Category Archives: pollinators

Come visit our beneficial insect habitat plots!

In the foreground you can see a small Christmas tree. In the background, you can see a patch of mixed wildflowers. Behind it are trees, and partly cloudy sky, and a pond.

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:

illustration of a pink daisy-shaped flower with orange center and a Christmas tree, next to the logo for New York State Integrated Pest Management

A summer of biocontrol…in pictures

Several types of wildflowers (yellow, white, deep magenta, purple, pink) growing in a field.
Summer isn’t over yet for farmers and extension staff doing field experiments!

Labor Day weekend may be viewed by some as the end of summer, but farmers know that the summer growing (and harvesting!) season is far from over. Similarly, the field projects I’m involved with this summer (read more here and here) are still running. Over the fall and winter I’ll be analyzing data and sharing results (on this blog, and at winter meetings). In the meantime, here’s a pictorial summary of my summer projects (so far).

Plant whose leaves have 3 lobes (like elongated clover leaves) with toothed edges. Flower is an open cluster of tiny yellow flowers, similar to Queen Anne’s Lace.
Golden alexanders (Zizia aurea) was our earliest-blooming wildflower in our beneficial insect habitat plots around the Christmas trees. It was blooming on May 16 in Geneva, NY.
A bee already covered in fine yellow dust looks for nectar and (more) pollen in a dandelion bloom.
Some of us may not like them in our lawns, but starting in the first week of May (Geneva, NY) dandelions were providing food for beneficial insects like this bee.
You can see the rear-end of a lady beetle (red body, with black spots) as it searches for pollen and nectar among small, bright yellow flowers.
This shy lady beetle was finding food in the flowers of this weedy mustard plant in mid-May (Geneva, NY).
Man walking through a field of grass on a cloudy day, swinging a long white net on a long wooden handle just above the ground.
After expert training from Cornell entomologist Jason Dombroskie (pictured here during our training session in late April), we’ve been using a sweep net to catch insects that fly or perch on the wildflowers in the habitat plots we started last summer. We sampled this way once every month.
One blue and one yellow bowl filled with soapy water and rocks set on ground covered with wood chip mulch. Several different types of plants are growing nearby.
Starting the week of May 20th, we set out pan traps (blue and yellow plastic bowls filled with soapy water and weighed down with rocks) approximately every other week. These traps catch insects flying through our plots, especially those that are attracted to the colors blue and yellow. This includes many bee species.
Various types of weeds and other plants grow around a spot where a deli cup is buried up to the rim in the ground. The deli cup is also full of liquid. Suspended over the deli cup on “legs” of thick wire is a clear-plastic dinner plate.
Also during the week of May 20th, we started setting pitfall traps once each month. Insects walking along the ground fall into these deli cups filled with a drowning solution. We put rain covers over them (made out of clear plastic dinner plates and wire from old flags) to prevent a heavy rain from flooding the deli cups during the 3 days the traps are set.
A red lady beetle with 7 spots on its back crawls across a green stem of vetch that is being held by a hand that is dirty (probably from weeding).
We caught and saw so many insects (and non-insects, like spiders) this summer! This seven-spotted lady beetle was a frequent visitor to our plots.
A fly with big eyes and black and yellow stripes on its body perches on a yellow coreopsis flower, probably looking for pollen and nectar.
Many flies are important pollinators, like this one that resembles a bee at first glance. Many flies are also important natural enemies of pests (either as adults, or as worm-like larvae).
Small insect with eyes that bug out to the sides of its head, triangular and diamond-shaped black and white patches on its otherwise brown wings and body.
This minute pirate bug may be tiny (it’s magnified 20X), but it is an important natural enemy of pests.
Looking down into a clear plastic cup that contains eleven different bees and wasps, ranging from a large bumble bee to tiny wasps that you can barely see.
We caught so many different kinds of bees and wasps!
Two black, yellow, and white striped caterpillars feed on the broad green leaves of a milkweed plant.
Plenty of caterpillars (like these monarchs) enjoyed munching on the foliage of our wildflowers.
A black and orange striped butterfly visits a daisy-shaped flower with pink petals and an orange cone-shaped center.
And in late July, we started seeing adult butterflies visiting the flowers like the viceroy butterfly on these purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).
Eight beetles with eyes that bug out from the sides. They look brown when viewed from the top, but when viewed from underneath they look iridescent blue-green.
I learned that these are tiger beetles. They are fast-moving ground predators, and we caught a lot in our pitfall traps.
Plant stems covered in small purple flowers in the background, and plant stems covered in large white bell-shaped flowers in the foreground.
Different wildflowers bloomed at different times, like these purple catmint (Nepeta faassinii) and tall white beard tongue (Penstemon digitalis) in June.
On left, an open cluster of tiny white, slightly fuzzy flowers. On the right, flowers that look like pale purple puffs at the top of the stems.
White boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and pale purple wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) were blooming in late July.
In the foreground, daisy-shaped flowers with yellow petals and black centers. In the background, a tall plant with open clusters of deep magenta flowers that look slightly fuzzy. You can see a field and blue sky in the background.
And now the rudbeckia (two different species, but Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida is pictured here) and deep magenta NY ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) are in full bloom. But the asters and goldenrod haven’t started, yet.
Short Christmas trees, planted in rows with grass in between. A pond, several fields, a line of trees, and a cloudy sky are in the background.
And the Christmas trees planted around these beneficial insect habitat plots keep growing!
Three people (two women and a man) wearing work clothes, holding gardening tools, and standing in the middle of a field with some yellow flowers in the foreground and a cloudy sky in the background.
I couldn’t have done this without the help of my great co-workers, Betsy Lamb, Deb Marvin, and Brian Eshenaur! They were still smiling after a morning of weeding the wildflowers by hand!
Smiling young woman holding a sheet with pictures of butterflies, and standing next to blooming purple coneflowers. You can see a field in the background.
A student from a local college helped me a lot with insect collection!
Several rows of cucurbit plants just starting to flower. In the background, you can see a road, a field, and a barn.
Meanwhile, field trials with biofungicides are ongoing, targeting cucurbit powdery mildew on winter squash and white mold on snap beans and tomatoes (not pictured). This project is funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute.
: Two women, both in red shirts, standing in the middle of a field. One holds two weeds. The other holds a clipboard and a water bottle.
Elizabeth Buck (left) and Crystal Stewart (right) are running the trials in western NY and eastern NY, respectively. This project is funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute.
Woman on left is wearing a red shirt, talking, and gesturing with her hands. Woman on right in wearing a green shirt and watching and listening to the woman on the left.
Meg McGrath (left) is running the trial on Long Island, but we all got together at a twilight meeting in eastern NY last week. This project is funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute.
Woman in a blue shirt and baseball cap looking into the camera. In the background you can see white bell-shaped flowers and blue sky with a few puffy clouds.
So far, it’s been a good summer! I’ve really enjoyed working with great colleagues and learning new things!

The field projects I’ve just described will be wrapping up in September. Check back to learn about the results. Better yet, click the green “Subscribe” button towards the top and right of this page, and you’ll receive an email when a new post is available!

 

In the meantime, there will still be at least a few more weeks of pictures posted regularly on Twitter (@AmaraDunn) and Instagram (@biocontrol.nysipm).

Creating habitat for beneficial insects: Starting Year 2

A close-up picture of a lady beetle on a plant
Lady beetle from our beneficial insect habitat plots

Last year I introduced you to the research field at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, NY where Dr. Betsy Lamb, Brian Eshenaur and I are studying and demonstrating Christmas tree IPM. One part of this project is using perennial wildflowers to attract natural enemies of pests as part of an IPM strategy. The wildflowers (and some perennial grass) species were chosen because of the food and shelter they provide to pollinators. These same resources should make them useful to natural enemies of pests, too.

A plot containing wildflowers (some yellow and purple ones in bloom), with woodchip mulch visible between plants.
Mulching transplants planted in Spring 2018 was the most expensive establishment method, but these plots were looking pretty good a year later, even before we weeded.

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.

The same plot is shown in two pictures. The picture on the left has some bare ground visible and many patches of grass and broadleaf weeds. The picture on the right shows the plot after it was mowed.
Plots that were direct seeded in 2018 will be mowed this year to favor the perennial beneficial insect habitat plants over annual weeds. This plot was treated with alternating herbicide and tillage during Summer 2018, and wildflower seed was planted in Fall 2018; (A, left) plot before mowing, (B, right) same plot after mowing.
Two pictures of the same plot before (left) and after (right) weeding. The un-weeded plot has lots of dandelion seed heads and no bare ground is visible. After weeding, you can see some bare ground and it’s easier to see the wildflower plants.
Plots that were transplanted in 2018 will be hand weeded this year to help the perennial wildflowers and grasses out-compete weeds. This plot was transplanted in Spring 2018 into bare (not tilled) ground and no mulch was used; (A, left) plot before weeding, (B, right) same plot after weeding.

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.

    A bright blue plastic bowl and a bright yellow plastic bowl are filled with soapy water and small rocks. Both are set on bare ground with some plants growing nearby.
    Bright blue and yellow bowls filled with soapy water and weighed down with rocks will attract certain flying insects. By counting insects collected in these pan traps, we can learn which insects are spending time in each plot.
  • 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.

    A 16-ounce plastic deli cup sunk in bare soil of a plot so that the rim is level with the ground. The cup is half-full of liquid and also has caught a few green beetles. The trap is covered by a clear plastic dinner plate held about 6 inches above the ground by wire legs.
    A pitfall trap collects ground-dwelling insects. This one is protected by a rain cover. We didn’t want all the rain we’ve been getting this spring to overflow the traps and wash away the insects we caught!

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).

A new resource to help you protect pollinators

honey bee is perched on top of a young developing squash with the flower still attached
Many crops (and plenty of non-crop plants) rely on pollinators. Let’s protect them!

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.

Image of the cover of the resouces entitled: Pesticide decision-making guide to protect pollinators in tree fruit orchards
“A Pesticide Decision-Making Guide to Protect Pollinators in Tree Fruit Orchards” is a terrific resource to help you choose pesticides (and pesticide combinations) that are least-toxic to bees.

A Pesticide Decision-Making Guide to Protect Pollinators in Tree Fruit Orchards” was written by Maria van Dyke, Emma Mullen, Dan Wixted, and Scott McArt. Although it’s focus is tree fruit orchards (and therefore the pesticides used in them), it should be useful for growers of other crops who want to choose pesticides that are least toxic to bees. A few highlights:

  • 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.
bumble bee feeding on a purple flower
Pollination is being done by more than just honey bees! This bumble bee (plus many more bee species) are important pollinators in NY.

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!