Category Archives: Ecological Pest Management

Less Mowing, More Pollinators

Buterfly Garden in Portland Maine

Less mowing, more pollinators…that is Glenn’s mantra.  As much as he says that, you would think that he was the one who took care of our mowing and was coming up with a strategy to lighten that chore, but, nope, I am the one who mows the yard.

During our recent travels, he did enjoy pointing out examples of his “no mow” philosophy.  The Bee and Butterfly Garden in Portland, Maine was a great example of both a beautiful and useful habitat.  We also paid attention to how states were choosing to maintain their roadsides.  The case has been made that roadsides could provide a valuable pollinator habitat.  This article from Xerces Society makes the case in Pollinator Conservation at 60 MPH.   Then, if you are so inspired, the Xerces Society has even created a good sample letter to send your state representative and/or your state DOT to let them know you are supportive of these roadside efforts.

There is also value in re-envisioning our yards:  meadow gardens, cottage gardens, butterfly gardens…there are many options to consider beyond the traditional mown lawn.  When we lived in the city, my goal had been to eventually get the mown lawn area down to size that was manageable with only a human powered lawn mower.  Now that is an interesting google search:  human powered lawn mower.  Have fun with that!

When we moved to the farm, however, our mown lawn size increased to the point of needing a riding lawn mower.  Yes, we thought about goats, and then thought better!    There may be a meadow garden in the future for our lawn, but for now, I will at least mow on the high setting as to leave the clover blooms for the bees to enjoy.

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Benefits of balanced ecosystems

We are always thinking about healthy balanced ecosystems, especially this time of year when we are hoping to keep pest pressure to a minimum.  We had our best year yet with the potatoes.  We kept a wide, wild swath of pasture around the potato patch; not only did we not have potato beetles to contend with, but our family of turkeys enjoyed hanging out.  Now we have rotated my cousin’s cattle through the upper part of the pasture, and they thoroughly enjoyed the waist high pasture.

Enjoyed reading this informative article about the benefits of hedgerows.

Organic Broadcaster

The Stalker

Our tomato plants are looking strong and healthy; however, a few weeks ago I noticed an odd tomato plant looking very sickly.  It was completely wilted, and it was the only plant looking like this.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed a whole in the stem.  It was obvious this plant wasn’t going to make it so I cut if off at the base, and left a sucker which is maturing nicely.  I am thankful for that sucker because this is the only plant I have of this variety of tomato this year.  We have at least 20 varieties of tomatoes growing this year.

I am always curious what disease or pest is causing distress to my vegetables so I sliced into the plant stem to see what I could learn.  I eventually found the persistent pest working his way up the stem:  A Stalk Borer

This is our first experience with this pest.  Luckily, we haven’t had any other issues.  We are simply observing, and will keep this information in mind for the future.  I would like to work on trying to cut down on some of the potential host plants in the area, but still building up our beneficials’ habitat.  We will not spray, but will work with managing cover crops.

Here are a few photos that we took and then info follows that I found online (http://ipm.ncsu.edu/AG271/corn_sorghum/stalk_borer.html):

Stalk Borer

Stalk Borer

Stalk Borer and damaged tomato stem

Stalk Borer and damaged tomato stem

Stalk Borer
Papaipema nebris (Guenee),Noctuidae, LEPIDOPTERA


DESCRIPTION

Adult – The forewings of this moth are basicallyreddish- or grayish-brown marked with distinct white spots or obscure smoky areas. The outer third is paler and bordered by a thin white line. The hind wings are grayish brown on the upper surface and fawn gray below. The wingspan ranges from 25 to 40 mm in diameter.Egg – The longitudinally ribbed egg may be spherical or slightly flattened and measures 0.4 to 0.6 mm in diameter. White when first deposited, it gradually turns brownish-gray or amber before hatching.

Larva – Basically brown, the early larval instars have a dark brown band around the middle and brown or purple longitudinal stripes on all but the first four segments. The mature larva is solid white or light purple and may reach a length of 31.8 mm. Color plate.

Pupa – About 16 to 22 mm in length, the light brown pupa gradually darkens as it matures.


BIOLOGY

Distribution – The stalk borer occurs in all areas east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Highest populations are associated with fields and fence rows with large-stemmed weeds. Economically significant infestations are most common in the Piedmont, particularly in no-till plantings.Host Plants – Stalk borers tunnel in almost any large- stemmed plant. Their host range encompasses at least 44 families and 176 species of plants. Some cultivated crops subject to infestation include corn, cotton, potato, tomato, alfalfa, rye, barley, pepper, spinach, beet, and sugarbeet. Although many weedy plants are infested, giant ragweed is preferred.

Damage – Stalk borers migrating from an earlier host infest corn seedlings 6 to 60 cm (2 to 24 inches) high, causing two types of injury. Larvae that enter the plant through the lower stalk tunnel upwards, severing the leaves from below. In this case, infested stalks are hollow and apparently healthy green leaves wilt and die. Other larvae climb plants, enter from the top, and feed on buds and rolled leaves. As they unfurl, the new leaves display ragged holes which increase in size as the leaves display ragged holes which increase in size as the leaves develop. Both forms of injury result in destruction of tassels, production of suckers and deformation of the upper plant. Soon after borers enter the seedlings, the stems often break. Frass is usually evident around the base of more mature infested plants. Once past the “whorl” stage, however, corn is somewhat resistant to the stalk borer and recovers more readily from damage. Damage is sporadic but most commonly associated with the border rows of conventionally planted corn and with no-till plantings.

Life History – Stalk borers overwintering as eggs on weedy plants. In May, the newly emerged larvae feed as leaf-miners on broadleaf plants or as stem borers on grasses. On all hosts, larvae eventually bore into the stem and feed until they kill or outgrow their host. When this occurs, they emerge at night and tunnel into new plants, including seedling corn. Developing through 7 to 16 instars, stalk borers mature in their second host. Late in July, the borers emerge, construct individual cells in the soil, and begin a 4-week pupal period. Stalk borer moths emerge in late summer and deposit eggs singly or in masses between the leaf sheath and stems where they remain until the following spring. One generation occurs each year.


CONTROL

Stalk borers cannot be controlled once they have entered the plant; therefore, control measures should concentrate on prevention. Destruction of weeds in fields and along fence rows results in the elimination of many primary hosts from which the borers infest corn. Where applicable, systemic insecticides may be effective when applied in areas of highest potential damage. For specific control information, consult the current North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual.

The blooming, buzzing adventure continues…

We are having a busy but good year on Bee Branch Farm, hence the lack of communication.  We doubled our veggie deliveries from last year, and I am taking on additional farm connected activities.  I am helping out with Cycle to Farm as it grows; there were four events this year with the final Cycle to Farm being in Sandy Mush October 11th.  I am also serving on the Farmer Support Cluster of the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council, and I am excited to soon have the opportunity to start serving on the Buncombe County Agricultural Advisory Board for Farmland Preservation.  As you all know, I am passionate about this.

As for the veggies this season, this is what makes all the long hours and hard work worth it.  A few comments our farm families have shared with us.  First of all, it does my heart good when I hear how much the children are enjoying their veggies.  We have children fighting over who gets the last bite of chard, asking for those french radishes, and loving  purple potato salad.  In the words of Finney,  “It is good to know your farmer.”   Our families have also shared stories of improved health and vigor, better gum health as noted by dentist and healthier skin.  Yeah for eating your veggies!

We are especially happy that we have a bountiful crop of tomatoes that haven’t succumbed  to late blight as they did last year, and we were able to stave off the rascally racoons who love sweet corn as much as we do, at least for the first couple of weeks and then while we were away for the weekend they figured out how to circumvent the electric fence.  I do give them credit for their tenaciousness.  It was also fun growing artichoke from seed for the first time.  I have let a few go to bloom, and they are stunning.  I enjoy seeing which bees are attracted to which blooms.  We have continued to incorporate beneficial zones in our garden to attract and nurture these insects, and we feel that it is one of the reasons that we have had good success without spraying even organically.

Life on the farm is a blooming, buzzing adventure…..

Meals on Wheels (Braconid Wasps on Hornworm)

We are excited that our integrated pest management is showing promise.  In the garden, we found 2 hornworms hosting the beneficial Braconid Wasps eggs.  You can learn more about these beneficials at Texas A&M University’s Horticulture site.  The adult parasitic wasps are attracted to the nectar in the buckwheat and flowers we have in the garden.  They then prey on the hornworms on which they lay their eggs, eventually killing their host, and hence protecting our tomatoes from the hornworms.”This tiny wasp considers the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) and the tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) “meals on wheels.”  This allows a natural balance in the garden without using broad-spectrum pesticides.