Tag Archives: conservation biocontrol

Choosing plants for Beneficial Habitat At Home

light pink flower with a fuzzy bee crawling on it
A bee gathers pollen from a cosmos flower.

Recall from this post that I’m creating habitat for beneficial arthropods (including insects, spiders, predatory mites, etc.) around my house this spring. Because more of us may be doing this while we’re staying home to keep each other safe, I’m sharing my experiences here (as well as on Twitter and Instagram). The previous post covered site selection. Today I will talk about the species I’ve chosen (and why).

What I’m planting in my yard

Sunny yard alongside a house with several freshly-dug garden beds
My side yard faces south and gets the most sun. But it’s a pretty small area and I want it to look reasonably tidy. I’m still building rapport with my neighbors.

The front and side yards get plenty of sun (because they face south and west), so I’m looking for plants that thrive in full sun. And I’ll admit that I’m interested in more than just supporting beneficial arthropods. I also want my front and side yards to look reasonably nice. (I don’t want to make enemies of my new neighbors!) And I want to grow flowers for cutting. So I am not sticking strictly to native plant species or to perennials. Some plants I picked just because I thought they looked nice. For example, I was beguiled by ‘Chim Chiminee’ Rudbeckia. The pollen and nectar produced by the native species may have been bred out of this variety. I’ll find out. I also just love ‘Persian Carpet’ zinnias.

Plants growing in a large clump with smaller flowers in combinations of yellow, orange, and red.
I grew these ‘Persian Carpet’ zinnias in my garden last year. I love the mix of colors and the abundant blooms that last well when cut.

I’ve started a lot of plants from seeds I had in my fridge (e.g., snap dragons, echinacea, bachelor’s buttons). Others I will direct-seed outside (e.g., sunflowers, zinnia, cosmos), and I may also purchase some transplants from local nurseries (many have great strategies for safe curbside pick-up!).

Several small seedlings growing in paper pots.
I’m starting some plants from seed at home. Using paper pots means that I can compost them when I’m done, and not worry about carrying pathogens over from year to year on plastic pots that I would have to wash very thoroughly after use. Once a plant pathologist, always a plant pathologist!

Choosing plants for beneficial arthropods – the basics

Which plant species to grow to support beneficial arthropods (whether it’s pollinators or natural enemies of pests, or both) is a common question. The answer is both straight-forward, and also complicated. In addition to shelter and protection from pesticides, all beneficial arthropods need something to eat. In general, plants that provide plenty of nectar and pollen help to provide this food. Many natural enemies of pests will also eat pollen or nectar (e.g., at certain life stages, or as a supplement to the pests they eat). Even if they don’t, the pollen and nectar will often attract small arthropods that natural enemies can feed on. So, the simple answer is that a plant that produces lots of pollen and nectar, will thrive in the setting where you want to plant it, and is not invasive is a good choice for supporting beneficial arthropods. Plants that are marketed as supporting pollinators are easy to find and are likely to also support natural enemies.

Bright purple flower with three petals with a yellow and black striped fly perched on it
This Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) in our beneficial arthropod habitat plots is being visited by a hover fly. Hover fly larvae are excellent aphid predators!

But, of course, it’s not exactly that simple…

Choosing plants – natives, cultivars, and more

Many people ask if they should only grow native plant species, or if it’s ok to plant cultivated varieties of native species, or non-native species. (Hopefully it’s obvious that you should never plant an invasive species in your yard!) Annie White at the University of Vermont wrote a 254-page dissertation on the topic. These two sentences from her abstract summarize her findings nicely: “Our study shows that many insect pollinators prefer to forage on native species over cultivated varieties of the native species, but not always, and not exclusively. Some native cultivars may be comparable substitutions for native species in pollinator habitat restoration projects, but all cultivars should be evaluated on an individual basis.” You might also want to take a look at this article from the University of Maryland and this one from the Xerces Society. In summary, I would say it’s up to you whether you want to plant exclusively native species, or not.

According to David Smitley from Michigan State University, perennials are usually better choices for bees than annuals, but this article includes a list of annuals that are attractive to bees. Alyssum is an annual that definitely supports natural enemies, but many of the other annuals on this list may also support natural enemies.

Deep orange sunflower with a bee visiting it, starting to gather pollen
Although they are annuals, sunflowers are still very attractive to bees. Also, I like them as cut flowers.

Choosing plants – attracting specific arthropods

If you are trying to attract very specific natural enemies (e.g., parasitoid wasps, lady beetles) your plant choice can also get more complicated. Some great work has been done by researchers at Michigan State University documenting which arthropods (pollinators, natural enemies, and some pests) visited different plant species native to Michigan. They also offer a simplified summary. “Habitat Planning for Beneficial Insects” from the Xerces Society includes notes in the charts at the end about which beneficial insects are particularly attracted to the species listed. This resource from Oregon State University describes some specific plants and the arthropods they support. Finally, although this study was conducted in the United Kingdom, there might be some relevance to the Northeast U.S.

Lists and searchable databases

In addition to the resources already listed, you may find the following helpful in selecting plants:

If you want to focus on native plants, there are many organizations committed to supporting local native plants…too many to list here, but some online searching may turn up an organization that is local for you.

My current plant list

This table lists what I either have already seeded (inside or outside), or am planning to direct seed outside when it gets a little warmer. In addition to the common, scientific, and cultivar name of each plant and whether it is a perennial or an annual in NY, I also included information about why I chose it. I only marked plants as supporting bees or natural enemies if I could find documentation of that fact in the resources above. It may be that more of the plants on this list support beneficial arthropods. If you have additional information on these plants, please let me know! In some cases (for example, zinnia) the species is reported to support beneficial arthropods, but I don’t know if the cultivars I’m growing will. In many cases, the decorative value of the plant was a big part of why I chose it. The arnica? Well, I just saw that in a seed catalog this winter and ordered some on a whim.

Common name Scientific name Cultivar Annual or Perennial in NY Bees Natural enemies Decorative
Arnica Arnica chamissonis perennial
Bachelor’s buttons Centaurea cyanus annual X X
Blanketflower Gaillardia aristata Burgundy perennial X X X
Blue vervain Verbena hastata perennial X
Calendula Calendula officinalis Remembrance Mix annual X X
Celosia Celosia argentea cristata Red Flame annual X X
Cosmos Cosmos bipnnatus Dwarf Sensation annual X X X
Echinacea Echinacea purpurea perennial X X
Marigold Tagetes erecta Senate House annual X X
Poppy Papaver somniferum Frilled White Poppy annual maybe X
Poppy Papaver sp. seed saved by a colleague annual maybe X
Pyrethrum daisy Chrysanthemum cocineum perennial X
Rudbeckia Rudbeckia hirta Chim chiminee perennial maybe X
Snap dragon Antirrhinum majus annual X X
Strawflower Xerochrysum bracteatum annual X
Sunflower Helianthus anus Mammoth Greystripe annual X probably X
Sunflower Helianthus anus Evening Sun annual X probably X
Sunflower Helianthus anus Sonja Dwarf annual X probably X
Zinnia Zinnia elegans Queen Lime with Blush annual maybe X
Zinnia Zinnia elegans Candy Cane Mix annual maybe X
Zinnia Zinnia elegans Benary’s Wine annual maybe X
Zinnia Zinnia elegans Persian Carpet annual maybe X

 

This post was written by Amara Dunn, Biocontrol Specialist with the NYSIPM program. All images are hers, unless otherwise noted.

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

Compatibility: Pesticides and natural enemies of pests

Green insect with lacey wings
Lacewings (especially larvae; this one is an adult) are great natural enemies of pests. You want to keep them happy and healthy!

Natural enemies of pests are going to help you out with pest control, so when you are applying pesticides, it’s in your best interest to choose products that will have the least impact on them. Two quick points before we get into details for where to find this information:

  1. Remember that the information in this post is not a substitute for a pesticide label. The label is the law, and you must read and follow the label of any pesticide you are using. Laws and labels change. It is your responsibility to use pesticides legally. Trade names used here are for convenience only; no endorsement of products is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products implied. For questions about pesticide use, regulations, and safety, contact the Cornell Pesticide Management Education Program: pmep_webmaster@cornell.edu.
  2. A great way to protect natural enemies is by following the steps for IPM. Preventing pests (e.g., through cultural strategies and exclusion), scouting to detect pests early when populations are low, and proper identification of pests will help you reduce your need to use pesticides and can save you money. Win win!

Ok, let’s assume you’re doing good IPM and you’ve gotten to the point where you need to choose a pesticide. How do you make the best choice for protecting natural enemies? Here are a few options. (Note that I did post about this about 2 years ago. I’ve learned more, so I thought an update would be in order.)

Read the label

This should go without saying. You should be doing this anyway when you are considering using a pesticide. The label may contain information about the compatibility of a pesticide with either natural enemies or pollinators. And of course it will contain important information about how to minimize risks to yourself and the environment when you use it.

EIQ

EIQ stands for Environmental Impact Quotient. You can read more details on the NYSIPM website, but in a nutshell the EIQ puts a number on the risks of pesticides at the rates they are applied in the field. You can use the EIQ calculator on our website to compare these numbers for different pesticides. The higher the number, the higher the risk. There are different components to the EIQ; risks to consumers, workers, and the environment (ecological). The ecological risk will include risks to natural enemies (as well as fish, birds, and bees).

Pocket IPM Greenhouse Scout App

The Greenhouse Scout app provides information for doing IPM in greenhouses, including pest insects, beneficial insects, application technology, and pesticide interactions. It also gives you a place to record scouting results and track product applications.
A screenshot from the home screen of the Pocket IPM Greenhouse Scout App. You can find information about compatibility with natural enemies under either “Beneficials” or “Pesticide Interactions”.

Especially if you are growing in a greenhouse and releasing a lot of natural enemies, you may find this app helpful. In addition to providing information about compatibility of pesticides with arthropod natural enemies you may be releasing, you can also use it to help you keep records of scouting and product applications.

 

Cornell Guidelines

If you are a commercial producer, hopefully you are already utilizing the Cornell Guidelines, as they are a wealth of information on many subjects. At least some of them also include information on the toxicity of different pesticides to natural enemies. For example, if you have the grape guidelines, check out Table 4.2.2 for insecticide toxicity to natural enemies.

Websites and apps from companies that produce natural enemies

Companies that sell natural enemies (especially predatory and parasitoid arthropods for greenhouse pest control) have an interest in making sure that customers don’t inadvertently kill the natural enemies they buy with pesticides they are applying. I am aware of searchable databases or charts describing pesticide compatibility from four companies that sell (mostly) arthropod and nematode natural enemies: Agrobio, Biobest, BioWorks, and Koppert. If you know of some I’ve missed, please let me know! There are of course other companies that supply natural enemies. Here I’m focusing on resources that help you choose pesticides to conserve natural enemies.

Agrobio

This website is also available as an app for Android (but not Apple) devices. To use it, start by clicking Organisms selection and choose the natural enemies you want to conserve. Then, click Ingredients selection and choose the pesticides you are thinking about applying. You can only search active ingredients, not product names. Finally, click Query. Use the legend to help you interpret the table that’s produced.

Biobest

This website is also available as an app for Android and Apple devices. Use either the Active ingredient or the Commercial product tab to select pesticides by active ingredient or trade name. Then, search for the name of the Beneficial organism you want to conserve. Note that there are a lot of pesticide/natural enemy combinations for which toxicity data just aren’t available. If you select a pesticide, then natural enemies for which no data are available will be grayed out in the Beneficial organism list. As you check boxes next to pesticides and natural enemies, a chart is automatically generated. The legend includes keys for information on toxicity (to natural enemies and bumble bees), application methods, and persistence of the product. You can generate a pdf of your results, but it won’t include the legends.

BioWorks

Check out this resource that summarizes the compatibility of BioWorks biopesticides with arthropod and nematode natural enemies.

Koppert

This website is also available as an app for Android and Apple devices. Start by entering the name of the Beneficial organism you want to conserve. You can search by either the Koppert product name, or the Latin (scientific) name, but you can’t select from a drop-down menu. Just start typing. Then, choose the Agent (pesticide you are considering applying), by either trade name or active ingredient. Again, you need to know the name; you can’t select from a drop-down list. Start typing, and then check the box next to the product you are interested in. Click Results and be sure to click on ‘Legend’ at the bottom to help you interpret the table. There is also a more complete explanation of information in the legend under Info.

Some caveats about these websites

Admittedly, finding information about conserving natural enemies that are not commercially available for release (e.g., in greenhouses) has some challenges. These websites tend to focus on what you can buy and release, rather than on what may be naturally occurring in a field. Although sometimes there is some overlap. These apps/websites don’t include all natural enemies, and data aren’t available for all natural enemy/pesticide combinations. Also, these websites/apps usually list natural enemies by scientific names. Do you know what the scientific name of a lacewing is? I didn’t before I started this job!

To help with this last barrier, I created a chart (also below) to help you figure out what scientific names you should look for on these websites/apps if you want to conserve a particular natural enemy. It also includes information about which pests the natural enemies target, whether they are commercially available, and whether they are naturally occurring (not necessarily native) in NY.

Arthropod and nematode natural enemies

Can I buy them? Found in NY? If I want to conserve this beneficial arthropod… (whose scientific name is…) that helps me control… I should look for these names on the compatibility apps: 
yes yes aphid midges Aphidoletes aphidimyza aphids Aphidoletes aphidimyza
some yes beetles that are predators (for example, rove beetles, ground beetles, and others) Coleoptera is the scientific name of the insect group that includes all beetles. The following families are generally predatory: Coccinellidae (lady beetles), Carabidae (ground beetles), Staphylinidae (rove beetles), Cantharidae (soldier beetles), Melyridae (flower beetles) many insect pests Coleoptera is a beneficial insect listed on at least one compatibility app. However, some coleoptera are pests. And, since this is such a broad group, the compatibility information provided may not be correct for all beneficial beetle species.
yes hover flies, syrphid flies Syrphus spp, and many, many others aphids Syrphus spp.; Syrphus corollae; Episyrphus balteatus
some yes lacewings Chrysoperla spp. and some others aphids, insect eggs, small larvae Chrysopa carnea = Chrysoperla carnea; Chrysoperla spp.
some yes lady beetles Coccinellidae aphids, mites, small insects, insect eggs Coccinelidae, Coccinella 7-punctata, Hippodamia convergens
some yes minute pirate bug Orius insidiosus insect eggs, small caterpillars, thrips, mites, aphids Orius laevigatus may be a reasonable proxy; Orius spp.; Orius insidiosus
yes yes nematodes Steinernema spp., Heterorhabditis spp. thrips, fungus gnats, shore flies, some grubs Nematodes (note that this is a very broad category and it’s possible there are differences among species), Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, Steinernema, Steinernema feltiae, Steinernema carpocapsae
some yes parasitoid wasp Aphidius spp. aphids Aphidius spp., Aphidius colemani, Aphidius matricariae, Aphidius ervi
some yes parasitoid wasp Eulophidae, Diglyphus spp. leafminer larvae Diglyphus isaea
yes yes parasitoid wasp Braconids, Dacnusa sibirica leafminers Dacnusa sibirica
yes parasitoid wasp Aphelinidae, Aphelinus semiflavus aphids on potatoes Aphelinus abdominalis or Aphelinus mali may be reasonable proxies
yes yes predatory gall midge Feltiella acarisuga spider mites Feltiella acarisuga
some yes predatory mites Amblyseius (= Neoseiulus) fallacis, Typhlodromus spp., and probably others thrips, whitefly, pest mites; may vary among natural enemy species Amblyseius californicus, Amblyseius cucumeris, Amblyseius swirskii, Phytoseiulus persimilis are sold commercially and may be good proxies for the pesticide compatibility of naturally-occurring predatory mites
yes yes spined soldier bug Podisus maculiventris many immature insects, including many species of caterpillars Podisus maculiventris
 

some

some trichogramma wasps Trichogramma spp. moth eggs Trichogramma spp., Trichogramma brassicae, Trichogramma cacoeciae, Trichogramma evanescens, Trichogramma pretiosum

Other species of interest…

Can I buy them? Found in NY? If I want to conserve this beneficial insect… (whose scientific name is…) that helps me control… I should look for these names on the compatibility apps: 
yes yes bumble bee Bombus spp. NA – pollinator Bombus spp., Bombus terrestris
yes yes European honey bee Apis mellifera NA – pollinator Apis, Apis mellifera

Notes:

Different strains or populations of these natural enemies are sold by different companies and each population may differ from natural populations. Each company is most likely to report compatibility data that applies to their population. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

When the first word in the scientific name of an insect (e.g. Trichogramma) is followed by the designation ‘spp.’, it means multiple species that all belong to the same genus. Some compatibility information is given for only the larger group (e.g., Aphidius spp. or Syrphus spp.).

Natural enemies that are pesticides (active ingredients are microorganisms, i.e., fungi, bacteria, viruses)

If I want to conserve this microbial natural enemy… (whose scientific name is…) that helps me control… I should look for these names on the compatibility apps: 
Bt Bacillus thuringiensis (various strains are available, and they control different pests) many caterpillars and some immature beetle and fly pests (target pest varies by strain) Bacillus thuringiensis
entomopathogenic fungus Paecilomyces fumosoroseus = Isaria fumosorosea, Beauveria bassiana, Metarhizium anisopliae (= M. brunneum) (various strains) many insects (target pest depends on fungal species and strain) Paecilomyces (=Isaria) fumosoroseus, Beauveria bassiana, Metarhizium anisopliae (= M. brunneum)
fungi that attack plant diseases there are multiple species, including Trichoderma harzianum (several strains) Plant pathogens (the target pathogen depends on the fungal strain) Trichoderma harzianum T-22 is the only fungal natural enemy I found on these apps, so far. It is unlikely that its compatibility is representative of other fungi that are natural enemies.

Notes:

Different strains or populations of these microorganisms are sold by different companies and each of these populations may differ from natural populations. Each company is most likely to report compatibility data that applies to their population. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

In these apps/websites, microbial active ingredient may be listed as the natural enemy (e.g., Paecilomyces fumosoroseus on Biobest website), but sometimes it’s only listed as a pesticide active ingredient. For compatibility of biopesticides with chemical pesticides, you should start by reading the label, then seek information provided by the manufacturer.

All tables were assembled by Amara Dunn, NYSIPM using information from Natural Enemies of Vegetable Insect Pests (Hoffman & Frodsham) and were last updated January 2020.

Give it a try!

Imagine you were considering using one of the following active ingredients:

abamectin

acequinocyl

fenpyroximate

…to control spider mites. (Of course, before you did this, you’d read the labels and be sure that the use you were considering was legal!) If you were concerned about hurting parasitoids that help with aphid control (for example, the species Aphidius colemani and Aphidius ervi) which of these active ingredients would be the best choice (from a compatibility standpoint)?

 

Go ahead!

 

Look it up!

 

A note about microorganisms as natural enemies

Green leaf with blue rectangles with smiling faces representing microbes as natural enemies of the pest microbes (yellow rectangles with shocked faces). The blue microbes are producing blue droplets (representing antimicrobial compounds).
Microbes used to control pests are biopesticides. In this conceptual diagram, the happy blue microbes are producing antimicrobial compounds that are killing the plant pathogens (represented by yellow rectangles with shocked faces).

There are a few “natural enemies” on this chart that are actually biopesticides, and I have listed them separately. Remember that microorganisms (fungi, bacteria, viruses) that are natural enemies of pests are biopesticides. A few of them can be found in the websites/apps summarized above. There are two compatibility questions when it comes to using biopesticides with living microorganisms as active ingredients: (1) Will this biopesticide harm other natural enemies (e.g., predators and parasitoids)? and (2) Will the living microbe in this biopesticide be killed by other pesticides I might use? The websites/apps have some information about the compatibility of biopesticides with arthropod natural enemies. If you’re wondering about the compatibility of biopesticides with other pesticides, that may be a topic for another post (so many posts to write, so little time!). I’ll just offer two quick pieces of advice here:

  1. Read the label of the biopesticide. If it doesn’t contain compatibility information (for use with other pesticides) or doesn’t answer your questions about compatibility with other natural enemies, contact the manufacturer to get your questions answered.
  2. If you happen to be using one of their products, BioWorks describes the compatibility of their products with other pesticides, and this information is linked to individual product pages.

And what about the bees?

Take a look at the resources created by the Pollinator Network @ Cornell. They have prepared decision-making guides for several crops already, with more to come.

 

This post was written by Amara Dunn, Biocontrol Specialist with the NYSIPM program. All images are hers, unless otherwise noted.

Conservation biocontrol in the time of COVID-19

rows of small Christmas tree seedlings in a field on a sunny day, with a pond in the background
I was so excited to check on our Christmas tree and beneficial insect habitat plots on this sunny May day!

Thanks to everyone who’s been following the project I’ve been working on with Betsy Lamb and Brian Eshenaur to establish (and document the impacts of) habitat for natural enemies of pests and pollinators (collectively, beneficial insects) around a research planting of Christmas trees! For many people, life does not look the same as it did in January, and we are no exception. Don’t worry, we and the excellent Field Research Unit staff at Cornell AgriTech will be maintaining our research beneficial insect habitat plots (and the Christmas trees around them) so that we can continue to do research here in future years. But, in the interest of keeping people safe and working remotely as much as possible, we won’t collect insects this season. I will be going out about once a week to take pictures of both plants and insects (by myself, with a mask on hand just in case). You can see these pictures on either my Twitter or Instagram accounts.

Clusters of still-closed yellow flower buds
Zizia aurea (golden alexander) is the earliest-blooming plant species we have in our beneficial insect habitat plots. And it wasn’t blooming yet the first week of May.

There’s also a new project you can follow this spring and summer (here, and on Twitter and Instagram)! I recently moved into a new house, and was already planning to put in a (mostly flower) garden, including plants that support beneficial insects. Since many people are doing more things at home, this seemed like a good year to share my experience establishing habitat for beneficial insects in a home garden.

First step? Site selection. My backyard is a bit shady (and I suspect it will be shadier when the leaves come out). You can’t tell from this picture, but the ground also tends to be a little squishy after it rains.

Lawn with shadows from nearby trees
Even before the leaves have come out, I can tell that my backyard is not going to be the sunniest.

The front and side yards face south and west and are drier.

Lawn along the side of a house that is mostly sunny
The side yard at my house faces south, and gets more sun (except first thing in the morning).

In my experience, the list of plants that support beneficial insects is longer if you have plenty of sun and reasonably dry soil. This doesn’t mean that you can’t support beneficial insects in a wet and/or shady spot. But you need to choose plant species carefully. You will be more successful if you choose plants that will thrive in the conditions you have. More on plant selection in a later post.

In addition to simple aesthetics, another important part of site selection around the home is knowing what’s underneath the ground. My local utility company provided information about getting water, gas, electric, and internet service lines on my property marked before I start digging. They recommended marking these lines even if I’m just planning to dig by hand with a shovel. If you are planning to use larger equipment, this is even more important (and may be required, depending on where you live). Better safe than sorry. Call before you dig!

Sunny lawn with a stripe of yellow paint and and a yellow flag marking the buried gas line
My buried gas line runs through the side yard. I got it marked before I started digging.

Out of an abundance of caution, I’m going to use the location of the buried gas line on my property as a good place to locate a path (rather than a flower bed that requires digging).

I’ll talk more about weed control in a future post, but when you are selecting a site (and deciding how big an area you want to plant), you should also be thinking about how you are going to manage weeds. I am planning to get mulch. But I have resigned myself to the fact that I may be doing some extra hand weeding this summer. It will be a good activity to get me out of the house in the evenings and on the weekends.

Stay tuned for more updates on this project!

 

This post was written by Amara Dunn, Biocontrol Specialist with the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program. All pictures in this post were taken by her.

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

Creating habitat for beneficial insects: Time, money, and weeds

On the left is a picture of a woman in a sundress and straw hat standing in the middle of a sunny sunflower field with her arms raised in the air. Written at the top of the picture is the title “What I thought establishing habitat for beneficial insects would be like…”. On the right is a picture of three people, either on their hands and knees or bending over, pulling weeds (including dandelions) that are several feet tall. This picture has the title: “What it’s actually like.”In December, I updated you on how perennial wildflowers and grasses were establishing in our beneficial insect habitat plots during the 2019 growing season. As I wrote that post, I quickly realized that there was too much good information for just one post. So here’s the rest of the story when it comes to plant establishment – time, money, and weeds.

Before I get started, below is a quick reminder of what our treatments were. You can read all the details here.

Treatment Description
A Spring transplant, no mulch
B Spring transplant with mulch
C Spring direct seed
D Buckwheat cover crop, then fall transplant
E – control Whatever was growing there, just keep it mowed
F Soil solarization, then fall direct seed
G Herbicide and tillage, then fall direct seed

Weed control

One thing that has surprised me about this project (although others certainly gave me fair warning) was how big a role weed management plays in establishing habitat for beneficial insects. It’s definitely still a struggle in our plots.

Bryan Brown did weed assessments for us in May and September of 2019. The graph below shows the average percent of the area of each plot covered by either weeds (orange) or beneficial habitat flowers and grasses (blue).

Bar graph shows the average percent of plots covered with either weed or beneficial habitat plants in May 2019. Weed control in the treatment (B) where transplants were mulched had the best weed control. The worst weed control was in treatment D, where seedlings were planted in Fall 2018 after a buckwheat cover crop.
Mulching provided the best weed management when plots were assessed in May of 2019. Each bar shows the average of four plots per treatment, and has an error bar showing variation among these plots (one standard error above or below the average for the treatment).

This was before we did any hand-weeding. By far, the plots that were mulched in Spring 2018 (treatment B) had the fewest weeds compared to beneficial habitat plants. You’ll also notice that in May there were still relatively few weeds in the plots where we tried to deplete the weed seed bank in the soil through solarization (treatment F) or repeated herbicide and tillage (treatment G).

Picture on the left is of treatment B (Spring transplant and mulch) and shows small wildflower plants surrounded by mulch and few weeds. The middle picture shows treatment C (spring direct seed), a weedy plot. The picture on the right shows treatment F (solarization and fall direct seed), where you can still see at least 50% of the plot is bare soil, although many small and a few larger weeds are visible.
What some of the plots looked like on May 16, 2019 when Bryan did the weed assessment.

By September 2019, the spring transplant treatments looked even better. Our wildflowers grew well during 2019 (with the help of some extra hand weeding). The plants we transplanted in Fall 2018 are still struggling and not nearly as large as the wildflowers in treatments A and B. I think this may have more to do with the weed competition they experienced that first fall (when we couldn’t plant for a few weeks after the buckwheat was mowed) than transplant timing. Hopefully they will catch up.

Picture on the left is of treatment A (spring transplant, no mulch) and shows tall wildflower plants with some weeds. The middle picture shows treatment B (Spring transplant and mulch), full of large wildflowers and few weeds. The picture on the right shows treatment D (buckwheat and fall transplant), where the wildflower plants are much smaller, there are more weeds, and some bare ground is visible.
What some of the plots looked like on September 19, 2019 when Bryan did the weed assessment.

There are still a lot of weeds in the direct-seeded treatments (C, F, or G). Remember that our weed management strategy in these plots is repeated mowing to control annual weeds. Over time, the perennial wildflowers and grasses should take over. But it’s not supposed to be a quick method.

Bar graph shows the average percent of plots covered with either weed or beneficial habitat plants in September 2019. Weed control in the treatment (B) where transplants were mulched still had the best weed control. The worst weed control (besides the control plot where no beneficial habitat plants were planted) was in the three treatments using spring or fall direct seeding (C = spring direct seeding, F = soil solarization and fall direct seeding, G = herbicide and tillage with fall direct seeding).
Spring transplant treatments (A and B) looked the best after their second full growing season. The fall transplants (D) had more weeds, but these plants also have been in the ground for one less growing season. I’m still hoping they will catch up. Each bar shows the average of four plots per treatment, and has an error bar showing variation among these plots (one standard error above or below the average for the treatment).

Effort

Most of the treatments we are comparing required much less work in their second year (2019) than in their first (2018). The exception is that we spent a lot more time hand weeding treatment D (buckwheat cover crop followed by fall transplanting) in 2019. Although we weeded the two spring transplanted plots the same number of times in 2019 (twice), it took longer to hand weed the plots without mulch. I’m not surprised. If you’re looking for the right establishment method for your project, you really need to ask yourself how much help you have available and when. If you can get a lot of people excited about helping you install the planting, but worry about getting consistent volunteers year after year, mulch may be the right choice for you. In the direct seeded treatments (C – spring; F – fall following solarization; G – fall following herbicide and tillage), the time input for 2019 was mowing, which was relatively quick. And we did just a little hand weeding of perennial weeds.

Bar graph shows time (in person hours) spent on each treatment for both 2018 (in blue) and 2019 (in orange). The tallest bars are for treatments A, B, and D, but most of the bar for treatment B is blue (representing transplanting, mulching, and hand weeding in 2018). For treatment D, half the bar is orange (representing hand weeding in 2019). Treatment A shows more orange than treatment B, but less than treatment D.
Transplanting (treatments A, B, and D) still takes more time than direct seeding, but the extra time we spent mulching in 2018 paid off in 2019 when we spent less time hand weeding (treatment B compared to A and D).

Costs

Nearly all of our costs were incurred in the first year of the project (2018). The only additional costs from 2019 were for gas to run the mower. We did replace a few plants in transplanted plots in Fall 2019, but we used some extra plants we had purchased in 2018. Below is the total cost of the plants and other supplies for each treatment. Transplanting will always be more expensive than direct seeding.

Treatment Costs
A $417.12
B $539.29
C $18.83
D $390.55
E $3.40
F $149.10
G $23.12

 

You may remember that we were also collecting insects. I promise I will write more about the insects we caught in another post. If you are tired of looking at snow and bare trees outside, you can see pictures of some of the insects we caught in my post from August 2019.

This post was written by Amara Dunn. All pictures were taken by her, unless otherwise credited.

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

Creating habitat for beneficial insects: How are things growing?

Planting of purple, yellow, and white flowers with blue sky in the background
Lots of flowers bloomed in 2019 in our habitat plots. Some we had planted, and some we hadn’t.

Obviously, nothing is growing right now, but I thought this would be a good time to update you on the success of our beneficial insect habitat plots during the 2019 growing season.

When things bloomed

Recall that the goal is to have at least one plant blooming all season long. We choose wildflower species accordingly, and it worked! The following table shows which months each species bloomed in 2019 (at least in the transplanted plots). An ‘X’ means the species was blooming during that month.

Wildflower May June July Aug Sep
Golden alexanders X X
Catmint X X X  X
Lanced-leaved coreopsis X X
Tall white beard tongue X X
Ohio spiderwort X X
Anise hyssop X X  X
Echinacea X X  X
Orange coneflower X X  X
Boneset X X X
Wild bergamot X X
Common milkweed X
NY ironweed X  X
Showy goldenrod  X
New England aster  X
Blue false indigo

You may notice that the blue false indigo never bloomed in 2019, which was disappointing. Most of these plants are still alive (as you’ll see later in this post). They just didn’t bloom. Maybe next year?

Here’s what each species looks like:

Plant with tiny yellow flowers arranged like Queen Anne’s Lace.
Golden alexanders (Zizia aurea)
Small purple bell-shaped flowers on stems with frosty-green leaves
Catmint (Nepeta faassinii)
Yellow daisy-shaped flowers with toothed edges
Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
Clusters of white or pink bell-shaped flowers on top of tall stems
Tall white beard tongue (Penstemon digitalis). Obviously not all of these flowers are white!
Three-petaled purple flowers growing on plant with grass-like leaves.
Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
Small, pale purple flowers clustered at the top of a stem
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Pink daisy-shaped flowers with organge centers
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Large clump of daisy shaped flowers with yellow petals and dark brown centers
Orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida)
Small white flowers in flat clusters
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Pale pink-purple flowers that look like small tufts on the top of stems
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Pale pink flowers with 5 sets of petals and a complex shape
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Bright magenta flowers formed into small tufts at the top of the plant
NY Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)
Large clump of small, bright yellow flowers
Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
Purple daisy-shaped flowers with yellow centers and very narrow petals. A small bee is visiting one of the flowers
New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
Pale blue-purple legume flowers. One is being visited by a bumble bee
Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis); hasn’t bloomed yet in our field. Photo credit: Ansel Oommen, Bugwood.org

Transplanted wildflowers

The wildflowers in our transplanted plots are surviving pretty well (>80%). In the plots that were transplanted in the fall after the buckwheat cover crop, the survival is a bit lower. I think this has to do with some weed control issues (more on this in a future post).

Percent of plants surviving was lowest in treatment D, but still above 80%. Survival did not change very much from Spring to Fall 2019.
How well have the transplanted wildflowers survived so far? Treatment A was transplanted in Spring 2018 and not mulched. Treatment B was transplanted in Spring 2018 and mulched. Treatment D was transplanted in Fall 2018 following a buckwheat cover crop. All have been hand weeded periodically. In both Spring and Fall of 2019 I counted plants to see how well they survived. The black lines on each bar in the graph show one standard error above and below the mean percent survival.

Some species have survived better than others, as the following chart shows. Again, we counted plants both in Spring and Fall 2019.

Bar graph showing the mean percent of plants of each species that were still alive in Spring and Fall 2019. With the exception of milkweed, all survival rates were at or above 80%, and losses were minimal from Spring to Fall.
Do some species of wildflowers survive better when transplanted? There’s a little bit of variability, but overall most are surviving pretty well.

What about the direct-seeded plots?

Only three species of wildflowers planted by seed in Spring or Fall 2018 bloomed during the 2019 season. The table below shows which months these blooms were seen (marked with an ‘X’).

Common name May June July Aug Sep
Coreopsis X X X
Blackeyed susan X X X
Partridge pea X X

Here’s what the flowers of blackeyed susan look like. The plant has much hairier leaves than the orange coneflower.

A daisy-shaped flower with yellow petals and a dark brown center
Blackeyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

And here’s the partridge pea:

Yellow flower with compound leaves cupped in a person’s hand
Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)

But, I also spotted some wild bergamot, tall white beard tongue, asters, golden alexanders, and either echinacea or orange coneflower seedlings. (I haven’t honed my horticultural skills enough yet to distinguish the foliage of these last two wildflowers.)

Pictures of seedlings labeled (left to right, top to bottom) aster, golden alexanders, echinacea or orange coneflower, wild bergamot, and beard tongue.
Seedlings of some wildflowers could be identified in the direct-seeded plots by September 2019.

There were also plenty of weeds blooming throughout the summer, and many of them were providing pollen and nectar for pollinators and natural enemies. Here are just a few examples:

Four pictures showing a bee on a yellow flower, several daisy-shaped flowers with white petals and yellow centers, a yellow dandelion with a pink lady beetle on it, and a bumble bee visiting a pink clover flower
From left to right: A bee feeding on a weed in the aster family, blooming chamomile, a lady beetle on a dandelion, and a bumble bee visiting clover (that wasn’t planted).

This table summarizes when during the season different weeds were in bloom. Again, an ‘X’ indicates the weed was blooming that month.

Weed May June July Aug Sep
Campion X X X X X
Chamomile X X X X X
Clover X X X X X
Dandelion X X X X X
Vetch X X X X X
Viola X X X X X
Mustard X X X X
Deadnettle X X
Baby blue eyes X
Henbit X
Asters X X X X
Buckwheat X X X X
Oxalis X X X X
Plantain X X X X
Wild lettuce X X X X
Cinquefoil X X X
Indian hemp X X X
Redshank X X X
Chickweed X X
Galinsoga X X
Geraniums X
Sandwort X
Grass X X
Horse weed X X
Lambsquarters X X
Ragweed X X
Black bindweed X
Chicory X

There’s more!

In addition to keeping track of what bloomed from May through September, we were also still tracking costs and time spent on each plot in 2019. And of course we collected a LOT of insects. But those stories will have to wait for another post.

This post was written by Amara Dunn. All pictures were taken by her, unless otherwise credited.

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

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

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

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).

Biofungicide project was funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute.

Creating habitat for beneficial arthropods was supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

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).

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

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.

Guides for other crops and other resources for growers wanting to protect pollinators can be found here.

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!

Creating habitat for beneficial insects: Project update at the end of the first year

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:

Overview

Details on weed control

Timing of fall planting

The steps we followed to establish beneficial insect habitat

mixed wildflowers in a field
Some of our beneficial insect habitat plots looked really beautiful this fall! Others are still works in progress.

Overview
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).

Treatment Fall 2017 Spring 2018 Summer 2018 Fall 2018
A Herbicide Herbicide, transplant  Weed 2x Replace dead plants
B Herbicide Till, transplant, mulch Weed 2x Replace dead plants
C Herbicide Till, direct seed Mow 3x Mow 1x
D Herbicide Till, plant buckwheat Mow 1x, till, plant buckwheat Mow 1x, transplant
E – control Herbicide Herbicide Mow 3x Mow 1x
F Herbicide Till, lay plastic Continue solarization Remove plastic, direct seed
G Herbicide Herbicide/till Herbicide 2x, till 1x Till 1x, direct seed

We transplanted the following species in treatments A, B, and D:

Common name Scientific name Number of plants in each 5 x 23 ft plot
Anise hyssop Agastache foeniculum 2
Common milkweed Asclepias syriaca 3
Blue false indigo Baptisia australis 2
Lanced-leaved coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata 3
Purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea 2
Boneset Eupatorium perfoliatum 3
Wild bergamot Monarda fistulosa 2
Catmint Nepeta faassinii 2
Tall white beard tongue Penstemon digitalis 3
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia fulgida va. Fulgida 1
Little bluestem (grass) Schizachyrium scoparium 11
Showy goldenrod Solidago speciosa 1
New England aster Symphyotrichum novae- angliae 3
Ohio spiderwort Tradescantia ohiensis 2
NY ironweed Vernonia noveboracensis 2
Golden alexanders Zizia aurea 3

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.

Treatment Supply costs Time (person hrs)
A – spring transplant $417.12 13.2
B – spring transplant & mulch $539.29 20.4
C – spring seed $17.75 4.4
D – buckwheat & fall seed $390.55 10.3
E – control $2.32 2.6
F – solarize & fall seed $148.02 10.2
G – herbicide/tillage & fall seed $22.04 6.3

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.

Transplanted plots with more weeds (left) and fewer weeds (right). Plot on the right had been mulched.
Four and a half months after transplanting, the beneficial habitat plants in treatments A (left) and B (right) were mostly growing well. But there was a big difference in weed control, in spite of similar amounts of time spent weeding each treatment.

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.

Mower cutting ragweed (left) and mowed weedy mix with a few yellow flowers blooming.
In late July, it looked like we were growing mostly ragweed in treatment C (left). But after mowing four times during the summer and fall, you could definitely see the blackeyed Susans establishing (right).

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!

Mixture of mowed weeds with small plants (left), plot of bare ground (middle and right)
Fall transplanted (D) or direct seeded treatments (F and G) did not look very impressive by October 19, 2018. I’m curious to see what they look like next spring, summer, and fall!

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!

Bar graph showing how much of each plot area was covered by weeds and by beneficial plants for each treatment
Bryan Brown assessed the percent of each plot that was covered with either the beneficial habitat species we had planted (blue) or weeds (orange). Each bar represents the average of four plots for each treatment, and the error bars show the standard error.

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.

mulched plot with lots of weeds on the left and fewer weeds on the right
The chipped shrub willow mulch we used was not as effective at suppressing weeds as I had hoped. On the left is part of the plot that had not been weeded yet. On the right is the part that was weeded on July 6. You can also see from this picture that there was a lot of lambsquarters in this field, and that we hadn’t been able to seed grass between the plots, yet.

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.

Unmulched plot weeded (on the left), and before weeding (on the right)
Treatment A (transplanted in the spring, with no additional weed control) before (right) and after (left) hand weeding on July 6.

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.

blooming yellow flower (partridge pea)
This is what partridge pea looks like. It was one of the few species from the native wildflower and grass mix seeded in the spring (treatment C) that bloomed during this first growing season.

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.

very young buckwheat seedlings in upper left, larger buckwheat seedlings in upper right, mowing mature buckwheat plants in lower left, cut buckwheat stubble in lower right
The buckwheat established quickly and crowded out many weeds. We mowed the first crop in July and re-planted. We had to mow the second crop about 3 weeks before we transplanted habitat plants (not ideal).

Solarization

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.

Two people shovelling soil on top of clear plastic laid on the ground on the left, and on the right, clear plastic cover a small area of soil, with all the edges of the plastic buried
We laid 6 mil clear plastic over some plots on June 5, 2018 to solarize the soil underneath (and kill weeds).

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.

clear plastic covering a small area of soil, but with weeds (purselane) growing underneath it
In some solarized plots, purselane grew happily under the plastic. Purselane was not a common weed anywhere else in the field during the season.

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.

Plots of ground that had been covered with clear plastic. On the left, very few weeds grew underneath. On the right, more weeds (purselane and some grasses) grew.
Solarization results were pretty variable from plot to plot. In some plots, it worked great (left). In other plots more purselane germinated and it didn’t work as well (right). We cut all the weedy vegetation off at the ground before direct seeding the beneficial habitat plants.

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.

A small plot of mostly bare soil with a few small weeds growing through. The plot is surrounded by grass
A few weeds were present a week after the last time the herbicide/tillage treatment (G) was rototilled. We broadcast, raked, and pressed beneficial habitat seed into these plots.

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.

person dressed in warm clothes sprinkling seed on bare ground. There is a field and a pond in the background.
We direct seeded October 18, 2018, after the weather cooled down a bit, and before the ground got too wet.

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:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets