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:
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).
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).
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).
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.
The information will be most relevant to farmers and agriculture professionals, and priority for registration will be given to these audiences. Others who are interested in attending may join a waiting list and will be notified if additional space is available.
As I mentioned in my January post, I am excited to be working with two NYS IPM colleagues (Dr. Betsy Lamb and Brian Eshenaur) to demonstrate the costs, labor, and effectiveness of different methods for establishing habitat plants for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Remember, habitat for pollinators is also habitat for insects and mites that are natural enemies of pests on your farm or in your garden. Thus, planting for pollinators enables you to practice conservation biocontrol. These demonstration plots are located around a new research planting of Christmas trees at Cornell AgriTech at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. What we learn from this project can help you choose the best way to establish your own beneficial habitat (on your farm, around your home, near your school, etc.)
We are comparing 6 different methods of establishing habitat for beneficial insects, plus a control (Treatment E). Treatment E plots were sprayed with herbicide last fall and this spring, and will be mowed once this year. A summary of the plan for the other treatments is below.
Because of when spring tillage occurred, plots that were scheduled to be tilled in the spring did not need a second herbicide application. About a week after spring tillage, Treatment C plots were direct seeded. I hand-broadcast a mixture of native wildflower and grass seeds at a rate of half a pound per 1,000 square feet. This worked out to be 26 g of seed for each 5-foot by 23-foot plot. To make it easier to broadcast such a small amount of seed, I first mixed the seed for each plot with about 3 cups of boiled rice hulls. After raking the seed in gently with a garden rake, I stomped the seed into the ground to ensure good contact with the soil. In a larger plot, you might use equipment like a cultipacker or lawn roller to achieve the same result.
I broadcast (again, by hand) buckwheat seeds in the Treatment D plots at a rate of 70 pounds per acre (84 g for each of these small plots), and raked them in on May 31st. If the buckwheat establishes well, it will smother weeds during the summer, and we can mow and transplant into these plots in the fall. We plan to mow this crop of buckwheat when it starts flowering and then reseed it, for a total of two buckwheat plantings this summer.
We transplanted by hand 15 species of wildflowers and 1 grass species into plots assigned to Treatments A and B on June 4th. Because we were able to transplant right after it rained, it wasn’t too difficult to plant into the untilled plots (Treatment A). Some of them still had some stubble from the cover crops and weeds that had been growing in this field last year, and were killed by fall and spring herbicide applications.
The day after we transplanted into Treatment B plots, we mulched the plants to a depth of about 3 inches to (hopefully) control weeds for the rest of the summer while the habitat plants get established. We used chips from shrub willow because they were available, but other types of mulch would work, too.
Finally, we laid clear high tunnel plastic over the plots receiving Treatment F. Ongoing research from the University of Maine suggests that soil solarization can be an effective form of weed control, even in the northeast. So we’re giving it a try! To maximize the efficacy of this technique, we laid the plastic when the soil had been tilled relatively recently, and was still very moist. To keep the plastic firmly in place for the whole summer, we rolled the edges and buried them 4-5 inches deep, then stomped the soil down around all the edges. In the fall, we will hand broadcast a mixture of native wildflower and grass seeds over these plots (same mix as Treatment C).
We’ll give weed seeds in the Treatment G plots a few more weeks to germinate and grow (depending on the rain). Then we’ll kill them with an herbicide, and till these plots again to induce more weed seeds to germinate. Then we will repeat the herbicide application, till again, and so on. This should reduce the weed seed bank in the soil over the course of the summer. After a final tillage in the fall, we will broadcast seed from the same wildflower and grass mix we used for Treatment C. Fall is the recommended time for direct seeding beneficial insect habitat in the northeast. This treatment will also have the advantage of a full season of weed control prior to planting (also recommended). The downside is that it will take longer to establish the beneficial insect habitat.
As we get these plots established, we’re keeping track of the time spent on each treatment and the costs of materials. In the late summer or fall, Dr. Bryan Brown will assess weeds in each treatment, and I will photo document how well our beneficial insect habitat plants have established in each plot. All of these data will help you choose the method that fits your timeline, budget, and equipment/labor availability. Stay tuned for more updates…including an invitation to a field day (not this year), so that you can come see the results of this project for yourself!
Now that the weather is getting warmer and you’re spending more time outside, you might notice ant hills in your lawn. Reaching for a can of something that will kill them should not be your first move! These ants may be cornfield ants (known among scientists as Lasius neoniger). They are yellowish brown to dark brown, and about 1/8 of an inch long (or slightly longer). You are most likely to notice the ant hills they produce at the entrance to their underground nest in a sunny lawn where the grass is short and sparse (since this is their preferred nesting area). While the ant hills could be problematic on parts of a golf course where the grass must be kept very short, they aren’t big enough to be a problem in your backyard (if you’re mowing your grass to the correct height, which should be about 3.5 inches).
In addition to being harmless to humans – they don’t sting or bite – these ants are actually good for your lawn! They eat the eggs of grass pests, including Japanese beetles. One study found that when these ants were present in turf grass, they reduced the numbers of white grubs and other grass pest larvae. Choosing not to apply pesticides to kill these ants will help you practice conservation biocontrol in your own backyard! In other words, by protecting the natural enemies of lawn pests, you will have fewer lawn pests (and less damage) to worry about.
Although these cornfield ants should be a welcome addition to your lawn for the reasons I’ve just described, if the hills they create are bothering you, there are some simple IPM solutions. Water and fertilize your lawn appropriately and use one of the top two height settings on your mower when cutting your grass. These strategies will help you achieve a denser, taller lawn. This type of lawn is less desirable for building new ant nests, and will make remaining ant hills less noticeable. For more information on maintaining healthy lawns, see the Cornell Turfgrass program’s Lawn Care: The Easiest Steps to an Attractive Environmental Asset.
A few final (but important) notes. Cornfield ants in your yard are a good thing. Ants in your home are a different story entirely, and NYS IPM has information on how to avoid in-home ant problems. If you are uncertain about what type of ant you have, consult an expert for proper identification. Your local extension office is a great place to start. Or, you can submit a sample to the Cornell Insect Diagnostic Laboratory.