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Ant Control Weather

When the temperature starts dropping it’s time to go on the offensive against ants. Ants are one of the biggest overlooked factors that lead to biological control failures. Many common species “farm” honeydew producing pests, including aphids and mealybugs. They eat and fight off predators, transport pests to new areas, and will even shelter aphids and mealybugs inside their ant mound. Cooler temperatures slow ants down, making them more vulnerable to attack by the vigilant farmer.

Formica ants on AntPro

Formica ants visiting AntPro bait station

One of the most effective control measures is baiting ants with low toxicity ant baits. We recommend using bait dispensers filled with liquid boric acid baits for sugar feeding ants. Dry granular borate ant baits can also be used. Boric acid won’t kill the foraging ants immediately, letting them bring the poison back to the mound where it can kill the queen. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see results right away. Because of boric acid’s low toxicity, the same reason it is effective at killing whole mounds, it may take up to a month to see a reduction in ant numbers. Boric acid bait stations can also be used to prevent ant infestations. There are various strategies for bait station placement depending on the kind of ants and the amount and type of area needing protection. If the ants don’t accept the bait, try diluting it or adding more flavor. For example, ants in strawberry crops are more attracted to bait when strawberry juice is mixed in.

Physical disruption of ant nests provides more immediate results. Using a shovel or piece of rebar to break up the ground around the entrance to the colony forces ants that would be foraging to rebuild. If food supplies are low, the ants inside may eat their young. This allows beneficial insects to get to work without interference. Unfortunately, this is only a temporary solution and mounds will need to be repeatedly disturbed to distract the ants from tending to their honeydew source.

Other control measures you can use are nematodes, orange oil drenches, and sticky barriers. Read our Ant Bulletin and our founder Everett J. Dietrick’s paper Argentine Ants Must Be Suppressed for more information on ant control. This fall we’re also offering discounts on ant control supplies.

On an ant control side note, in a field study where they used only sticky barriers for ant control in an organic citrus grove, researchers found more aphids in the trees without ants! Their conclusion was that, as a side effect of excluding ants, they were also protecting the aphids from earwigs. After analyzing the populations of other aphid predators in their grove, they determined that earwigs are one of the main natural controls of aphids in the springtime. Populations of some of the other predators grew in response to growing aphid populations, but not fast enough to control them without the help from the earwigs.

Discussing the study at Rincon-Vitova, we thought of other predators we see a lot in orchards and gardens that would be blocked by sticky barriers – wolf spiders and ground beetles. Releasing aphid predators to back up the naturally occurring ones might have helped the aphid problem in the study grove. Or maybe another method of reducing ant interference without stopping crawling predators from finding the aphids, such as baiting, would have worked better in their case. Aphids can also be blasted off plants with a strong jet of water, which might be a good strategy if you are using sticky barriers. This study is a reminder of how complex these ecological systems are, and that we have to be alert to the unexpected effects our pest control efforts.

(The study mentioned, “Effects of the concurrent exclusion of ants and earwigs on aphid abundance in an organic citrus grove,” was written by Josep Piñol, Xavier Espadaler, Núria Cañellas and Nicolás Pérez and published in the August 2009 issue of BioControl (vol. 54, no. 4, pp. 515-527).)

-Alia Tsang, Bug Farm intern

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Neem vs. Fleas

Everyone at Rincon-Vitova loves Duchess, the official Bug Farm dog, especially the fleas. Treating fleas on a bug farm is a little bit complicated, though. The standard treatment is insect growth regulators like Advantage, but using a long lasting insect growth regulator on a dog who wanders around the farm freely, getting pet by everyone, could spell trouble for the bug breeding operations going on.

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Duchess when she noses her head between your knees, begging for some help scratching, so when I saw neem mentioned as a flea remedy I decided it was time for a product test.

Neem oil comes from the seed of Azadirachta indica, an Indian tree that has been used for pest control and medicine for around 3000 years. One chemical constituent of neem is azadiractin, a natural insect growth regulator. Unlike synthetic insect growth regulators, azadirachtin is completely biodegradable and breaks down in water after about a day. This meant that we could bathe Duchess with neem oil and not worry about someone petting her and contaminating one of our fly parasite or Lindorus production rooms.

I got instructions on making a neem shampoo from Discover Neem. I mixed up some neem oil with shampoo, then Jan and I took Duchess to the employee shower along with Bryce, our multitalented photographer extrordinaire. Duchess didn’t quite like the bath, but she was patient as we tried to saturate her fur with neem shampoo, then rinsed and rubbed her down with some straight neem oil for good measure. We had read that neem oil is also supposed to help flea irritated skin. Finally, we toweled her off and set her free. When she was dry, Duchess’ coat felt much softer and she was scratching a lot less.

One important detail to remember is that neem’s main action is insect growth regulation, which means it can stop immature fleas from maturing and mature fleas from reproducing. It can potentially suffocate insects, however, it doesn’t always kill adult fleas. In warm weather, the flea life cycle from egg to adult can be as short as a week. The best way to stop fleas from bugging your pet is to attack the fleas once every week or two, breaking the flea life cycle. A flea bath once a month is generally not enough to eradicate a flea infestation. In the weeks after Duchess’ bath we got side tracked by other projects and didn’t get to bathe her enough times to completely de-flea her, but the bath she got did cut down her flea population and gave her a break from itching.

I brought some neem oil home and tried it out on my indoor cat, Samus. Since she likes to hang out on my lap and give me her fleas, I had extra incentive to bathe her more regularly. She got 3 neem shampoo treatments, one every two weeks, and her fleas were under control – at least, until she escaped one day and got reinfested. Vaccumming throughly once a week and powdering my carpet with boric acid helped a lot, too.

In any honest discussion of neem I have to mention the smell. Neem oil is powerfully pungent, smelling vaguely but not quite like really strong Thai food. Besides inhibiting insect growth, neem is also repellent to many insects, and it’s not hard to see why. Duchess didn’t seem to mind the smell, but Samus is so offended by it that she ignores me for days when I neem her.

-Alia Tsang, Bug Farm intern

Mini Lacewing Cards Part of Biocontrol Tool Kit for Gardeners

in_lacewing_02_tabMany gardeners think ‘ladybugs’ when they want to go after plant pests. When I have a chance, I try to pitch the benefits of green lacewing instead. Especially from late spring through early fall, lacewing eggs on cards are, in my experience, more reliable and versatile.

Convergent lady beetles (ladybugs) that are so popular prefer an aphid diet and migrate over large distances. They aren’t as interested as lacewing larvae are in a mixed diet that can include small caterpillars, scale crawlers, psyllids, mealybug, whitefly, in fact, just about any soft-bodied insect, mite or egg they run into.

A big feature of lacewing eggs is that they can develop in transit without harm. Buying ladybugs through the mail can be disappointing because they don’t travel very well. Most of the year when there are only stored ladybugs we can’t even guarantee that they will all be alive if they travel more than one day. Sometimes they make it, sometimes not. Hence, we recommend overnight service for ladybugs and resulting shipping costs can be extreme.

Lacewing eggs, on the other hand, are safe in transit while they are incubating. If they are traveling for three days, time enough to get those hungry larvae out on the prowl. A card of 1,000 lacewing eggs is a good amount for a yard with a few rosebushes and trees and some beds of flowers and vegetables. We encourage gardeners to put out lacewing two or three times during the warm season. They are more likely to colonize a yard that has flowers blooming throughout the season, providing nectar for the adult lacewing.

Because lacewing eggs can be shipped by ground or 3-day service, they can be combined with heavier items to economize on freight charges. A mini lacewing card costing $14.00 can be combined with a quart of Gourmet Liquid Ant Bait ($13.50) to meet Rincon-Vitova’s $25 minimum order. If you don’t have any dispensers for the ant bait and don’t want to bother with homemade ones, or if the cost of the AntPro ($26.00) is a barrier, add a pair of Ants-No-More dispensers for $7.50.

If ants aren’t going to be converging on your lacewing cards and cleaning the eggs off of them, then you can go to the next level with a combination with a mini lacewing card and a tray of 250 Aphidoletes for long-term aphid control. If caterpillars are a greater problem than aphids, add the mini-Trichogramma card for $16.00, understanding that they only attack the eggs laid by moths before they hatch into caterpillars. If powdery mildew plagues your garden later in summer, get a quart of Defensor to meet the minimum order with a final installment of lacewing eggs. Beneficial habitat seed mixes and quarts of orange oil or neem oil are other items to acquire with a shipment of lacewing eggs to build a basic toolkit for natural pest control.

Lindorus Kicks Christmas Trees Off Pesticide Treadmill

Lindorus eating pine needle scale

Lindorus eating pine needle scale

After years of spraying more pesticides and achieving less control, many of Ron Evans’ Christmas trees were left unfit to sell because of messy scale infestations. Farming for over 45 years, they began noticing pine needle scale 15 years ago. Scotch pine, red pine and Austrian pine were especially susceptible. In the mid 1990’s they used conventional pesticide spray based on monitoring and treating hot spots. Despite treatments, the scale crawlers spread and all trees with scale were eventually sprayed twice a year.

Within six years Evans reported, “Typically we were spraying all the fields three to four times per year. We tried to follow the recommendations found in pest control literature, but still found ourselves fighting a losing battle. Most of the literature recommends spraying scale when crawlers are present. Scale typically crawls for three days after hatching, and we logged as many as seven hatches the summer of 2000. The logistics of spraying 100,000+ trees in a three day window, three to four or more times per year became more than a nightmare.” Four E’s Trees was burning 1,500-3,000 trees every year that were ruined by scale pests. 

Evans called the University of Illinois Department of Entomology. Among their suggestions was a small black lady beetle Lindorus lopanthae as a scale predator. Ready to try something new, Evans cooperated in a test of Lindorus beetles. He put a small number of Lindorus in a remote patch on his farm during June 2002, while continuing with his conventional program everywhere else. In November, while they were harvesting (with difficulty because of scale damage), he walked back to the remote field, where five months prior he had released the Lindorus beetles and forgotten about them. To his surprise this patch of trees was the only area on the entire farm without a scale infestation!

Four E’s Trees released several thousand Lindorus beetles the following season. According to Evans, “The first year results were amazing. We had entire fields of marketable size trees that we could not sell in the 2002 Christmas season due to excessive infestations of scale. These same fields were scale free, healthy and salable for the 2003 season. In addition to reducing the scale infestations to manageable levels, we spent $3,000 less on pesticides and countless fewer man-hours with the Lindorus beetles than the spray program the previous year.” Lindorus must be released annually when there are enough scale to feed them, which is usually late spring to early summer.

In 2005 Rincon-Vitova Insectaries, recognizing that Four E’s was able to provide valuable technical support to expand the successful use of one of the organisms it grows, offered a dealership to Four E’s Trees to sell Lindorus to the Christmas tree industry. Evans writes and speaks to Christmas tree associations and supplies Lindorus to over 50 growers in 14 states. Four E’s helps customers assess the scope of the problem, the type of scale, the number of beetles needed and timing of release, other cultural practices to produce pest resistant trees, how to distribute the beetles and monitor results. Beetles are shipped overnight to Four E’s customers for them to make the releases. For more information about Lindorus for scale in Christmas trees, write to Ron Evans <FourEsTrees @ aol.com> or call (217) 864-4704 and ask for Ron or Doug.

AntPro Professional

Ant colonies often aid and protect pests like aphids, whitefly, thrips, and psyllids, because these insects leave behind a consumable nutritive substance called honeydew. Sometimes these invasive or pest-ants can be controlled through mechanical disruption of their trails or nests, with physical barriers, or with sticky resin products like Tanglefoot® or Stikem™. However, excessive and problematic ant populations in horticultural or institutional areas may require the additional use of ant baits and traps. That’s where Ken Kupfer, inventor of Ant Pro®, comes in.

An expert in Ant Control, Ken Kupfer brought an informative presentation and update to the RVI staff recently. Ken covered a wealth of information about ant control, ant behaviors, varying ant species, and current ant control success-stories and dilemmas within the industry of agriculture.

Updating the staff on farmers, growers, institutions, and households worldwide that are currently relying upon the documented, reliably successful, long-term ant control provided by AntPro, Ken displayed the AntPro model: a durable polypropylene liquid ant bait gravity dispenser with a screw-on platform specially designed to hold up to 20 oz of liquid ant bait, while preventing evaporation, flooding, dilution or tampering and protecting non-target insects

Ken presented pictures, maps and success stories from California vineyards to international hotels, where the use of the AntPro has reduced the need for toxic chemical control.

The RVI staff listened intently and followed-up on Ken with questions. We wanted to understand the product to be able to serve customers better.  Ken’s statistics were fascinating; for instance, did you know that there are over 200 ant types in California or that only eight percent of the ants from a typical colony do the foraging work (that means we’re not even seeing 90% of an invading colony!).

Ken was certainly a pro—an AntPro—and an informative and welcome visitor to RVI.  More about AntPro

Fungus Gnats Neutralized

Gnatrol is a microbial insecticide that attacks the maggots of fungus gnats, shore flies, and other flies in the soil. The active ingredient Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) bacteria doesn’t kill the flying adults; the maggots must eat it. Hydroponic growers like Gnatrol’s cost-effective control of fungus gnats. Gnatrol WDG (water dispersible granules) is OMRI listed for organic, and pending CA EPA approval. The liquid comes in 2.5 gallon jugs and the graunles in 16 lb pails.

For more info, check out our Gnatrol bulletin.

This product article originally appeared in our Biocontrol Beat Winter 2008.

Enhancing Farms and Gardens with Insecta-Flora Low

A handful of Insecta-Flora can help to attrach beneficial insects.

A handful of Insecta-Flora can help to attrach beneficial insects

Insecta-Flora is a flower seed blend that blooms through the seasons and years providing habitat for beneficial insects. Clovers and alfalfa are great habitat plants, but sometimes the showy look of Insecta-Flora containing less grass and legumes is preferred to the ever-popular and less expensive Beneficial Blend. Insecta Flora comes in Low (up to a foot high), Standard, and High (3 foot high). The Low mix provides nitrogen-fixing and erosion control as well as habitat.

Insecta-Flora as a vineyard covercrop in California.

Insecta-Flora as a vineyard covercrop in California.

Smaller beneficial insects will fly a couple hundred feet to an island of flowers that keep them going. Enhancing an upwind vineyard border yields a beneficial welcoming committee for invading pests. Covering bare ground with beneficial habitat mixes cuts heat reflection and dust to prevent spider mite problems. Mow or weed-whip half at a time and then the other half a few weeks later to concentrate the beneficials without driving them away. Wait until the flowers set to encourage reseeding.

Visit our Beneficial Materials Catalog at rinconvitova.com for more information.

You can also download our Insecta-Flora Bulletin as a PDF.


This article originally appeared in our Biocontrol Beat Winter 2008 Newetter.



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