Tianna DuPont, Penn State
This is a Penn State Farm Profiles Video, directed by Tianna DuPont and produced by Daniel Paashaus. This series of videos is designed to give new farmers ideas and advice from experienced producers. Video production is supported by funding from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant #2009-49400-05869.
John Good, Quiet Creek Farm. John and Aimee Good run Quiet Creek Farm, a 200-member certified organic CSA at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA. In this video, John Good discusses pest management strategies and practices on this farm, including the use of row covers, succession planting and spraying of organic pest control products.
Closed captions are also available by clicking the "CC" link in the lower right of the video frame which appear when you play the video.
The three pests that we spend the most time managing are flea beetles, cucumber beetles and cabbage worms. There are a few other pests that are occasionally an issue, but those are the ones I would say that we have to spend time and energy on controlling the most year after year. The biggest thing with any pest control is rotation. So we try to make sure that any crop in one family does not appear again in the same field for three years. And if possible, we try to move them as far away in the field physically as we can--particularly if it was a bad pest year and we are worried about that the following season. So I would say rotation is your number one cultural practice.
And the other cultural practice if you are dealing with transplanted crops, (and we do have some transplanted brassica crops, broccoli and cauliflower and cabbage and some of our kale) is you can grow really healthy transplants in a really good potting mix and give your plants a really good start, and that gives them a big advantage. Also weed control is important, and providing adequate water. Anything you can do to make your plant’s life easier will help them deal with pests more effectively.
Row covers are a primary tool for flea beetles. We use them on all of our Asian brassica greens, arugula, tat soi, and baby kale. We also cover all of our larger brassicas; cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower at planting. Also, we have to control flea beetles on eggplant. So we also cover those at planting, too.
Row covers are tremendously effective if they are used well, and you do a good job of keeping them down. That will give you fairly good flea beetle control. We store all our row covers. We use 250 foot long pieces. That is how long our beds are. We use those that will cover one bed or two beds at a time. We store them on 10 foot long 2 inch PVC pipe pieces. We keep them rolled up tight on there. And then it is very easy to put the row cover down. We will go out to the field. We can put a single peg in the beginning to just hold the row cover in place. And then a person can just grab each end of the PVC pipe and walk out and your row cover is in place. If it is particularly windy, you can put a peg down to fasten it in place while you do it. If it is a double wide row cover on that ten foot pipe it is just folded in half. So it fits on there. Then after we put the row cover down we fold over the edge and put in a peg, generally every ten feet. We like three pronged plastic pegs. They are the strongest. You generally do need a rubber mallet to drive them in. And it takes a little practice to get good with them. But we will do those approximately every ten feet the length of the row cover. We will pull tension first lengthwise on the row and if we are going over hoops we will also pull tension across from the person working on the other side to make them nice and tight across the hoops. The other really nice thing about storing on pipes, besides storage, labeling-- all those things are really helpful--is that it is very easy to take up. We have come up with a system where when we go to take up a row cover we have a set of two portable saw horses we put at the end of the field, and they have a pair of pipe strappings. We feed our pvc pipe through those so it is fastened to the saw horse on either side. We pull up all the pegs out of the row cover. If it is a double wide row cover we will fold it in half at that point. It generally takes three people to do this. We pull it up to the saw horses and wrap the row cover on the pipe once or twice. Then we built a pvc crank. It just looks like a spool, a handle that you would use to crank anything really. We just tap that in place with our hands. Then one person cranks and begins rolling in the row cover and the other two people hold the sides to make sure it rolls in really nice and tightly on the pipe. You do have to be careful with row cover on brassica greens because humidity can be an issue. If plants are quite large under the row cover and it is a fairly wet time period you can get trouble with both rot, because it is really wet, or we have trouble with aphids or white fly larvae under the row cover. For the white fly larvae we usually have those on the Asian turnips or radishes. We find that as long as you uncover them about a week before they are ready to be picked the air moving through the crop will prevent any damage.
For something like eggplant, we really determine the pressure visually when the leaves are starting to look like Swiss cheese, and when you can see a flea beetle. That means they are getting big and eating a lot of your plants. When they are small they are very hard to see but when you start to notice them visually it is really time to takes some action. But again generally by the time the eggplant is uncovered and flowering their growth will really outpace the damage they do until usually late in the fall when the season ends. And by then, we are usually not that concerned about them anymore.
We have cucumber beetle pressure on basically anything that is in the cucumber family. Whether it be summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, melons and watermelons, winter squash. I believe that is it. Basically that family of crops is what will be affected. Cucumber beetles themselves generally do not cause a lot of damage to the crops. What they are very good at, is transporting diseases from planting to planting. We do sometimes find them to be actually physically destructive early in the season on our young cucurbits like young zucchini or young cucumbers. For that reason we usually keep those crops covered and also to protect them from the frost damage early in the season, and just cold damage in general. By the time we uncover them they are usually big enough to withstand the pressure there may be. But I have seen cucumber beetle pressure to the point where they will actually destroy the plant. At that point then we will use Surround more as the control. Surround is a kaolin clay product you mix into suspension with water and you spray to coat the entire leaf surface of the plants.
We just use back pack sprayer, a hand pump back pack sprayer for spraying our Surround. Coverage is a little hard to see. It is white, the spray, so it gives you a little bit of an idea what you have gotten and haven’t gotten. The underside of the leaves is difficult to get. The only thing you can do is just try to keep the wand moving a lot. You do your best to get under the leaves of the plant and to keep the wand moving a lot. But again we are trying to move pretty quickly so you have to do the best as you can as quickly as you can. You don’t have to completely cover every square inch of the leaves to have it be fairly effective. The way surround works is that after the plant is coated in the white clay kaolin clay substance that then forms a barrier and when cucumber beetles and basically any insect lands on the plant they basically get covered in the powder. Cucumber beetles and insects breathe through their skin and they find this irritating. And the way we describe this is that they actually spend excessive time grooming, actually trying to clean the residue off their skin and they just become sort of disgusted and move away. And believe it or not it actually works rather effectively. And it is nice for that reason because you are not using a pesticide that is broad spectrum thing that is killing the insects. It is actually just annoying them until they go somewhere else and they leave you alone.
And beyond with several of the cucumber crops; with cucumbers, zucchini squash and melons we will plant successions of as well. We generally plant cucumbers and zucchini every three to four weeks. And it is not so much because of the cucumber beetles it is just that the plants seem to become exhausted, as well as the beetles start to spread diseases as well as us picking starts to spread diseases through the patch.
So, it is good to have a fresh batch coming on line every three to four weeks and then you can till in the previous planting, preferably as quickly as possible. And then move onto the next. The important thing to remember when you are doing succession planting is when you have successions overlap and you are picking make sure you pick in the newest patch first and work your way back into the older plantings. That way you are not carrying either pests or diseases from the older plantings into your brand new nice looking plants.
For cabbage worms again rotation is also an important control and again the crops like brassicas again are one we transplant. So it is important to grow really strong healthy transplants. Those are the main cultural controls--growing good transplants and rotation. For cabbage worm we use Bt. Bacillus thuringensis. The kurstaki variety is the one most effective for controlling cabbage worm. In terms of using Bt as a control on brassicas, we don’t really worry about cabbage worms having an effect on the health of the crop. It is almost more of an aesthetic effect in particular in broccoli heads. But also it can be a problem in winter kale, large kale and cabbage where the worms will either want to chew holes in the heads in the case of kale or cabbage. Where in broccoli there is just green worms all peppered throughout the head. They don’t really cause a lot of damage. But when you go home and put them in the pot a whole bunch of green worms float to the top. So it is mostly keeping our customers happy, is why we use Bt to control cabbage worms. We use a couple basic measures to decide when it is time to spray Bt in terms of controlling cabbage worms. The first is just visually. You can look and see when there are a lot of white cabbage moths in your field. Some years the instance you transplant you start to see cabbage moths and landing on your transplants and laying their eggs immediately. Other years, just because of natural population fluctuations there is not that many around and it is not a real severe problem. In general for us we are just treating the crop prior to harvest. For broccoli or cauliflower a week or two before we are going to harvest we generally spray just the heads and surrounding area. We are not covering the whole plant. We are just spraying the area that our customers are going to get and we don’t want the worms to be in. And what happens then is the cabbage worms then feed on the crop and they then ingest the Bt and it actually ruptures their intestinal track, is basically how I understand it and they will die.
Again with Bt I would recommend, and with any spray, to read the label that comes in the bag. I think the most dangerous part of working with Bt is working with the concentrate when you are mixing the mix. It is always good to wear gloves and it is always good to wear long protective clothing and I believe they also recommend that you remove that clothing after you are done spraying. Do your best to keep it off of you and your clothes as much as possible.
Our best way of knowing what sort of pest pressure we are getting to is by getting out there and walking the field. The best management you can do for anything on your farm is to get out there and walk around all of it. So get out and take a good look at all your crops. Walk an entire row, walk a few different rows. To see what kind of pressure whether it is pests or diseases or if something just needs water. We have always gone by the philosophy the best fertilizer on the farm is the farmer’s footsteps. So if you can get out there within your crops and really check it out you can really make some good management decisions.
In general dealing with insects and pest management organically is not particularly difficult as long as you are prepared. You want to take note of the crops you are growing and what are their significant pests and develop a plan before the season to be able to manage them when the trouble comes. If it turns out that in that year you don’t have any pest or disease pressure and you don’t have to use whatever methods you devised that is great at least you are prepared for next season. But being prepared and doing your research ahead of time is probably the most important thing you can do in terms of controlling the pests on your farm.
This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.