Many of us love gardening. But not many of us enjoy weeding. Robots to the rescue!
Franklin Robotics has built a robot to control weeds and they sent us one of their prototypes for initial testing before it hits the market. Their robot, Tertill, moves around the garden with a string-trimmer (a.k.a. weedwacker) that cuts up small weeds while its sensor allows it to move around your larger, planted flowers or vegetables. Its wheels are also designed to dislodge small weeds.
While this robot is designed for small gardens, larger robots are also being developed for farms. As farmers face labor shortages and herbicide-resistant weeds, robotic weeders could help alleviate these challenges. Several companies are taking very different approaches in their designs. One model undercuts weed roots, another punches small weeds into the ground, and a third places a drop of herbicide on the weed’s growing point.
Most of these robots are still in the development stage. In testing out the Tertill, we see that it has great potential, but as you can see in the video, there are some weeds that it misses. We’ll suggest that the designers raise the crop sensors while lowering the weed trimmer so that it controls a wider range of weeds. Hopefully after these tweaks it will be ready for prime time!
Involved in this project are:
Bryan Brown, Integrated Weed Management Specialist, NYSIPM, Cornell University
Kristine Averill, Research Associate, Soil and Crop Sciences, Cornell University
Antonio DiTommaso, Professor and Chair, Soil and Crop Sciences, Cornell University
Scott Morris, Research Technician, Soil and Crop Sciences, Cornell University
March 28, 2019
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on Happy National Weed Appreciation Day!
It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ahhh, the weed. Despised by many, almost to the point of violence. Once, while waiting for my older child to get out of preschool, I sat in the lawn and blew dandelion heads to the delight of my infant. I’ve never forgotten the sudden manifestation of a red-faced man screaming at me about terrorizing the neighborhood. (I like to think my son was unaffected.)
The first step in IPM is determining if you have a problem. All those years ago, a large, angry man was a problem, but I contend to this day that the dandelions were not. An unknown author penned that weeds are people’s idea, not nature’s. And many through the years have found inspiration from weeds. While researching this post, I had the option of strictly sticking to quotes about weeds (don’t worry, I didn’t), but I will add a few. There are quotes about their survivability:
You can’t help but admire a plant that has adapted to lawn mowers.
A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows. – Doug Larson
A fresh and vigorous weed, always renewed and renewing, it will cut its wondrous way through rubbish and rubble. – William Jay Smith
Quotes about weeding:
Plant and your spouse plants with you; weed and you weed alone. – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
And many waxed poetic about their hidden value:
What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
When life is not coming up roses, Look to the weeds and find the beauty hidden within them. – F. Young
But beyond their value as a philosophical aid, can weeds be beneficial?
In fact, what weeds you find can tell you something about the soil. Is it wet or dry? Lean or fertile? Compacted? Acidic, alkaline, or neutral? Check out the short overview from the University of Vermont, What Weeds Can Tell You. Then act accordingly.
Often, weeds we find troublesome are plants we once valued. Dandelions, garlic mustard, plantain, and burdock are examples of plants brought over and cultivated by settlers to North America for food and medicine. And there are efforts to regain that value. One doesn’t need to spend too much time on the internet to find many resources on edible weeds. Take a look at this short video, Edible Weeds | From the Ground Up, developed by the University of Wyoming Extension (which includes some precautions you should take if you want to try eating your problems away). The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education recently funded a project looking at bringing edible weeds from the farm to the market.
These trichogramma wasp parasitized European corn borer eggs aren’t going to hatch.
There is research looking at the ecosystem services provided by weeds in agricultural settings. In their project, Integrating Insect, Resistance, and Floral Resource Management in Weed Control Decision-Making, Cornell researchers make the argument that while weeds can compete with crops, they can also benefit the entire system. They use milkweed along a field of corn as a case study. There are aphids that feed on the milkweed and produce honeydew, which benefits beneficial insects such as wasps that lay their eggs in the eggs of insect pests such as European corn borer. And that’s before they discuss the benefit to monarch butterflies.
Early flowering weeds, such as this purple deadnettle, provide an early spring food source for pollinators.
And speaking of butterflies… and bees… and other pollinators, in the write-up of a study looking at the capacity of untreated home lawns to provide pollination opportunities, they reclassified weeds as “spontaneous lawn flowers”. So much friendlier! By the way, they found 63 plant species in those lawns. In a parallel study looking at mowing and pollinators, they found that lazy lawn mowing led to more spontaneous lawn flowers leading to more pollinators. So now I have also given you an excuse to mow less. You’re welcome.
Some of our beneficial insect habitat plots looked really beautiful this fall! Others are still works in progress.
Today’s post is from our Biocontrol Specialist, Amara Dunn
Have seed and plant catalogs started arriving in your mailbox, yet? This is the time of year I start thinking wistfully about the arrival of spring. If your spring daydreams include planting habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects, keep reading for the latest on NYS IPM’s beneficial insect habitat establishment project!
Back in October I described the purpose and design of this project. So what have we learned after the first year? First, here’s a reminder of the different treatments we were comparing. Each treatment involved either direct seeding or transplanting habitat plants, in the spring or the fall, utilizing a different method for weed control.
Replace dead plants
Till, transplant, mulch
Replace dead plants
Till, direct seed
Till, plant buckwheat
Mow 1x, till, plant buckwheat
Mow 1x, transplant
E – control
Till, lay plastic
Remove plastic, direct seed
Herbicide 2x, till 1x
Till 1x, direct seed
And here’s how much time and money we spent on each method during our first year. Each treatment was applied to a total area of 460 ft2 (0.01 A).
A – Spring transplant
B – Spring transplant and mulch
C – Spring seeding
D – Buckwheat & fall seeding
E – Control
F – Solarize & fall seeding
G – Herbicide/tillage & fall seeding
What did we get for the time and money we invested? Well, the only two treatments that looked anything like habitat for beneficial insects by October were the ones we transplanted in the spring (A and B). And of the two, treatment B looked a lot better because of the mulch we spread around the plants after transplanting to help suppress weeds. Even so, we still hand weeded this treatment (and treatment A) twice during the year. But we got much better weed control in treatment B.
Four and a half months after transplanting, the beneficial habitat plants in treatments A (left) and B (right) were mostly growing well. But there was a big difference in weed control, in spite of similar amounts of time spent weeding each treatment
Direct-seeding in the spring resulted in a few blackeyed Susans by October (and a few partridge peas slightly earlier in the year), but did not look very impressive and had a lot of weeds.
After direct-seeding in the spring and mowing four times during the summer and fall, there were a few blackeyed Susans blooming in treatment C plots.
Of the three methods we used to manage weeds during the season, alternating herbicide applications and tillage resulted in the cleanest-looking plot by October.
A few weeds were present a week after the last time the herbicide/tillage treatment (G) was rototilled. We broadcast, raked, and pressed beneficial habitat seed into these plots.
Solarizing the soil was low-maintenance once the plastic was laid in the spring. We did learn that solarization is not a good strategy if you’re trying to control purselane. It grew just fine under our clear plastic, while most other weeds didn’t. In some places, it probably reduced the efficacy of solarization because it pushed the plastic away from the soil and allowed other weeds to germinate and grow.
In some solarized plots, purslane grew happily under the plastic. Purslane was not a common weed anywhere else in the field during the season.
The two crops of buckwheat we grew in treatment D not only suppressed weeds, but also attracted lots of pollinators and natural enemies to its blossoms before we mowed the crop down to keep it from going to seed.
The buckwheat established quickly and crowded out many weeds. We mowed the first crop in July and re-planted. We had to mow the second crop about 3 weeks before we transplanted (not ideal).
In summary, if one of your 2019 resolutions is to plant habitat for beneficial insects, I have two pieces of advice:
Spend 2019 controlling weeds. Even where we transplanted, weed pressure was a challenge, and investing in weed control before you plant is worth it!
If you have sufficient funds and need or want to establish habitat quickly, transplants are the way to go. Mulch will help you with your battle against weeds.
In 2019, we’re planning to keep monitoring these plots. Check back to see how the fall-planted and direct-seeded treatments look in their second year. Most of these methods are expected to take several years to reach their full potential. We will also start counting the insects (and insect-like creatures, like spiders) we find in these plots. During 2018, we already started seeing some beneficial insects showing up in these plots, so I’m looking forward to counting them once spring finally gets here!
Here are just a few of the beneficial insects we spotted in these plots during 2018. Soldier beetles, many hover flies, and lacewing larvae are all natural enemies of pests. We also saw lots of lady beetles and several other types of bees.
Thanks to Betsy Lamb and Brian Eshenaur who are working on this project with me, and to Bryan Brown for doing a weed assessment for us. You can read more about this project and see more pictures from 2018 at Biocontrol Bytes. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss future updates!
Today’s post is by Jaime Cummings, NYS IPM Field Crops and Livestock Coordinator
Scouting for corn pests and diseases (photo by Ken Wise)
Each year, hundreds of prospective certified crop advisors (CCA’s) prepare for the certification exams across the country. This certification is required by many reputable independent crop consultant firms for their scouts and consultants to ensure that they hire only the best and most well-informed applicants. Each region of the country has its own certification exam, including the Northeast region. Preparation for the Northeast region certification involves a three day intensive training in Syracuse in November, followed by self-study with online tutorial videos, and finally two exams in February. One exam is to earn the International Certified Crop Advisor certification, and the other is more specific to each region. It is required that all registrants pass both exams to earn their certification. Once certified, CCA’s must also earn annual continuing education credits to retain their certification and to stay current on relevant issues.
It is a challenging process, and only those who are well-prepared will pass the certification exams. The curriculum of the courses and exams covers four core competency areas: crop management, soil fertility and nutrient management, soil and water management, and pest management. Northeast regional CCA experts from the University of Vermont, Penn State University, Cornell University, SUNY Morrisville, SUNY ESF, NYS Department of Ag and Markets, USDA, DEC and other agribusiness industries, all come together to facilitate the annual basic and advanced trainings.
The steps of IPM are a key portion of the CCA training session.
The NYS IPM program has had a long history of involvement with these trainings in order to best prepare CCA’s for scouting for pests and diseases and for making sound management recommendations to their farmers, with the goal of reducing unnecessary pesticide applications through attention to thresholds and appropriate management guidelines. This year is no exception. The NYS IPM Field Crops and Livestock team members, Jaime Cummings and Ken Wise, who are both CCA’s, have been preparing to host sessions in the annual training next week. Jaime developed a training video for the IPM portion of the pest management basic training and will be co-hosting the Q&A session on weeds, pest and diseases. These sessions will provide the basic background information on the concepts and practices of integrated pest management. Ken will be leading an advanced training session on the importance of crop scouting and the proper scouting methods for various pests. Ken will also be co-hosting a session with another IPM specialist, Marion Zuefle, on bird management in cropping systems. The topics for the advanced training session vary each year, and other members of NYS IPM have been involved with leading those sessions on topics such as IPM in vegetable production systems, and development and use of weather-based tools for predicting pest and disease occurrence in past years.
Scouting for insects in alfalfa. (photo by Keith Waldron)
Through our involvement in this process, NYS IPM ensures that the next generation of CCA’s understands the importance of implementing the best IPM practices throughout their careers. Earning this certification means that a CCA understands that an integrated approach to pest and disease management is the best approach to minimize risk to individuals, the environment and the farmers’ bottom line through correct identification of pests, proper scouting and attention to action thresholds to minimize unnecessary pesticide applications. As the CCA exams approach, we wish all prospective CCA’s the best of luck, and look forward to working with them on NY farms in the future! If you’re interested in more information on the CCA program, check out this six minute video.
CCAs learn the basic concepts of IPM during the training.
Jaime Cummings is the Field Crops and Livestock IPM Coordinator of the NYS IPM Program. She is housed at 524 Bradfield Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca NY, 14853
October 29, 2018
by Matt Frye Comments Off on Sorry, I Can’t Help You [grow that horribly invasive plant].
Today’s post is from Matt Frye. FYI: (He didn’t just show up on our door talking ticks or rats! And we’re glad he escaped the vines to join our program.)
Kudzu is an invasive vine that was introduced from Japan to the United States in 1876. In its heyday, kudzu was planted extensively throughout the southeastern US, where it was touted for its ability to prevent soil erosion on embankments, restore soil nitrogen (it’s a legume), and provide high quality forage for livestock. Unfortunately, like many invasive organisms introduced outside of their native range, kudzu became a pest species due to its rapid growth rate and the ability to shade out existing vegetation.
Kudzu was planted extensively on slopes for erosion control.
Based on the detrimental effects of this plant and the cost of management, kudzu is listed as a noxious weed in several states. It has also been the subject of extensive research by the US Forest Service, including my graduate research at the University of Delaware, which examined the potential for biological control of kudzu using insect natural enemies.
Kudzu vines grow up trees, over bushes, and create a dense cover of foliage that kills other plants.
In 2014 I published a slide set describing my work and experience with kudzu: why it’s a pest, some of its ecological impacts, common misconceptions, how it was grown, and how it can be killed. Since publishing this document, I have received dozens of requests for more information about the plant. What do most people want to know? How to grow it! This has been for art installations, research on allelopathy, a test to determine if kudzu can grow in zero gravity (yes, kudzu literally will be sent to space), genetic studies and for use as wildlife forage.
The last request for information to grow kudzu in New York was most alarming, and led to communication with colleagues at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. As it turns out – there is a regulation (6 NYCRR Part 575) that prohibits the possession, transport, importation, sale, purchase, and introduction of kudzu and other prohibited and regulated invasive species in New York (thank goodness!). And while there is a loophole for permits to be issued, these are strictly for “research, education or other approved activities.”
Can I help you to manage the plant, and offer suggestions for what to do in spaces where kudzu has been cleared? You bet! Can I help you to grow the plant for research purposes? Sure. But if your interest in growing kudzu is for non-academic purposes –I can’t help you. Sorry (not sorry).
Matt Frye is our Community IPM Extension Area Educator, housed at 3 West Main Street, Suite 112, Elmsford, NY 10523
Matt provides education and conducts research on pests that occur in and around buildings where people live, work, learn and play. The focus of Matt’s program is to help people prevent issues with pests such as rodents, bed bugs, ticks, cockroaches, and indoor flies; or to provide management recommendations for existing problems.
October 9, 2018
by Debra E. Marvin Comments Off on Pollinator Habitat
Today, Biocontrol Specialist Amara Dunn addresses a common question.
So you want to grow habitat for pollinators…what’s the best method?
The short answer is that there probably isn’t a single best method. But there may be a best method for you. I know it’s not a very satisfying answer, but let me explain.
Remember that an area that provides food and shelter for pollinators (and, incidentally, natural enemies of pests, too!) contains a mix of plant species that bloom throughout the growing season and variation in plant shapes, sizes, and types. Leaving debris from last year’s growth is also helpful. While there are many good reasons to use native plants, non-native plants are ok too, as long as they aren’t invasive. There are plenty of resources out there for choosing plant species for pollinators, like this list of regionally-appropriate plants, and this database that is searchable by zip code. Other databases are searchable by specific plant characteristics.
Once you’ve selected the species you want to use in your pollinator habitat area, you have two main tasks: managing weeds, and establishing the plants. And here’s where the options can start to feel daunting. How will you manage weeds – hand pulling, herbicides, tillage, a cover crop, mulch? This is a critical step in creating habitat for pollinators, and one that is too-often overlooked. Experts recommend that you plan to spend at least one full growing season focused only on this task.
The weed management strategy you choose may also depend on how you would like to establish the plants you have chosen. The two main options are planting seeds directly into the ground, or transplanting small seedlings (or “plugs”). But should you do this in the spring or the fall? In the Northeast United States, experts recommend sowing seeds in the fall. Fall is also a good time to transplant perennials. And it has the advantage of allowing you to spend the entire growing season controlling weeds. But depending on your project timeline, it may not feel like the best option for you.
To help you make informed decisions about the best way to establish habitat for pollinators, I am working with Dr. Betsy Lamb and Brian Eshenaur to measure the costs, labor, and effectiveness of different methods for establishing pollinator habitat. The work is being done in demonstration plots located at Cornell AgriTech at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. We are comparing six different methods, summarized below.
As you can see, we’ve included a mixture of weed management techniques (cover crop, mulch, mowing, herbicide and tillage, soil solarization) and different plant establishment techniques (seeds vs. plants, spring vs. fall timing). And we’re keeping track of the time and money spent on each method.
You can read more about the details of the methods we’re using and see pictures of our spring planting and seeding on my blog, Biocontrol Bytes. Over the next month or so, we will do our fall seeding. Stay tuned as we finish up the season and calculate inputs of time and money and analyze data collected by NYS IPM’s Bryan Brown on weed management success.
Amara Dunn is the Biocontrol Specialist for the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, Cornell University, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, 630 W. North Street, Geneva, NY 14456. Follow her blog, BIOCONTROL BYTE
March 1, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Climate, Weather, Data: Change Is the Name of the Game
Nearly two years ago, NYS IPM convened “Climate, Weather, Data,” a statewide conference focused on pests and our changing climate. Because it’s here. It’s real. So … what will a shifting climate mean for our farms and forests, our parks and gardens?
The Climate Change Garden plans and plants for the future. Photo credit E. Lamb.
We brought together researchers, crop consultants, farmers, and more from New York and the Northeast for an eye-opening glimpse into the future. One example must speak for the rest: the Climate Change Garden, housed at the Cornell Botanic Gardens, demonstrates how a range of food and nectar crops are like messengers from the future. They speak to the effects of warming oceans, drought, heavy rain, and rising temperatures on food crops, pollinator resources, and superweeds.
As if on cue, the winter of 2015-16 followed by the drought of 2016 (not to mention the rains and temperature swings of 2017) was a messenger from the future in its own right. Drought threw a monkey wrench into IPM-funded research intended to create weed forecasting models in both conventional and organic systems. Conclusions? As the researcher charitably put it, the unusual 2016 weather provided a good opportunity to look at the limiting impact of low soil moisture; with additional years of data collection, this should be a valuable year.
And take IPM research on the brown-marmorated stink bug, aka BMSB. Because of the staggering number of crops on its chow-list, and, come winter, its role as a most unwelcome houseguest in offices and homes, BMSB has plenty of people riled. But dramatic temperature swings in winter and spring (especially spring) tricked BMSB into ditching its cold hardiness too soon and falling prey to that last sudden cold snap.
We could go on, but do we need to? You get the picture. It’s a brave new world out there, and change is the name of the game.
January 31, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Hops on top
Sometimes on a snowy evening there’s fine company to be had with good friends and a six-pack from your local brewery. So settle back and take a moment to savor what it took to get you there.
Hops flowers, once fully mature and used wet or properly dried, provide the distinctive taste that brewers build on to craft their beers. Photo provided.
Long ago yet close to home — the mid 19th through the early 20th centuries — New York led the world in hops production. Back then, we supplied that critical beer ingredient for breweries worldwide. But then two new and dastardly fungal diseases blew in and put an end to all that.
Now it’s déjà-vu all over again. With microbreweries and tasting rooms on the upswing, hop yards are too.
Yes, hops can be prey to the usual range of pests lurking in the soil or pathogens drifting in on the wind. But with Cornell’s IPM research there to support farmers, it’s different this time around. Today’s growers have a clear advantage that yesteryear’s famers sorely lacked — detailed production guides that cover a range of new techniques and research on biological and ecological IPM tactics unknown a century ago. Example? Flowering cover crops that not only suppress weeds but serve as a nectary to attract and retain the beneficial insects that keep pests under control.
Cosmos are an old-time favorite for gardeners, but hops growers have learned they provide nectar for minute (as in “tiny”) pirate bugs. These pirate bugs are a welcome predator of a difficult pest — the two-spotted spider mite. Photo provided.
Of course there’s more — much more — and IPM’s presence at the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory contributes to careful research now published in the Cornell Integrated Hops Production Guide and available to farmers throughout New York and the Northeast. Let’s raise a glass to the growers and researchers who have made this possible.
PUBLISHED ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2017 | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County
KEMPTVILLE, ONTARIO. — On my twice-monthly drive on Highway 416 between Prescott and Ottawa, I pass the sign for Kemptville, a town of about 3,500 which lies roughly 40 km north of the St. Lawrence. It has a rich history, and no doubt is a fine place to live, but one of these days I need to stop there to verify that Kemptville is in fact a village of surpassing tidiness. (It’s Exit 34 in case anyone wants to take some field notes and get back to me.)
Most of us would prefer not to live in totally unkempt surroundings, but Western culture may have taken sanitation a bit too far. Claims that cleanliness is next to godliness have yet to be proven by science, but research does indicate a neat, well-coiffed landscape is bad for bees and other pollinators.
Dandelions are an essential early-season flowers for our 416 species of wild bees in New York.
With all due respect to honeybees, they are seldom required to produce fruits and vegetables. Please don’t spread this around, as I do not want to tarnish their public image. But the fact is that wild bees, along with other insects and the odd vertebrate here and there, do a bang-up job pollinating our crops, provided there are enough types of wild plants (i.e., messiness) around to keep them happy for the rest of the season.
As landscapes become neater and less diverse, wild bees cannot find enough natural foods to keep them in the neighborhood for the few weeks of the year we’d like them to wallow around in our apple or cucumber flowers. In sterile, highly manipulated environments like almond groves and suburban tracts, honeybees are critical.
Dr. Scott McArt, a bee specialist at Cornell’s Dyce Laboratory for Bee Research, says there are an estimated 416 species of wild bees in New York State. When I estimate stuff, the numbers tend to be less exact, such as “more than three,” but I’ve met Dr. McArt, and I trust him on this count. Dr. McArt is quick to point out that wild critters take care of things just fine in most places. He has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. My object is not to malign honeybees, but to point out that if we learn to live with a bit more unkemptness, we will improve the health of wild bees, wildflowers, food crops, and ourselves in the process.
Dr. McArt has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. There was a presentation about it at the 2015 Pollinator Conference.
Messiness also takes pressure off managed honeybees, an increasingly fragile species, by providing them a rich source of wild, non-sprayed nectar and pollen. Orchardists do not spray insecticides when their crops are flowering because they know it will kill bees. But many fungicides, which are not intended to kill insects, are sprayed during bloom. One of the unexpected findings of research done through the Dyce Lab is that non-lethal sprays like fungicides are directly linked with the decline of both wild bees and honeybees. But banning a particular chemical is not a panacea—the situation is far more complex than that. What is needed to save bees of all stripes is a real change in mindset regarding landscape aesthetics.
This garden at Bethpage State Park Golf Course is an excellent example of entropy. Primarily established with native wildflowers, there are also a significant number of volunteers. NYS IPM staff found over 100 different species of insects, primarily bees and wasps, taking advantage of the bounty.
Increasing the entropy on one’s property is as easy as falling off a log (which of course is a literal example of increased entropy). Pollinators need plants which bloom at all different times, grow at various heights, and have a multitude of flower shapes and structures. For greater abundance and diversity of wild flowering plants, all you need to do is stop. Stop constantly mowing everything. Choose some places to mow once a year in the late fall, and others where you will mow every second third year. Stop using herbicides, both the broadleaf kind and the non-selective type.
Before you know it, elderberry and raspberry will spring up. Woody plants like dogwoods and viburnums will start to appear. Coltsfoot and dandelions, essential early-season flowers, will come back. Asters and goldenrod (which by the way do not cause allergies), highly important late-season sources of nectar and pollen, will likewise return.
Despite their unassuming flowers, Virginia creeper attracts a large number of pollinating bees and wasps. Photo: Joellen Lampman
Wild grape, virgin’s bower, Virginia creeper and wild cucumber will ramble around, without any help whatsoever. However, you may choose to help this process along by sowing perennial or self-seeding wildflowers like purple coneflower, foxglove, bee balm, mint, or lupine. Even dandelion is worth planting. You’ll not only get more wild pollinators, you’ll also see more birds. Redstarts, tanagers, orioles, hummingbirds, catbirds, waxwings and more will be attracted to such glorious neglect. No feeders required.
I strongly advocate for more chaos in the plant department, even if the local Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Board frowns upon it. Remember, just because you’re an unkempt community doesn’t mean you have to change the name of your town.
Bryan Brown, Ph.D., is the new Integrated Weed Management Specialist
I’m Bryan Brown, the new Integrated Weed Management Specialist at NYS IPM. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to work with growers and promote IPM solutions for weed management. I came here from the University of Maine, where I compared the economic and ecological effects of several weed management strategies and tested a new cultivation technology that uses several tools, sometimes in tandem, to target the in-row zone.
Integrated weed management
No single weed control tactic is completely effective. And relying on one single tactic is how weeds develop resistance. So what we need to do is integrate more tactics. Attack weeds in as many ways as possible. For conventional growers, a basic step is to use a range of herbicides with different modes of action. Other direct controls include cultivation, flaming, mowing, and biocontrol.
Less direct tactics can also make a huge difference in weed control effectiveness. For example, crop rotation allows for use of different herbicides, fertility, and tillage dates — all of which can be adjusted to combat certain weed species. Likewise, crop cultivar and plant spacing can be altered to maximize competitiveness with weeds, and cover-crop residues can lessen weed emergence. Growers can be even more successful with these practices if they are used to target the biology and life cycle of their most problematic weeds.
When many growers think about weeds, they think of big nasty plants. But I like to encourage growers to think about weed seeds. The number of weed seeds in the soil is very important to the success of weed control tactics. Even if you kill 99% of the weeds in your crop, if you start with 1,000 germinating weed seeds per square foot (yes, that’s common), ten of those weeds will survive and compete with your crop. So depleting the number of weed seeds in the soil is key to effective management. As is often the case in IPM, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
How do you reduce the number of weed seeds in the soil? Control weeds before they produce seed, mow crop boarders to prevent seeds from blowing in, and use seed-free fertilizers. You can also create a stale seedbed by encouraging weed seeds to germinate, then killing them before planting. With these techniques, some farmers have sharply reduced the number of weed seeds in their soil, improving their in-season weed control.
I’m especially interested in finding weed management solutions that have multiple benefits. For example, cultivation kills weeds but can also be used to increase nitrogen mineralization, improve water infiltration, and control soil-dwelling pests like cutworms. Cover-crop residue can suppress weeds but it can also increase soil organic matter, interfere with navigation of some insect pests, and reduce splashing of soil-borne pathogens. So perhaps weed management can be integrated with management of soils, pathogens, and insect pests?