You can’t really ignore bugs if you’re a gardener. They are always there, sometimes causing problems, and sometimes just being stunningly beautiful. Lately, the bugs in the Conservatory, and all the greenhouses, have been problematic. This happens every winter. My theory is that the “bad” bugs are always around, but in the summer, the plants grow faster than the damage, and the vents and doors are always open, allowing “good” bugs a chance to come in and get populations under control. But right now, the plants are just barely growing with the days so short, and the bad bugs are having a field day!
Yesterday, I spent a few hours going through the greenhouses with Elwood, looking at the plants and collecting insects to check out under the dissecting microscope. This is one of my favorite things to do, and I’m lucky to have Elwood to help out. He knows the good guys and the bad guys very well, having managed an IPM program at a local greenhouse.
IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management, and is an approach that uses comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests, and their interaction with the environment, to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment. It involves identifying and monitoring populations of insects, using cultural/preventive methods (such as crop rotation and resistant varieties) , and using control methods when necessary, evaluating the control method both for effectiveness and risk. Effective, less risky pest controls are chosen first.
Right now we are evaluating our greenhouses and pest populations for a fascinating part of IPM: Biocontrol. Biocontrol is the planned release of natural enemies of pests. These natural enemies can be other insects — predators or parasitoids — or pathogens (diseases). (It can also mean an insect which eats only a specific plant, as a control of invasive plant species). URI is home to the Biological Control Lab, a USDA approved Quarantine Facility, for newly imported exotic biological control agents, and also an insect rearing and research facility for accepted biological control agents. Lisa and Dr. C manage the Biocontrol Lab, and they are a wealth of information! I pester them constantly with questions.
By next week, we should have a good idea of exactly which bad guys are present, and how numerous they are, then we send away for our Natural Enemies to release in the greenhouses. Stay tuned!