It’s hard to get over the notion that not all bugs are bad. I mean they kill your plants and can destroy whole fields of crops. They eat your house, they bite you, and spread disease, especially those mosquitoes and deer ticks. They are scary looking, especially spiders, look at Little Miss Muffet. She ran away, leaving her nutritious curds and whey!
However, bugs are also beautiful; the dainty colorful butterflies are fun to watch flit from flower to flower. Every summer my kids love to grab a few Monarch caterpillars to watch them turn into a chrysalis and then into a beautiful butterfly.
We also use a lot of honey and love to watch the busy bees work, starting on the outside of our sunflowers going in circles to the center of the flower. But what about all the other bugs out there? The ones that no one thinks about because they may not be pretty or you can’t even see them.
In our greenhouse, we have teamed up with beneficial insects to help combat our pests for the past 10 years, so we could move away from having to use pesticides. We want a safe environment for our family, our workers, and ultimately our customers because unfortunately there are no safe pesticides. (1)
We are currently working with Koppert, a beneficial insect company, because there is just so much to learn about all the different beneficial insects and expert advice is critical to our success. Their knowledge, along with Daniel’s observant and quick work, usually keeps all the pests at bay.
So why do pests develop? Pests are a symptom that something is wrong with the plant, and we have to figure out what put the plant out of balance. It is caused by some stress to the plant, which can be anything from over watering or under watering to the plant not having enough nutrients or too many nutrients? It all revolves around a balanced state of life. If we do not correct the problem and only treat the symptom (ie. the pest), pests will always be a problem. This is why we are always striving to correct any problems, so we can avoid the symptom of pests.
Have you ever had an off day, where you felt a little less patience then normal or just not yourself, and then the next day you were sick? I have. You are probably thinking what has this got to do with plants? I’m getting there, I hope.
Plants, like people, sing a song when they are healthy and happy. Sing another when they are under stress.
Plants sing a song that repels pests when they are healthy and call to pollinators when their flowers are ready for pollination. They actually call in pests when they are sick or stressed. We may not see that the plant was stressed, but we do see the bugs that destroyed the plant, and so we blame the bugs. They were just doing what God created them to do, getting rid of disease and/or weak plants, keeping the circle of life flowing.
Dr. Johnathon Lundgren of Blue Dasher Farm says for every pest in nature there are 1,700 good bugs! (2) To me this is just amazing. These 1,700 good bugs are meant to help us to keep the pests at bay if we allow them. However, when people use a pesticide to kill a pest, they are also killing the 1,700 good bugs that nature gave us to help out.
So what did God create to help control pests? Diversity of plants: to help house all the different beneficial insects. He also created a parasitic wasp for every bug out there according to Dr. Lundgren.
Once a week, we get a shipment of beneficial insects based on what types of pests we are seeing. The following are the different types that we may use over the growing season.
· Aphidus Colemani and Aphidoletes aphidimyza: parasotiod wasps that eat aphids.
· Phytoseiulus Persimillis: a mite that eats spider mites
· Amblyscius swirskii: predatory mite for thrips
· Neseiulus cucumeris: another predatory mite for thrips. You may have noticed the Sachets (little bags) in our hanging baskets. These little packets house the mites, allowing them to come out and eat the thrips, if there are any present.
· Steinernema Feltise: a nematode for shore flies and thrips. We apply this as a drench to the soil.
We spread the beneficial bugs around the greenhouse to make sure that the beneficial bugs out number the pests, so they are not able to take control. If we do see an outbreak of pests, we just apply extra beneficial insects to that area and also try to determine the reason that caused this to happen. It really comes down to a numbers game we are playing each season which thankfully we are getting better at each year we have used the beneficial insects, instead of having to rely on pesticides.
So this Spring, look for the helpful Sachets in our hanging baskets and thank the little bugs for doing their job. Plant a diversity of flowers and vegetable to house all the beneficial insects in your yard and let them do the dirty work. Don't have a vegetable garden, have a flower-vegetable garden to help repel and attract all the insects that work for your benefit. And while spiders are scary, don't be like Miss Muffet and run away. Look at all the pests they ate for you.
1. The Myths of Safe Pesticides By Andre Leu
2. Dr. Jonathan Lundgren of Blue Dasher Farm & Ecdysis Foundation
3. The Xerces Society
4. Kopperts Biological Systems
5. Holistic Management Institute