Gorgeous in flight and gloriously colored, monarch butterflies are the glimmering icon of wild nature. As an endangered species, they’re also iconic of all we have to lose in a changing world.
And now it’s begun — the remaining monarchs’ first leg of an epic, multigenerational voyage from overwintering sites in Mexico. But are they too early?
Getting here takes food, and plenty of it. For monarchs streaming up the eastern flyway to summer in our gardens and wildlands, you want flowering plants that offer generous helpings of nectar, the butterfly equivalent of a protein shake with all the essential nutrients it needs. But you also need more: you need the one plant that protects monarchs from the animals that might eat them.
Swamp milkweed. Likes moisture in but tolerates sandy, dry soils and part shade. Fragrant and long-blooming. Its protective steroids are among the most potent any milkweed species has to offer. (Offers nectar, too.) Photo: Tom Potterfield, Flickr Creative Commons.
As for the nectar plants? All of us — farmers, gardeners, golf courses and park superintendents — can help, each in our own way, with plantings of nectar-rich plants that attract beneficial insects. And beneficial insects are one of the mainstays of good IPM.
But it’s milkweed alone with its protective toxins that the monarch butterfly lays its eggs on; that its caterpillars feed on. So of course, gardeners and golf-course or park superintendents will want to plant milkweed too. Many species are stately, short-lived perennials bearing fragrant flowers. (Farmers, you might — or not — have options for happily letting milkweed grow.)
Butterfly weed. It’s gorgeous, no getting around it. Tops out at two feet; does fine in droughty soils. Too bad this milkweed’s protective steroids tend to be in short supply. Photo: Beautifulcatava, Flickr Creative Commons.
Now … for that “too early?” part.
As we speak, monarchs seem to be moving north earlier than usual, supported by strong tailwinds. Yes, they’re finding some nectar sources — dandelions, for instance. (If you must mow now, mow high. Which you should do anyway if you practice good IPM.) But according to some reports (citizen scientists with Annenberg Learner’s Journey North and ecologist Chris Helzer’s Prairie Ecologist posts via The Nature Conservancy), monarchs seem to be looking for milkweed — and not finding it.
As of April 21, “Journey North” sightings have come in from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Ontario Canada … we’re surrounded!
Or if the butterflies find milkweed, it tends to be just a few inches high. Question is: can a six-inch-tall milkweed support six to eight larvae? Unknown.
A close look at the map and you know they’re on their way.
Good questions poised by a citizen scientist: can this milkweed plant grow fast enough to feed growing caterpillars?
Since scouting is another core tenet of IPM, be a good scout — and keep a sharp lookout for monarchs, milkweed, and monarch eggs. Three’s a charm!
April 20, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Peeper Season, Earth Day, and Scouting With Your Ears for a Healthy Watershed
It’s that lovely time of year when an explosion of song rings from every valley and echoes from every hillside. This is the song of spring peepers, tiny frogs (actually, hundreds or thousands of tiny frogs). Their song carries a mile or more. It might even alert you to small wetlands or vernal ponds you didn’t know were out there. (Vernal ponds are low spots in woods or meadows that dry up as the season progresses.)
Driving along a river or stream? Roll down the windows and you’ll hear the peepers’ serenade. Stepping outside for a breath of fresh spring air? You’ll hear it the moment you open the door.
We said it was tiny. Zoom in and you’ll see the “X” on its back, and you’ll know it’s a peeper you’ve found. Photo: Flickr sharing, Speklet.
It can be your own private celebration of Earth Day.
That is, if you have the good fortune to live where wetlands and ponds support these tiny frogs. Even if you don’t, peepers have a story for you.
Basics first: think of spring peepers as watershed indicator species, for they thrive only in healthy ecosystems. Peepers are amphibians — tiny frogs about an inch long, maybe more. As young-uns, they’re tadpoles (or pollywogs as you prefer) and live in the water, slowly growing legs and absorbing their tails even as lungs replace their gills.
Male peepers inflate a balloon-like sac to make their music — and attract females. Females often choose the males with the deepest songs.
After a month or so, peepers move to dry land. Their sticky toe pads help them cling to shrubs, tall grasses, and even trees, though mostly they seek the shelter of a damp wooded understory. Fall and winter will come — but no matter; a natural antifreeze in their bodies helps them survive the winter. Come spring, peepers return to water to lay their eggs. And thus their song — rapturous at a distance; raucous, even deafening, close by. And that song? It’s all about mating. Egg-laying. Time for another generation of young-uns.
Like other amphibians — toads, salamanders, and such — the peepers’ skin is moist and permeable, since they live both in water and on land. They absorb oxygen through their skin as well as their lungs. So back to the ecosystem part. Peepers absorb other things too — things that might contaminate wetlands and kill the critters in them. Salt runoff from nearby roads. Pesticides from nearby lawns or farm fields. Besides, polluted watersheds tend to be oxygen-starved.
Look around you. Do you live or work in a peeper-friendly neighborhood? Are the lawns, fields and gardens cared for with core IPM practices? A too-perfect lawn, for instance, hints that its owner might be overfond of pesticides and fertilizers.
New York City has worked hard to protect its vulnerable wetlands, like this one on Staten Island.
An online search could help you learn where to go to find peepers in spring. If you live in a city, you can take the train to the nearest places where frogs are likely to thrive. Places where your ears will be your tool for scouting (a key IPM term) for the peepers’ presence or absence.
So — big picture. Recall that peepers and other amphibians are watershed indicator species. What is it with wetlands; why do they matter?
Wetlands are like natural sponges that trap, store, and slowly release surface and groundwater, rain, snowmelt, and more. They put the brakes on coursing floods, distributing them over the floodplain. This combined storage and braking action helps lower floods while slowing erosion.
Wetlands within and downstream of towns and cities are especially valuable. When storms hammer pavement and buildings, all that runoff has got to run somewhere. Often as not, it ends up in the nearest river. If that river is bordered by wetlands, they’ll give nature a hand, helping control floods and waterlogged crops — and without the expense of levees or dredging. Similarly, wetlands help alleviate pollution near cities and towns — and much more cheaply than a water treatment plant can.
You can find vernal ponds in forests or fields. “Vernal” means “relating to spring.” Because these ponds dry up in summer, fish can’t survive — making one less predator for peeper tadpoles to contend with. Photo Jane Tims.
But if the wetlands have been filled in, drained, or contaminated beyond their ability to process pollutants — then what? I think you know. And as we speak: a mystery pest is decimating massive stands of the roseau cane, a wetland grass vital to the health of Louisiana’s precarious coast. Could this mystery pest ever get here? No idea. But if you’re curious, here’s the story.
April 17, 2017
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on Earth Day: What It Means to Me — and the IPM Connection
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together … all things connect.” — attributed to Chief Seattle
I’m an environmental educator. Have been one all my life. Among my goals? To erase the line between us and the environment. So often we think of nature as someplace we have to travel to. But this separates us from understanding how we affect our world — for good or for bad.
Amazing creatures like this robber fly can be found in your backyard. These excellent predators catch their prey in the air.
At this time of year we are surrounded by appeals to plant trees. Conserve water. Recycle. Save the polar bears. Want to find examples of IPM as an Earth Day theme? Good luck.
Which is too bad. Because the critters and plants that surround us prove that the environment is right here, right now, all the time. The mice in your kitchen are proof that we coexist with nature even inside.
There is no line.
What’s in a name? Is this a weed or a spontaneous lawn flower? The bee doesn’t care!
Basic ecology tells us that all living things need food, water, shelter, and space. Overwater an indoor plant and you will find fungus gnats. Mow your lawn too short and spontaneous lawn flowers will outcompete the grass. Fail to empty outdoor buckets or refresh the water in your birdbath and there will be no shortage of mosquitoes.
When living things move into our space, we typically label them as pests. But this, my friends, is how nature works. When we provide food by leaving dirty dishes around, don’t seal the garbage right, or plant a favorite flower (tulips, say) in an area with no shortage of deer, we might as well just sit back and watch what comes to partake of our offerings.
Who needs to visit Africa? We can watch the circle of life in our backyards! And no need to get all those shots!
I dream of a world where, along with learning about tigers and redwood trees, children learn about our environment through ants and dandelions. For even in the most urban areas, we find ourselves in nature if we only open our eyes and take the time to recognize it.
My appeal? For Earth Day 2017, let’s each learn about one critter we see often – especially one we consider a pest. Where does it fit in the food web? What helping hand have we given it? And to help your exploration, I recommend starting with the NYS IPM Program’s What’s Bugging You webpage.
Erase the line. And have a very happy Earth Day.
p.s. I would love to hear about what you learned. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com with your story!
April 12, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Earth Day. It’s Every Day. Especially for Farmers.
For farmers everywhere, but perhaps most of all for organic farmers, every day has to be Earth Day. And since what matters for farmers matters for us all, every day is Earth Day for you, me, everyone.
Take farmer Lou Lego. He earned an Excellence in IPM award earlier this year for his inspired, inventive work putting IPM into action at 100-acre Elderberry Farm and Restaurant, midway between Owasco and Skaneateles lakes in New York’s Finger Lakes Region.
Pigs on pasture cycle carbon by eating and fertilizing grasses which take up carbon dioxide and return it to the ground. Watch the video at Elderberry Farm’s Facebook page.
According to Lou, Earth Day means thinking about the future — think of it as the “every day is Earth Day” approach. One day he’s thinking about cover crops or providing for beneficial insects. On another, tillage practices — about rebuilding and nourishing the soil. Yet another, slowing or reversing wind erosion. All good IPM.
And always about slowing or reversing climate change.
Every year, Lou says (and he’s been at this a while), his soil is richer, better, healthier. Healthier soil means healthier crops. And while healthy crops can’t ensure freedom from every disease and insect pest, still — healthier soils and crops are among the IPM tactics Lou relies on, the better to cope with pests that seem bent on destruction.
For Lou, though, dealing with greenhouse gases such as atmospheric carbon — that’s the biggie.
Granted, on Elderberry Farm it’s the “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” approach. And it takes a village — no, it takes pretty much all of us — to pull off climate change. What about on Lou’s scale? Sure, healthier soils can help. Tilling right can help. The research is coming in and yes, sustainable agricultural practices (think IPM) have a role to play.
Tall cover crops and sunflowers bordered by trees provide habitat for beneficial insects and wild bees.
And growing trees helps. Elderberry Farm’s fields are bounded by hedgerows or orchards, trees whose leaves pull carbon out of the atmosphere. Much stays in twigs and branches, but even more gets stashed in their roots — and they keep it there for the life of the tree and beyond.
For Lou Lego — and for IPM too — short term, long term: every day is Earth Day.
Photos courtesy Lou Lego.
April 7, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Every Day is Earth Day — and the IPM Connection
Consider our forests and farms. Our rivers and lakes. And yes, our homes and workplaces. Wherever we live, work or play — when we care for our surroundings, we’re celebrating Earth Day.
Belong to a community garden? Got a garden by the house? You can welcome Earth Day by welcoming the critters that make any garden a healthy garden.
The IPM connection? It could be
the bugs that eat other bugs — bugs you don’t want
the core IPM practices you use to prevent problems
the pollinators that ensure you have fruits and veggies for dinner
This critter looks a little freaky. But hey, it’s on your side. It just found a nice patch of aphids and as a growing larva, it’s got the munchies.
Let’s take a look at number 1 — and the critter in the photo. Creepy, no? But it’s a ladybug larva. Who knew? Now take a look at all those green critters. Aphids. Aphids are bad news for your gardens or crops.
During its short lifespan as a larva, this ladybug-in-waiting will eat about 400 aphids. Once it’s become an adult, it’ll eat about 5,000 more.
Which leads us to core IPM practices and number 2. Provide good habitat for predators like ladybugs and you’ll have healthier plants. Which in turns leads to number 3: pollinators. Because if you don’t have healthy plants, you won’t have healthy flowers — and the fewer flowers, the fewer pollinators.
The cycle of life. Every day is Earth Day.
March 29, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Earth Day IPM for birds and bees — and native plants that nourish them
We’re starting this post with a detour. But we have little choice. Before you go shopping around for landscape plants, you need to know the backstory.
Invasive plants, trees, shrubs, vines and flowers, many of them brought from afar because yes, they’re lovely in the landscape, have become a bit too much of a good thing. In part it’s because they didn’t evolve here. That could mean the critters — mostly insects or pathogens that co-evolved with them and helped keep them in check — don’t live here. Where that’s the case, there’s little here to naturally keep them in check.
OK, sumac berries aren’t all that tasty. But for migratory songbirds powering their way north, they offer needed nutrients. (Photo credit Mary Holland)
True, not all imported plants are invasive. But it’s all too easy to dig up a seedling or sucker from an invasive when you don’t know the extent of the problem. Which is partly why New York passed the Invasive Species Prevention Act in 2012.
Native plants, on the other hand, are less likely to get out of hand. Plus they can encourage biological control by attracting predatory or parasitoid insects — the good guys that prey on insect pests. And promoting these good guys is key to good IPM.
So with Earth Day in mind and planting season at hand, let’s note this threesome of invasive trees: angelica tree, sycamore maple, and Amur cork tree. These landscape trees are no longer for sale in New York. For a threesome of attractive natives that can fill their place — while helping the birds and bees — consider the merits of (drum roll) staghorn sumac, Juneberry, and white fringetree.
As we speak, migrating birds are stripping last year’s crop of staghorn sumac seeds, now mostly dry and withered but still nourishing, to power their northbound flight. Love birds? Your sumac planting will benefit robins, bluebirds, thrushes, catbirds, cardinals, chickadees, starlings, wild turkey, pileated woodpecker — and that’s just for starters. Soon its tiny yellowish flowers will attract bees and butterflies. Fiery autumn color. Drought resistant, and an excellent soil stabilizer on hillsides.
Juneberry isn’t your traditional hummingbird plant but welcoming even so. And first to flower means first to fruit — nourishment for many nesting songbirds. (Photo credit Hans. Thank you, Pixabay)
Juneberry (Amelanchier spp., with more common names than you can shake a stick at) is also an early bloomer that draws hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. When its fruits ripen in early summer, robins, waxwings, cardinals, vireos, tanagers, and grosbeaks make a point of stopping by for a meal. You might too — the subtle flavor, shape, and color are reminiscent of blueberries. Grows well in full sun or part shade; adapts to wet or dry soils — but note soil must be acidic.
And then — raise your hand if you’ve seen our native witch hazel. This late bloomer is (metaphorically, that is) the golden chrysanthemum of the woods, daring to blossom when other trees have tucked in for a long winter’s nap. How to describe its flowers? Ribbonlike. Spidery. Kinky. Confetti-like — these all serve for a tree that’s the only show in town. But … if pollinators have tucked in too, how to play the pollination game? Turns out a native moth, the sallows, comes out on chilly nights — shivering its flight muscles and raising its body temperature upward of 50 degrees, then flying off search of food. And during a warm spell, bees will sup here too. Yes, this tree benefits birds and wildlife too, but more on that another time.
Witch hazel makes a lovely understory tree. Prefers part shade and moist but well-drained soil.
Common to all? They fit neatly under power lines.
And now a plug for IPM: it’s easy to talk about the birds and bees. Yet so many critters are on our side. Understandably we shudder when wasps and flies come to mind. But consider the scads of wasp and fly species that are on our side. Hey, plenty of wasps don’t even have stingers; they care only to lay their eggs within pest insects. Flies? Ever heard of flower flies? They do what their names suggests, while their larvae prey on aphids and thrips. And there’s scores more good guys in the family they belong to.
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. Got good stories? Get in touch with Joellen Lampman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.