes that much of New York is still in a drought. We’ll check next week to see how the February 9 snowstorm affects the readings, but The New York City reservoir system was at 77.6% of capacity on February 8 compared to normal capacity of 87.8%. We still have a ways to go to make up the deficit.
Lawn Care features expertise from Cornell University Turfgrass research team. Vidoes, photo galleries, interactive images and concise directions make it quick and easy to understand how to cultivate a healthy lawn that is an attractive environmental asset.
Turfgrass Species and Variety Guidelines for NYS – If you want to get deeper into the science of seed selection, then this is the resource for you. Different types of turfgrass are adapted to different soil, light, and traffic conditions. Choosing the right type will help you maintain the best lawn with the least amount of inputs such as irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides.
Cornell University turfgrass expert Dr. Frank Rossi narrates this short how-to video on sharpening your mower blade.
Third, the single most important lawn care practice you can undertake for a healthy lawn is proper mowing — and now is a great time to sharpen those blades. Why bother? Dull blades:
shred rather than cut grass
stress your lawn, making it …
more susceptible to insects, diseases, and drought
Fourth, the ongoing drought left many poorly or non-irrigated lawns a little thin. Overseeding helps fill in the bare spots. You don’t even need to wait until spring. Dormant overseeding over the next few weeks can help you get a head start on the season. Use the resources above to choose a drought-tolerant turfgrass type, so watch the forecast and try to get out ahead of the next snowstorm.
You’re prepping your garden for winter, muttering about the sapling black walnut trees the squirrels planted on your behalf mere inches away — and the mother tree is in your neighbor’s yard. You know you can’t put off removing them: this might be the last year your loppers can manage the task.
Squirrels are pretty good at finding the walnuts they stashed here and there for winter. But they always miss a few.
Black walnuts get a lot of grief from gardeners. For those with small yards and a great love of tomatoes, the black walnut in a neighboring yard is bad news. But for the moment pretend you’ve got couple of acres, mostly meadow. Pretend the mama walnut tree in the hedgerow out back is framed by a couple of invasive ailanthus (aka tree of heaven) and some elderly pines and sugar maples. Pretend also that goldenrod, quackgrass, and garlic mustard are well-established meadow plants that push their way into your garden every chance they get.
And while you’re at it, pretend you planted buckwheat as a cover crop earlier this summer in some beds where weeds have held sway.
Buckwheat contains three allelopathic chemicals. Plus they grow really fast, out-competing many weeds.
What do all these plants have in common?
They’re alleopathic. That is: they have compounds in their leaves, roots, seeds, or stems that stave off other plants. True, some (think garlic mustard) will only hurt you. But some — buckwheat, for instance — will help. (Hint: click on the fifth bullet point when you open the page.)
NYS IPM’s horticulturalist Brian Eshenaur calls such allelopathic compounds “nature’s herbicides.” If you choose and use them, you might avoid the worrisome traits of conventional herbicides.
What worrisome traits? For starters, the potential for weeds to become herbicide-resistant. If using herbicides is the only way you’ve learned to deal with weeds, you could be in trouble. Could weeds (which, like plant diseases, qualify as pests) also become resistant to nature’s herbicides?
No one is sure. The research has just begun. But by way of example, consider this: insect pests become pesticide-resistant with relative ease. On the other hand, they don’t easily outsmart other bugs that evolved to eat them — which is why biocontrol is a key tenet of IPM.
Worried about walnut trees? Garlic mustard has a nasty reputation of its own.
Yes, black walnuts freely release their plant-suppressive chemicals. But even they have their soft spot.
Here’s what black walnuts are willing to live with:
lima, snap and soybeans; beets and swiss chard; corn; onions, garlic and leeks; parsnip and carrots; cauliflower; parsley; Jerusalem artichoke; melons, squash and pumpkins.
And here’s what they aren’t:
asparagus; cabbage, broccoli and kale; eggplant, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes; rhubarb; peas.
Where walnuts crowd too close, build raised beds with root barriers in the bottom — concrete or rubber patio blocks are one option. Hefty tubs are another. You could raise those beds even higher: built at waist height, they could keep your back happy too.
Worried about those walnut leaves that blow into your yard each fall? Can you add them to your compost? Have no fear. Exposed to air, water and bacteria, their toxic effect is history in two to four weeks. [1.]
Also, take a look at Eshenaur’s Weed-Suppressive Groundcovers. And consider that most of these plants are great when massed in perennial flowerbeds — and could provide welcome food and shelter for pollinators. Multitasking plants? They’re onto IPM.
Let’s make compost. It’s an earthy topic. Does it matter? Oh, yes. Bagging up organic matter and setting it out for trash is a pity — the moment it’s dumped in the landfill, it turns quickly to methane, a greenhouse gas 20-plus times more potent than CO2. And trash trucks bring tons of it to landfills every day. In 2013 alone, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash; we recycled or composted about 87 million tons.
Mites are mighty helpful in compost piles. Credit compostjunkie.com
Which is all well and good, but we can do better. Compost encourages healthy and balanced populations of soil organisms that can suppress plant pathogens by (good IPM!)
parasitizing them or
out-competing them for food and water.
Bacteria, molds, mites, and more — these good guys are on your side. But what happens to that compost heap when the ground is frozen or the snow is deep?
Like biannual and perennial landscape plants, soil organisms normally go dormant in winter. Yes, you could keep adding your kitchen scraps and recyclables to the pile. But they’ll freeze in place unless you can keep the good guys active through most of the winter. And it’s not that hard.
The lasagna method is hot — even when it’s not outside. Credit organicgardensnetwork
So while it’s still fall, harvest finished compost to make room for winter compost. Then insulate the pile with bags of leaves or bales of straw. Meanwhile, if you want to cut back on trips outside, make a pre-compost bucket.
Think of it as a mini-compost bin for food scraps, old newspaper, and the like. You’ll want to mix browns and greens just like you would outside using the “lasagna method” with its alternating brown and green layers for your outdoor compost. (Think of your pre-compost bucket as the “ravioli method.”)
Best you chop those food scraps first, though. Because the good guys will slow down a tad when they get chilly, you want to make it as easy on them as you can. Smaller particle sizes give them more surface area to do their work and keep them cozier while they do it. Then come spring they’ll really rev up.
Want more info? Check out:
ccetompkins.org/resources/compost-winter-composting — our inspiration for this post
Our gratitude to Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County, for letting us use this post. The IPM connection? ID those fuzzy beasts before you add them to your “warm and fuzzy” petting zoo.
When I was a kid I was fascinated by caterpillars but had trouble with the word. To me, the sweet little woolly-bear traversing my hand was a “calipitter.” It was only years later I learned that a calipitter is an instrument used to measure the diameter of a caterpillar to the nearest micron.
Caterpillars continue to interest me, although I no longer find them universally cute. Imagine the letdown and loss of innocence following the discovery that some of these fuzzy, fascinating, gentle creatures that tickled their way across my hand were venomous. This revelation was akin to finding out Bambi was a dangerous carnivore, which in fact is a fear that haunts me to this day.
Stunning — and striking in a less-than-pleasant sort of way. White-marked tussock moth larvae, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
It seems a further injustice that many of the so-called “stinging-hair caterpillars” are among the cutest and most colorful out there. But at least they are not aggressive the way yellow jackets can be. They are strictly defensive, the defense being hollow hairs connected to poison glands that secrete toxins. The chemical cocktail is species-specific, and often involves serotonin, histamine, formic acid and various amino acids.
The hairs inject their charge only when the critter is roughly handled. Or falls down your shirt, or gets in your sleeping bag, or is pressed against your skin in some other way. Their stings cause a painful rash which could persist a week or more. Some people have more severe reactions requiring medical treatment.
You’d think poisonous caterpillars would be from exotic locales, but to my knowledge all in our region are natives. One large group is the tussock moth clan. These caterpillars look about as terrifying as teddy bears. Two examples are the hickory (Lophocampa caryae) and white-marked (Orgyia leucostigma) tussock moths, common locally. I’ve had many encounters with these and their kin over the years.
Hickory tussock caterpillars are mostly white, peppered with a smattering of longer black “whiskers.” White-marked tussock moth larvae look like they’re fresh out of clown school, with a yellow-and-black striped pattern, bright red head, a pair of super-long black appendages as a headdress, a row of lateral white hairs on each side, and four bright yellow (sometimes white) tufts behind their heads like a row of smoke stacks.
The stubby brown hag moth caterpillar (Phobetron pithecium) definitely does not look like a caterpillar. It could easily be mistaken for a dust-bunny or bit of lint. Sometimes known as the monkey slug, this oddity has eight furry, arm-like appendages and should get a prize for its resemblance to a plush toy. If you come across the monkey slug, do resist the impulse to cuddle it.
Much like the way poison-arrow frogs dress flamboyantly to advertise they’re a poor choice as prey, some toxic caterpillars have paint jobs even brighter than those of the tussock moths. For example, the brilliantly attired stinging rose (Parasa indetermina) and saddleback (Acharia stimulea) caterpillars might make you think some practical joker has set out miniature party piñatas. Eye-catching and bristling with barbs, no one is going to mistake them for a plush toy.
Fortunately, many poisonous caterpillars look the part. The Io moth (Automeris io), a huge moth bearing a striking eye-spot shape on each wing, starts out as a neon-green (red until its first molt) caterpillar crowded with serious-looking barbs. Going further afield, the giant silkworm moth caterpillar (Lonomia oblique) of southern South America has been responsible for as many as 500 human deaths — and it looks terrifying, too.
Keep in mind that just about every fuzzy caterpillar, venomous or not, can induce asthma. Those hairs are fragile and readily become airborne. Pests such as the eastern and forest tent caterpillars — and gypsy moths too — sometimes occur in numbers so great enough to trigger asthma, especially in children. Even the beloved woolly bears (many species of the family Arctiinae) trigger attacks in some people.
What to do for a sting? Use Scotch or packing tape on your skin to pull out embedded caterpillar hairs (along with a few of your own). Wash the area and isolate clothing you think might harbor stray hairs. Monitor for several hours for signs of a serious reaction and otherwise treat the rash the way you would any sting with calamine lotion, antihistamines, or hydrocortisone lotion as directed by your doctor.
Let’s hope that having a few bad apples around will not keep you from appreciating caterpillars. Even the ugliest ones grow up to be moths and butterflies, many of which are beautiful. And they’re all important pollinators. Stay away from the ones described here but feel free to investigate all others.
Just be sure to take along your callipitter.
September 21, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Trees and Drought Make for Less Colorful Fall (and the IPM Connection)
Many thanks to Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County, for permission to use this piece.
It turns out that, in terms of fall foliage, the color of too dry is officially known as “blah.” This would undoubtedly be the least popular color selection if it was included in a jumbo pack of Crayolas. Basically, it is a jumble of faded hues with a mottled brown patina throughout. This year’s dry summer could mean that “blah” may feature prominently in Mother Nature’s fall hardwood forest palette.
Why would a prolonged lack of moisture affect autumn color? Let’s look at what makes leaves colorful in the first place. Among the things we learned — and probably forgot right away — in Junior High Biology is that leaves are green because of chlorophyll, the amazing molecule that converts light, water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen. Its intense green tends to mask colors such as orange and yellow that are present in leaves in lower concentrations. When chlorophyll dies off in the fall, those “weaker” colors are revealed.
The Adirondacks in full autumnal glory — but not in the mega-drought of 2016. Photo courtesy Sharp Swan.
It’s not like yellow and orange are just randomly painted on the insides of leaves, though. Molecules other than chlorophyll are involved in various metabolic pathways within a leaf, and they happen to be colorful. By comparison, we are boring. Our hemoglobin is red, at least in the presence of oxygen, but we are not as flamboyant on a cellular level as leaves are.
Red, however, is a horse of a different color where leaves are concerned. Trees spend energy that they would otherwise save for next year’s growth to make the molecule responsible for red. It is called anthocyanin, mostly because short words embarrass scientists, and it is “expensive” for trees to make. No one knows why trees do this. OK, there are some explanations out there, but they are so flimsy they don’t even hold up in the rain.
In wintertime, I make my own bread. Although quality varies because I never use a recipe, more than likely the bread would turn out worse than usual if I omitted water. Similarly, all the ingredients need to be there for photosynthesis to work properly. When water is in short supply, production at the sugar factory, also known as the chlorophyll molecule, drops off sharply.
Without sugars, many cellular processes slow or even stop. Damaged chlorophyll is not replaced, and that deep forest-green color starts to pale. Those yellow and orange molecules (xanthophylls and carotenes, if you are insecure about word length) also begin to disappear.
As trees dry out further, their leaves start to brown along their edges. This is called marginal scorching, not to be confused with marginally scorched, which describes my bread. In drought-prone locations with thin soils, some tree leaves will entirely brown and turn crisp, calling it quits for the year. This of course is not good for trees, because they are not able to plug up the vascular connections between leaves and twigs, making them prone to even more desiccation over the winter.
As if that isn’t enough sepia tones for one season, our sugar maples once again are looking tawdry due to yet another infestation of the native maple leafcutter. This is a tiny colorful moth whose newly hatched larvae eat circular patterns inside leaves, eventually getting big enough to emerge onto the leaf surface and excise little holes in it to make a mini turtle-shell case for itself. A single infestation causes only minor harm to the maples, but repeated infestations can weaken them somewhat.
Between marginal scorch, brown leaves, holey maples and a general shortage of leaf pigments, we might not get the brightest display this fall. Cool nights and sunny days tend to favor the production of red in the few tree species capable of producing it, and this could at least offset the brown tinge that infuses our woodlands at present. Here’s hoping for a good crayon selection this autumn.
The IPM Connection? Well, you can’t run the well dry trying to keep your trees happy. But worse yet would be thinking your trees have some horrid disease and it’s time to dash over to the garden center for a jug of fungicide. In this case you’ve got two fundamental IPM precepts to guide you now and for the future: an accurate diagnosis and preventive action.
Identify (i.e. diagnose) your problem before you act. Trees that look sick or pest-ridden could suffer instead from to a surfeit or lack of three critical things their fine feeder roots need: the oxygen, water, and nutrients. Because if those roots aren’t happy, neither is your tree.
Prevent the problem: learn which trees will work for your landscape and how to help them deal with the hand Nature deals them. Right plant, right place, proper care: these help reduce infestations and impacts of pests.