Last week, some colleagues told me about a cool online database that will help you learn more about how classical biocontrol is helping us fight invasive insects.
Classical biocontrol means introducing a natural enemy of a pest to help manage that pest. The natural enemy establishes a population where you have released it (and maybe even spreads), so that you don’t need to repeatedly release more natural enemies. It is a strategy that can be especially useful against invasive pests.
One thing that makes a pest invasive is the fact that when it arrives in a new place (for example, on a new continent), native organisms don’t eat it because they have not evolved with this new pest as a food source. Sometimes scientists can search the geographic area from which the invasive pest came and find a natural enemy of that pest. Many tests are done over a long period of time in order to assess potential unintended consequences of introducing this natural enemy to a new place. For example, scientists determine whether the new natural enemy is likely to also impact populations of native organisms (especially those that are not pests). Only after extensive study will this new natural enemy be released to help reduce populations of the invasive pest.
When done carefully, classical biocontrol can be a lower-risk solution to managing invasive pests compared to chemical pest management. It is also a long-term solution. The new natural enemy reproduces in its new geographic range and brings the invasive pest population into balance. The invasive species won’t be eliminated, but it will likely do less damage.
A new database from the University of Massachusetts lets you learn more about insects that have been introduced to North America to control invasive insect pests as classical biological control agents. You can Search the Catalog by the scientific name of the target pest, the scientific name of the natural enemy, information about where and when the natural enemy was first released, or other criteria.
You will need to know the scientific name of the pest or natural enemy you are interested in, but a quick Google search can help you with that. For example, Adelges tsugae is the hemlock woolly adelgid, which you may have heard about. If not, you can learn more here. Laricobius nigrinus was released to help manage hemlock woolly adelgid. Other examples include Agrilus planipennis (emerald ash borer) and Lilioceris lilii (lily leaf beetle). NYS IPM is involved in a project to use classical biocontrol to manage this last pest in NY.
As the days start to get shorter and cooler, you might find yourself spending more time indoors. And if that’s the case, why not spend some time learning more about how classical biocontrol is helping to manage pests in the landscapes around you?
You’ve read about all the different methods we are testing for establishing native wildflowers and grasses as habitat for pollinators and natural enemies of pests. You know we learned a lot in our first season. You know we’ve been using several different techniques to collect insects in these plots. And you saw a pictorial summary of our sampling and some of the insects we’ve caught in Summer 2019.
Wouldn’t you like to come see these plots in person, hear about our preliminary results, and learn more about attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects to your farm or yard?
If you live reasonably close to Geneva, NY, you can! We are having two field events this fall:
On Wednesday, September 25, 2019, stop by our field between 3:30 and 6:30 PM for an Open House. There will be no program, just stop by and talk with Betsy Lamb, Brian Eshenaur, and I. All the details can be found here, including the address and a map to help you find our field.
On Thursday, September 26, 2019, we have a Twilight Field Day from 5 to 7 PM. This meeting has been planned with growers in mind (especially Christmas tree and nursery growers). DEC credits (1.5) will be available for categories 1a, 3a, 24, 25, and 10, and dinner is included. The cost for this meeting is $15, and we need you to register so we know how much food to provide. All the details (including the registration link) can be found here.
If you’re coming to either of these events, we’ll have lots of signs up to help you find our field. Look for the following image:
This isn’t biocontrol, but it’s very important! Have you heard about the invasive spotted lanternfly? Do you want to learn where we are in our efforts to keep it out of New York, and to manage it if (and when) it does show up?
New York State Integrated Pest Management is hosting a meeting in Binghamton, NY on Thursday August 15 where you can get answers to these questions.
This conference has been approved for 7.5 Certified Nursery Landscape Professional credits, and 6 NYS Pesticide Recertification credits in the categories of 1a, 2, 3a, 6a, 9, 10, 22 and 25.
This month’s post is about a project being led by Jaime Cummings, the Field Crops and Livestock IPM Coordinator at NYS IPM. The goal is to improve biological control of the cereal leaf beetle, a pest of small grains. Before we tell you about the biocontrol project, you’ll need some background information on this pest and the other management options available. You can use the following links to navigate to each section of this post:
The cereal leaf beetle (CLB), Oulema melanopus, can be a significant pest of winter and spring small grains production in NY, especially in parts of western NY. This invasive species was first detected in Michigan in 1962, and has since become established in many grain producing states in the US, despite quarantine and pesticide eradication efforts in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
You may be familiar with this pest either in the larval or beetle stage (Fig. 1). CLB has one or two generations per growing season, and the adults overwinter in hedgerows, woods or field margins. We usually start seeing the adults move into small grains fields in April or May to lay eggs which develop into the damaging larvae. The larger the larvae get, the more damage they inflict on the crop. After about two weeks of feeding, the larvae drop to the ground and pupate for about two weeks before the adults emerge again.
When looking for these pests, keep an eye out for the typical larval feeding damage that looks like strips of green tissue missing between leaf veins. Severely damaged leaves may appear skeletonized, and intense feeding pressure in a field may result in a ‘frosted’ appearance of flag leaves (Fig. 2).
Considering that the top two leaves of the wheat/barley/oat crop are what contributes most to grain yield, severe infestations of CLB can significantly impact yield and grain quality. Even in small grain or mixed stand forage crops, this pest can have negative effects on the yield and quality of the forage because they can significantly reduce leaf area and photosynthetic capability of the crop.
Scouting for cereal leaf beetle and deciding when to spray
It’s important to scout for this pest, usually starting in early to mid-June when larvae are first appearing. The economic threshold for insecticide application for CLB is when you count an average of three or more larvae per plant before the boot stage or one or more larvae per flag leaf after the boot stage. Occurrence of this pest can be inconsistent within a field, therefore plan to scout weekly and walk a random pattern throughout each field stopping at 10 random locations to count larvae on 10 plants at each location. Because insecticides labeled for CLB target the larval stages, in order for your pesticide applications to be most effective, make sure that at least 25% of CLB eggs have hatched and that larvae are present and actively feeding when you decided to spray. And, if you’re seeing adults in late June or beyond, it’s probably too late to spray for the larvae. (Always follow label recommendations and restrictions when applying pesticides)
Paying attention to CLB populations in your fields via scouting is an important part of an integrated management approach for minimizing losses to this pest. A growing degree day (GDD) model for CLB developed in Michigan determined that adult CLB begin to emerge around 350-400 GDD (base 48) to begin egg laying.
Biocontrol of cereal leaf beetle
Unfortunately, there is no specific host plant resistance available for CLB, but there are natural predators of the larvae and eggs which can help to keep the pest population in check, and possibly below the economic threshold when well-established in an area. Lady beetles are known to prey on CLB larvae and eggs, and there is at least one egg parasite though it is not widely distributed.
There is also a CLB larval parasitoid wasp, Tetrastichus julis, which was originally introduced from Europe as a biological control agent in Michigan in 1967 (Fig. 3). Subsequent releases into other states, including NY in 1973, have led to a sporadic establishment of this biological control parasitoid throughout small grain production areas of the US.
Our project: Improving biocontrol of cereal leaf beetle
Given that CLB damage can be widespread and undermanaged in many small grains fields in NYS, and under the advice of Dr. Elson Shields (Cornell University Field Crops Entomologist), the NYS IPM program decided to try to determine the parasitism levels of CLB larvae in various locations around the state and to try to increase populations of the parasitoid in the Aurora area of Cayuga County, where the CLB tends to be a perennial pest. The multiyear project was initiated this year, with CLB larval collections from locations in six counties. However, there were no CLB present to collect at two of the locations, so the data collected in 2019 includes only four locations (Table 1).
Table 1. Cereal leaf beetle collection efforts for determining parasitism levels in 2019.
# CLB larvae collected
winter wheat, rye, barley
winter wheat, rye, barley
spring oats and peas
At each location, a target of approximately 100 CLB larvae of all different sizes/growth stages were collected by hand from wheat, barley or oat fields. The larvae were temporarily reared in incubation chambers on host plant leaves until approximately half of the larvae were dissected to determine baseline parasitism levels for each location (Fig. 4).
The eggs of the parasitoid are visible when the CLB larvae are cut open under a microscope (Fig. 5).
After baseline parasitism levels were determined for each collection location, the other half of the CLB larvae were then released at the Cornell Musgrave research farm near Aurora, NY (Fig. 6). This process will be repeated over the next few years.
The goals of this project are to determine the established levels of the T. julis parasitoid around the state since the initial release in 1973, and to try to determine if we can increase its population at the research farm through consecutive releases. From this first year of data collection, we know that the parasitoid population is low at the research farm in Cayuga County (6%) and at two of the collection sites (7% and 10%, in Seneca and Yates Counties, respectively), but was at approximately 30% at the Ithaca (Tompkins County) collection site (Fig. 7).
We also know that although there has been a need to spray insecticides to manage CLB at the research farm in Cayuga County and near the other collection sites, there has been no need to spray for CLB at the Ithaca (Tompkins County) collection sites. It’s likely that the T. julis parasitoid population at the Ithaca site keeps the CLB population below economic threshold levels. We hope that by intentionally distributing this parasitoid into an area with known CLB problems, we can establish a robust parasitoid population that may result in a reduction of necessary insecticide sprays for this pest.
This post was written by Jaime Cummings, Ken Wise, and Amara Dunn, all of the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program.
Practicing good integrated pest management in the greenhouse requires correct identification of the pest. Accurate pest ID is also critical to successful use of biocontrol. Aphids are a good example. Biocontrol of aphids works best when you match the biocontrol agent to the aphid species you have. When I first learned this, I was a bit intimidated, because aphids are pretty small, and I’m not an entomologist. But the four aphid species you are most likely to encounter in your greenhouse are actually pretty easy to differentiate.
Anatomy of an aphid
In order to successfully ID aphids, you need to know (just a little) about aphid anatomy. All aphids are pretty small (between approximately 1/16 and 1/8 inches long). In addition to six legs and a body, aphids have antennae. Antennae attach near their eyes and are angled back over their bodies. They also have two little “spikes” that protrude from their rear end. These are called cornicles. Not so bad, right?
Green peach aphid
Green peach aphids come in different colors (from green to, well, peachy pink) and they are one of the smaller species. Their cornicles are the same color as their body (whatever that color is), and have dark tips on the ends. Green peach aphids also have an indentation in their head between the bases of their antennae.
Melon (or cotton) aphid
Melon aphids (also called cotton aphids) also come in a range of colors that include light yellow, green, dark green, or almost black. Regardless of the body color, the cornicles will always be dark. Also, there’s no indentation in their head between the bases of the antennae. This is another small aphid species.
Foxglove aphids are large (for an aphid). Their bodies are light green, but often shiny. There is an indentation in their head between their antennae. Their antennae are extra-long, extending well beyond the end of their body, and appear to have dark spots on them because the joints of the antennae are dark. The joints of their legs are also dark. Check where the cornicles attach to the body of the aphid. Foxglove aphids have darker green spots on their bodies at the base of the cornicles. These aphids usually like to hang out on the lower leaves of a plant, though they will infest flower petals sometimes.
Another large aphid, potato aphids come in pink and green. They look like they have a dark stripe running down the middle of their backs, and their body appears faintly segmented. They also have an indentation in their head between the antennae. Of the four species we’re discussing here, only the melon aphids lack this indentation.
To see these features, you will need a little magnification, but you don’t need a fancy microscope. Find a hand lens or a magnifier with 10X magnification. I like to keep one in my backpack so I’m always prepared.
There are even some relatively inexpensive 10X lenses you can snap on to your smartphone or tablet. Not only does this turn your device into a little microscope, but you can take a picture to document what you see (and show to an expert, later).
You can also find (at least some of) these four aphid species outside. Last summer I spotted the aphid below on an acorn squash plant in August. Now that you know what to look for, what species do you think it might be?
One minor complication: Each of these four aphid species can either have wings, or be without wings. Usually aphids you find in a greenhouse have no wings, so you can stick with the above descriptions. But winged aphids can appear in the greenhouse, particularly when populations get very high. If you find aphids with wings in your greenhouse, the above descriptions won’t apply; ask for some help from your local extension office.
Choosing the right natural enemy
A good biocontrol option for aphids is a parasitoid wasp from the genus Aphidius. These tiny wasps are called parasitoids because they lay their eggs inside of aphids. As the young wasp grows, it kills the aphid and turns it into a mummy.
But if you want to purchase Aphidius wasps to release in your greenhouse (or the banker plants and prey that support them; read more here), you’ll need to know which Aphidius species to use. Aphidius colemani works well against green peach and melon aphids, while Aphidius ervi works well against foxglove and potato aphids. Another natural enemy you can use is Aphidoletes aphidimyza. This is a tiny fly whose larvae are voracious aphid predators. Although it seems to be less effective against foxglove aphid, it may work well in combination with another natural enemy.
Like all biocontrols, Aphidius wasps and Aphidoletes larvae need to be released while your aphid population is very small, before it gets out of hand. Aphid infestations can explode very quickly! Scout your crop regularly, and keep records so you know which aphid species you are likely to have. (Consider the Pocket IPM Greenhouse Scout app to help you with your scouting and pest management.) Then plan your biocontrol releases accordingly. Parasitoids and predators for aphids should be released preventatively on crops that are prone to aphids.
If you’ve inspected your aphids at 10X magnification, and still aren’t sure which species you have, contact your local extension office for help with ID. If you are planning to send a picture, make sure that it is clear and shows the features of the aphid that you now know are important (antennae, body, cornicles).
You can learn more about aphid biocontrol in this factsheet from John Sanderson (Department of Entomology, Cornell University) on managing aphids in a greenhouse. Identification of these four common aphid species and which biocontrols you can use against them are also summarized here. The natural enemies listed in the chart are meant to be a starting place. Maximizing the efficacy of your aphid biocontrol program takes some trial and error and willingness to fine-tune your program to the crop and environmental conditions you’re dealing with. Suppliers of aphid natural enemies also have great information about how to use these biocontrol agents most effectively.
By the end of our first field season, we had started using six different methods to establish wildflowers as habitat for beneficial insects (plus a weedy mowed control treatment). We also collected data on how much time and money we spent on establishment and how successful our weed management was. You can read about results from Year 1 in my post from last November.
But beneficial insect habitat establishment is not a one-year project. The establishment methods we started to implement in 2018 are ongoing, including periodic mowing of direct seeded plots, and hand-weeding of transplanted plots. We’ll keep track of how much time and money we invest in these plots in 2019, too.
And we want to know whether these plots are actually attracting beneficial or pest insects. So, in 2019 we are starting “Phase II” of our beneficial insect habitat work. We want to know which and how many insects (and other arthropods, like spiders) are being attracted to each type of plot. We will also count insects in no habitat plots (weedy, mowed occasionally) and mowed grass plots in the middle of the Christmas tree field for comparison.
Insect collection began in early May, and we are using four different techniques:
Sweep net – This is what it sounds like. We “sweep” a net through the air above the ground to capture mostly flying insects, or those who may be resting on the plants.
Butterfly and moth count – We walk through the field, counting how many of each butterfly or moth species we see in each plot.
Pan traps – These are bright yellow and blue bowls filled with soapy water. One bowl of each color is placed in each plot for 2 days, then we collect the insects that have been attracted to the colorful bowls and were trapped in the soapy water. This method will help us count flying insects, especially bees and wasps.
Pitfall traps – These are clear plastic 16-oz deli cups (like you might use for take-out food) that are sunk into the ground in each plot. Insects that crawl along the ground fall in. We will use this method to count mostly ground-dwelling insects.
I will write another blog post or two about this project during or at the end of this season. If you want to see more frequent updates, follow me on Twitter (@AmaraDunn). I’ll post weekly pictures of this project, including which beneficial insect habitat plants are blooming each week. You can also see lots of pictures from this project on Instagram (biocontrol.nysipm).
My post from last February described modes of action for biopesticides that target plant diseases…as well as the difference between a biopesticide and a biostimulant. January’s post described the modes of action of five biofungicides in an ongoing vegetable trial. But there are plenty of insect and mite pests out there, too. You can attract or release predatory or parasitic insects and mites or beneficial nematodes to deal with these arthropod (insect and mite) pests. But you can also use bioinsecticides that control insects and mites. The active ingredients include microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses), plant extracts, or other naturally-occurring substances. Want to know how they work? Keep reading.
Bioinsecticides can have one (or more) of the following modes of action:
Kill on contact
Kill after ingestion
The examples included in the following descriptions are reported either on the bioinsecticide labels or in promotional materials produced by the manufacturers. And these are just examples, not meant to be an exhaustive list of bioinsecticides with each mode of action.
Killing on contact
Some bioinsecticides need to directly contact the body of the insect or mite in order to kill it. Bioinsecticides that contain living fungi work this way. The tiny fungal spores land on the insect or mite pest, germinate (like a seed), and infect the body of the pest. The fungus grows throughout the pest’s body, eventually killing it. If the relative humidity is high enough, you might even see insects that look like they are covered with powder or fuzz (but this is not necessary for the pest to die). This powdery or fuzzy stuff growing on the pest is the fungus producing more spores. Bioinsecticides that contain the fungal species Beauveria bassiana (e.g., BotaniGard, Mycotrol), Metarhizium anisopliae or brunneum (e.g., Met52), or Isaria fumosorosea (NoFly) are examples of fungal bioinsecticides with contact activity.
Bioinsecticides that contain spinosad (including Entrust, SpinTor, and others) work because the active ingredient affects the nervous and muscular systems of the insect or mite, paralyzing and eventually killing it. It can kill the pest either through contact, or through ingestion (more on that in a moment). The bioinsecticide Venerate contains dead Burkholderia bacteria (strain A396) and compounds produced while growing the bacteria. One mode of action of Venerate is that it contains enzymes that degrade the exoskeleton (outer shell) of insects and mites on contact.
Killing by ingestion
Some bioinsecticides need to be eaten (ingested) in order to kill. Pesticides that contain the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (often called Bt for short) as the active ingredient are a good example. Proteins that were made by Bt while the bioinsecticide was being manufactured are eaten by insects and destroy their digestive systems. Several different subspecies of Bt are available as bioinsecticides, and the subspecies determines which insect pest it will be effective against. There are many bioinsecticides registered in NY that contain Bt as an active ingredient. Check NYSPAD for labels, and make sure you choose the right pesticide for the pest and setting where you need control. Bt products do not work on mites, aphids, or whiteflies.
Insect viruses are another example of a bioinsecticide active ingredient that kills through ingestion. For example, Gemstar contains parts of a virus that infects corn earworms and tobacco budworms. Once these caterpillars eat the Gemstar, the virus replicates inside the pest, eventually killing it.
Some bioinsecticides repel insects from the plants you want to protect. However, this mode of action may only work on certain pest species, or certain life stages of the pest. Read and follow the label. Bioinsecticides containing azadirachtin or neem oil, and Grandevo are reported to have repellent activity for some pests. Grandevo contains dead bacteria (Chromobacterium substugae strain PrAA4-1) and compounds produced by the bacteria while they were alive and growing.
If you want insect and mite pests dead as soon as possible, I understand the sentiment. But in many cases stopping the pests from eating your plants would be just as good, right? Some bioinsecticides cause pests to lose their appetite days before they actually die. Like bioinsecticides that kill pests outright, some bioinsecticides that inhibit feeding require ingestion, while others work on contact. And these bioinsecticides may work this way for only certain pest species of certain ages. Read and follow those labels! Bioinsecticides containing Bt require ingestion and some can stop pest feeding before actually killing the pest. The same goes for Gemstar (corn earworm virus). This is another mode of action of azadirachtin products against some pests.
Many insects and mites need to molt (shed their skin as they go from one life stage to another). Bioinsecticides that interfere with molting prevent pests from completing their life cycle. Like feeding inhibitors, these bioinsecticides won’t directly kill the pests you have, but they can prevent them from multiplying. This is another mode of action (again, for certain pests at certain stages of development) listed for azadirachtin products and Venerate (Burkholderia spp. strain A396).
There are two main types of bioinsecticides that prevent or slow insect reproduction. Pheromones are compounds that confuse insects that are looking for mates. If males and females can’t find each other, there won’t be a next generation of the pest. Pheromones can be especially useful when the adults that are looking for mates don’t feed (e.g., moths). Isomate and Checkmate are two examples of pheromones available for certain fruit pests. Other bioinsecticides actually reduce the number of offspring produced by a pest. This is one of the modes of action of Grandevo (Chromobacterium substugae strain PRAA4-1) against certain pests.
Why do I care?
Do you mean besides the fact that you are a curious person and you want to know how biopesticides work? Knowing the mode of action for the pesticide you use (among other things) allows you to maximize its efficacy. Does the bioinsecticide need to contact the pest, or be eaten by it? This determines where, when, and how you apply it. Do you want to use a bioinsecticide that inhibits growth of the pest? Make sure you use it when pests are young. (Sidenote: Like all biopesticides, bioinsecticides generally work best on smaller populations of younger pests.) Is the first generation of the pest the one that causes the most damage? Don’t rely on a bioinsecticide that inhibits reproduction. Although if the pest overwinters in your field and doesn’t migrate in, maybe you could reduce the population for the next season.
Now is a great time of year to consider the insect and mite pests you are likely to encounter this season, then learn which bioinsecticides include these pests (and your crop and setting) on the label. Always read and follow the label of any pesticide (bio or not). How do you know whether these bioinsecticides are likely to work in NY on the pests listed on the label? That’s a topic for another post. In the meantime, the Organic Production Guides for fruit and vegetables from NYS IPM are a great place to start. When available, they report efficacy of OMRI-listed insecticides (including some bioinsecticides). Your local extension staff are another great resource.
As I’ve discussed before, the natural enemies that provide biological control of pests include both larger creatures (like insects, mites, and nematodes) and microorganisms (fungi, bacteria, and viruses) that combat pests in a variety of ways. Microorganism natural enemies are regulated as pesticides (one type of biopesticide), while the larger natural enemies are not. Growers who are successfully using biocontrol insects, mites, and nematodes usually recognize that they need to apply pesticides in such a way that they are compatible with the biocontrol organisms they use. Take a look at my April post for a summary of online resources that can help you check compatibility of pesticides (including biopesticides) with natural enemies.
Some of these compatibility resources include information on the effects of pesticides (and biopesticides) on bees. Pollinators (including honey bees, lots of other bees, and some non-bees) are very important beneficial insects. You may have noticed that they have found their way into several of my blog posts. So, I wanted to let you know about a brand new resource (hot off the digital presses) to help you protect pollinators.
It includes information not only on pesticides used alone, but (when available) on synergistic effects when multiple pesticide active ingredients are used together. When you combine some chemicals (either in the tank or in the environment) the mixture is more toxic than both chemicals alone.
Where available, it summarizes pesticide toxicity to other bees besides just honey bees (e.g., bumble bees and solitary bees). You can read more about why this is important in this recent article.
It describes what we know about sub-lethal (in other words, negative effects on the bees that are less serious than death) effects of pesticides on bees.
It includes about half a dozen biopesticide active ingredients.
You might be asking: If a chemical on this table is toxic to bees, will it also be toxic to the insect and mite natural enemies I am releasing or conserving on my farm or in my garden? I wish I had a definitive answer to that. As you can see from the nearly three pages of Literature Cited at the end of this document, collecting these data is a time-consuming process. For now, stick with the compatibility resources that are already available, and ask the companies you buy from (pesticides or natural enemies) about compatibility.
In closing, a huge amount of work went into this resource to summarize so much useful and current (as of October 2018) information in an easy-to-read table. Bravo to the authors! The Pollinator Network @ Cornell has other helpful resources for growers on protecting pollinators. Winter is a great time to make plans for using IPM and protecting the pollinators and natural enemies that are so good for the crops we grow!
Fair warning, this is going to be a longer post. But partly that’s because there are so many pictures. I will start with the overview, then go a bit deeper into the weeds (literally and figuratively). To help you navigate more quickly, here’s a sort of table of contents that will quickly take you to the information you may be most interested to read:
Remember back in June when I told you about the different techniques we were comparing for establishing habitat for beneficial insects? Time for an update! Here’s a brief, two-page summary of the first year of this project. For all the juicy details (and lots of pictures), keep reading!
First, remember that when I say “beneficial insects”, I mean both pollinators and natural enemies of pests. (Technically, arthropod would be a better term than insect, because spiders and predatory mites are some of the beneficial creatures we’d like to attract.) Fortunately, the same type of plants provide food and shelter for both pollinators and natural enemies on your farm or in your garden.
We used six different techniques to establish this habitat during Spring, Summer, and Fall of 2018. Treatment E was our control, where we did nothing but mow (after initial herbicide applications).
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
We transplanted the following species in treatments A, B, and D:
Number of plants in each 5 x 23 ft plot
Blue false indigo
Tall white beard tongue
Rudbeckia fulgida va. Fulgida
Little bluestem (grass)
New England aster
Symphyotrichum novae- angliae
We planted seeds in treatments C, F, and G. The seed mixture we used was the Showy Northeast Native Wildflower & Grass Mix from Ernst Seeds, which included a more diverse species mix. This mix changes a bit from year to year. If you’re interested, you can learn about the details of the specific mix we used here.
Labor and costs
Not surprisingly, there were big differences in how much time and money we spent on different treatments this first year. The costs and hours below are for a total area of 460 ft2 (0.01 A) per treatment. Most of the cost differences are due to the huge difference in seed versus transplant expenses. We paid about $2 per plant and needed 180 plants for each treatment. In contrast, we spent about $12.50 on seed for each treatment. You can find itemized lists of cost and time inputs for each treatment here.
Time (person hrs)
A – spring transplant
B – spring transplant & mulch
C – spring seed
D – buckwheat & fall seed
E – control
F – solarize & fall seed
G – herbicide/tillage & fall seed
But, there were also big differences in how quickly the plants established. By September, both treatments (A and B) that had been transplanted in the spring looked like well-established gardens, with large, blooming wildflowers.
We were generally pleased by how well most of the spring transplants survived. Although all the transplants came in 50-cell flats, some were larger than others, and the larger transplants survived better. We were fortunate to be able to plant into nice moist ground, so except for a little water on the day of transplanting, we didn’t irrigate. Survival might not have been as good if we’d had different planting conditions.
In contrast, the much less expensive treatment C was not looking too impressive even by October. A few partridge peas and blackeyed Susans bloomed this year, but otherwise it didn’t look much different from the control plots. In mid-summer, it looked like we were growing more ragweed than wildflowers.
Two of the treatments (F and G) were planted with seeds this fall, and one treatment (D) was transplanted this fall. So it’s really too early to tell how successful those treatments were. Stay tuned for more updates!
Details on weed control
What about weeds? The graph below shows the average percent of the surface area of each plot that was covered with weeds versus planted beneficial habitat species on September 19, 2018. (Thank you, Bryan Brown, NYS IPM Integrated Weed Management Specialist for doing a weed assessment for us!) While we spent about the same amount of time weeding treatments A and B (the time difference is due to the time spent mulching treatment B), we achieved much better weed control with the mulch than without it!
In treatment B, we spread chipped shrub willow mulch about 3 inches deep around the transplants. If I were to do this again, I would spread it thicker. I was disappointed with how many weeds were growing through the mulch just a month after transplanting.
But weeding twice during the season pretty much took care of the weeds in treatment B. Treatment A was also weeded twice, but as you saw in the graph earlier, weed control by the end of the season was not as effective.
I think we’ll have to wait until next year to really understand how weed control is working in treatment C. Remember, the strategy was to slowly deplete the annual weed seedbank by allowing weeds to germinate, but preventing them from producing more seed. This is not supposed to be a quick establishment method, and it wasn’t.
Buckwheat as a weed-smothering cover crop
By the time Bryan did our weed assessment, it had been 3 weeks since we mowed the second planting of buckwheat. Ideally, we would have transplanted shortly after mowing the buckwheat. But, the second crop of buckwheat was starting to set seed by the end of August, and our transplants weren’t scheduled to arrive until the end of September. So we mowed the buckwheat early to prevent it from contributing its own seed to the weed seedbank. But this meant that a lot of weeds had time to germinate before we transplanted the habitat plants. The buckwheat certainly suppressed a lot of weeds during the growing season, and I hope that this will help reduce weeds next year.
Overall, we were pleased with how the solarization worked. We laid down 6 mil clear plastic (leftover from a nearby high tunnel) in early June, and did a little weed control around the edges of the plastic just once during the summer to prevent more weed seed production and to prevent shading of the plots.
We also learned that solarization will not control purselane. In contrast, the purselane thrived only under our clear plastic, and nowhere else in the field. The plot that had the most purselane also had the most other (mostly grass) weeds. I think the purselane pushed the plastic away from the soil and reduced the temperature a bit, allowing other weeds to grow.
Some other plots were virtually weed-free when we pulled the plastic up in October. (Did you see how large the error bar was for weeds in treatment F in the weed graph above? This means there was a lot of variability between plots in this treatment.) Our soil temperature probe happened to be in the plot with the most purselane, and we still achieved maximum soil temperatures of 120 °F (at a depth of about 3 inches), compared to 90 °F in a nearby control (treatment E) plot.
Repeated herbicide and tillage
At the weed assessment in September, the plot that had been alternately treated with herbicide and tilled looked best in terms of weed control. Like treatment C and all the treatments planted (by seed or by transplant) in the fall, I think we’ll get a better idea next year of how effective this method was at suppressing weeds.
Timing of fall planting
One thing we struggled with this fall was deciding when to plant the wildflower and grass seed mixture. One source recommended the seeds be planted sometime between October and December. We were cautioned that if we planted the seed too early, some species (especially blackeyed Susans) might germinate this fall, and the young seedlings would be killed by an early frost before they established. But we were also afraid of waiting too long and not being able to till the soil (treatment G, only) if it got too wet. And we wanted a nice smooth seedbed. In treatment F, we suspected that leaving the clear plastic on into November would protect the weeds from the cooler weather. But we worried that taking it off too early would only allow more weed seeds to blow onto the bare ground.
Finally, we compromised and planted the seeds on October 18 and 19, after our first hard frost, and once it looked like the nighttime temperatures would be in the 40’s (or below) for the next 10 days. It was only a week after the last tillage in treatment G, and the soil was still relatively dry. Those who live in the Finger Lakes know that late October and early November were pretty wet this year, so I’m glad we planted when we did. If you are trying to time fall seeding, I would recommend that you keep an eye on the 10 day forecast to see when temperatures are starting to cool. But if you get a dry sunny day to plant and it’s reasonably cool, I wouldn’t delay.
So if I want to plant habitat for pollinators and natural enemies next year, what should I do?
First, think about the time, money, and equipment you have available, as well as the area you’d like to plant. There probably isn’t a single right way to establish this habitat, but there may be a best way for you.
You can find more details on the techniques we used (and some links to other resources) here.
This post was written by Amara Dunn, Brian Eshenaur, and Betsy Lamb.
This work is supported by the Crop Protection and Pest Management Extension Implementation Program [grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
A lot of great people are doing great work with biocontrols. So this month I’m featuring an update from an exciting project happening in Eastern NY testing a potential biocontrol solution to wireworms in sweet potatoes. Thank you to Teresa Rusinek (Cornell Cooperative Extension Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program) for writing this post! I will definitely be following this project as results from 2018 come in. Check back for future updates!
Professor Elson Shields and Research Specialist Tony Testa of Cornell Dept. of Entomology, have been working with NY native entomopathogenic (insect attacking) nematodes (EPNs) for the past 20 years. Initially, the EPN biocontrol systems were developed to protect alfalfa crops from the destructive snout beetle. This system has been highly successful, over 150 alfalfa fields in NY alone have been inoculated. EPNs have been proven to persist in the soil years after application. They require 2-4 years for full effectiveness determined by the application method.
Cornell Cooperative Extension, Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Educators Teresa Rusinek and Charles Bornt have been working with Shields and Testa on a multi-year research project at the HV Farm Hub to test the efficacy of NY Native EPNs in the suppression of wireworms which are increasingly damaging to various crops, especially roots crops, grown in the Hudson Valley.
Our project began in May of 2017 at the Farm Hub, where we established research plots in a field where wireworms were found in large numbers. Four control plots had no EPNs applied, four plots were treated with both Steinernema carpocapsae (Sc) and Steinernema feltiae (Sf) nematodes, and the final four plots were treated with Sf and Heterohabditis bacteriophora (Hb) nematodes. Each EPN species occupies a different depth in the soil and has somewhat different modes of action. This research will determine which nematodes species are best adapted to establish in the field as well as which combination of nematodes is most effective at suppressing wireworms.
Results from our harvest evaluation from last year look very promising. 200 sweet potatoes were harvested from each plot on Sept. 26, 2017 and scored for wireworm damage. EPN treated plots overall had 36% less wireworm damage than the untreated control plots. In addition, soil core bioassays taken earlier this spring show that the EPNs, Sf in particular, have well-established and overwintered in the treated plots. We have not yet harvested and evaluated the sweet potatoes from this growing season.