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New @ 95: Sustainable Farming with Biological Controls and IPM

February 22, 2012

New@95: week 4, Sustainable Farming with Biological Controls and IPM

Volante Farms maintains a sincere appreciation for the land and the grounds that have helped it provide for the community for 95 seasons. Despite the feeling that farming is a constant struggle against Nature, the agreement we have made with her is to be strong stewards of this wonderful spot in the middle of suburban Needham.

Pansies are just the first crop of the season to benefit from thousands of little helpers.

Part of our ability to remain a sustainable and active community force comes from our handling of the plants that we grow and sell. Growing attractive flowers and tasty fruit is only partially accomplished by proper water and sunlight. To grow a stress-free plant it is also necessary to protect against damage from insects and disease.

This packet contains a tiny colony of predatory mites, that feed on thrip larvae which would otherwise bring disease to our flowering crops.

Both in the greenhouse and out in our fields we practice what is known as IPM, or Integrated Pest Management. This is a system in which the growers educate themselves on the causes and effects of pests on the crops and the results of any controls that might be used against them, whether natural or chemical.

Though we are constantly watching our crops ourselves, part of a strong IPM program involves the employment of a certified and trained scout. Jim Musonni, private crop consultant, has scouted our fields and greenhouses for many years and is well attuned to both our traditional problem areas and any pests on the horizon we might not be prepared for.

Yellow sticky cards throughout the greenhouse attract insects so that they can be counted during weekly scouting.

After his weekly scouting he reports to us to let us know if we have exceeded thresholds that would result in damage or loss of crop of any certain type of insect or disease. If we are prepared for the diagnosis we might spray, or alternatively decide to abandon the crop to prevent cross contamination.

Recently we have been getting deeper into our third option, biological controls. We are in the third season of using beneficial insects and organisms to protect our crops against damage.

This barley plant "banks" aphids as hosts for predatory and parasitic wasps throughout the season.

We were thrilled last season to achieve total control in the greenhouse between February and June, our busiest months, without any chemical controls. Through the cultivation of beneficial wasps and other insects we were able to control pest populations to remain below threshold the entire spring season. The greenhouse has many “banker” or host plants placed around to provide a food source for pests such as cereal aphids, which predatory beneficial wasps then use as breeding grounds for their offspring.

Success at this level is uncommon and fairly novel in a greenhouse setting, where although we grow a vast majority of our own plants and bedding material, still much of our products arrives from other growers with any number of problems already attached.

We maintain a precocious balance in the greenhouse of having enough prey to keep predators alive so that they will be there to capture future prey. We are able to replicate how these plants would be treated in their true ecosystem. In fact, we have found that as the summer warms and local natural predators are available, plants that have been kept clean can remain healthier throughout the year.

This aphid is hollowed out and dead after a wasp has hatched from its abdomen.

The various processes and methods employed to practice good biological greenhouse controls is complex and lengthy to explain. If you find yourself wanting to know more I suggest you look at the article I wrote on it last year here, , as it shows more microscopic photos and videos of some of the predators at work.

What all this means to you as a customer is that through our risk taking and success with this program we are sending you home with a product that is less chemically laden than those from other large growers. Likewise there are that many chemicals being kept out of the environment or being exposed to the crew working with the plants.

Additionally, we are limiting the likelihood that insects and disease pests will continue to develop resistance to the chemicals that do work on them, leaving entire crops at risk nationally and internationally. Many of the pests we fight today are already immune to the chemicals that have ben developed to kill them, so thankfully there are natural predators being found to help keep things in check.

Aphids, normally a greenhouse nemesis, are being farmed on this plant as an oasis for parasitic wasps.

We are thrilled our biological program has been successful so far and are looking to expand it further. As we extend our growing season this year we will also be using these methods on some of the zucchini and cucumbers available at either end of the summer season from our greenhouse. We have also released predatory wasps in our cornfields last year to help control early corn earworm.

We look at this program as a natural and responsible extension of our already successful IPM program and are pleased to be able to present you with plants, produce, and food gathered from sustainable and well-managed sources.

Next Week: Volante’s Fields, Our Soil is Our Strength.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anne Robbins permalink
    February 24, 2012 9:05 am

    We are excited. Sounds good to us.


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