Archive Page 3

Garden Club of Santa Barbara Visit

This morning we hosted an informational tour of our facilities to the Garden Club of Santa Barbara.  Five stations throughout the bug farm featured Deke’s Five Features of Integrated Pest Management: Releasing Beneficial Insects, Build Beneficial Refuges & Habitats, Monitor Insect Ecology, Integrate Cultural Practices and Use Soft Pesticides & Avoid Toxic Chemicals.  Our sixth station featured a behind the scenes look of production back in Fly Alley.

Ants, Roses and Religious Freedom

I’m usually glad when I answer the business line on the weekend even though we’re officially closed. Customers often present questions that I’m happy to help unravel. Sometimes new inquiries make my day, like last Sunday. A young woman’s voice asked, “Are you open? I need aphid controls.” It soon became clear to me that she really needed ant controls. It became clear to her that she really wanted to come over and learn about it eye to eye. A bright curiosity in her voice drew the OK out of me.

She was actually calling for her boyfriend and his 16 young citrus trees and roses. They were at the local nursery weighing a decision to buy the spined soldier bug eggs (the ones that utlimately come in the mail) to control argentine ants that they were sure occupied their greater neighborhood. They got a tip to give us a call first.

What a delight! They absorbed new insights about insect ecology so fast! It was charming how he admitted being a perfectionist about his trees. He decided on both an AntPro and AntsNoMore bait stations, Gourmet Liquid Ant Bait AND the granular bait laced with insect growth regulator. My description of the triple jeopardy for ant mounds turned over with a shovel was all he needed to feel armed for battle. He had the confidence to conquer the millions of ants in his little orchard. Still, he said he was worried and made another joke about being a perfectionist. I pointed to the blurbs about Rhizoboost and Microbe Nutrients in our Catalog. Spraying the bacteria on the rose bushes can interfere with the rust he was worried about as well as stimulate the food web in the root zone. But for now, we decided to concentrate on the ant campaign.

As I finished getting payment information, I learned that they are Persian-American Moslems. She was fasting. I said, “That’s why your face is radiant.” They were curious about the photo of ‘Abdu’l-Baha on a high shelf above my desk. His clothing is turn of the last century Persian. Four eyes fixed on ‘Abdu’l-Baha. I said, “He is the son of the prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith.” They looked left and right, “There are Baha’is around here!!?” “I’m a Baha’i,” I said. Eyes wide, was I also fasting for Ramadan? I said that God is merciful, for Baha’is the fast is only 19 days. It ends at Naw Ruz. We agreed on how we love the fast, the feeling of lightness, the quality of prayer at the end of a day, more clear than prayer during the rest of the year.

I turned my monitor towards them, “Iran just sentenced seven Baha’i leaders to 20 years solely because they are Baha’is.” She said, “My mother told me about that! It’s terrible.” I just got this announcement. Amnesty International provides a mailing address where we can plea to the Iranian government. The youth said that unfortunately nothing like that would do any good. “You can’t change them. They are just crazy.” She said it with such assurance and finality I was riveted.

Through diligent and persistent attention they will nurture their trees and roses to optimum health. What explains being so full of optimism about trees and roses achieving perfection and so cynical about one’s people respecting religious freedom? I want to urge them to also take a stand for justice in Iran. Tweet freedom songs for the Baha’is during Ramadan.

-Jan Dietrick, Manager

Community Jobs Forum – Feedback for the White House

Rincon Vitova Insectaries takes part in the White Houses community jobs forum program

Duke Gribble talks green jobs during the "Let's Talk Jobs" forum hosted by Rincon-Vitova Insectaries on January 5, 2010.

We accepted an invitation to participate in giving feedback to the White House about how to create jobs in our community. We received five discussion questions from the White House. We had a total of 12 participants of which ten were our coworkers  and two guests. We invited five neighboring businesses and 15 friends and sent news releases to local media.  We had eight men and four  women;  five over 57 years, five under 27, two in between. At least half of us have college degrees. We provided refreshments in our shipping room. Older participants were impressed by the constructive thoughtful outlook of younger coworkers. We all felt energized that our ideas have a direct channel to policy makers. The following results were sent back to the White House.

1. What is relevant to our community regarding Obama’s Plans presented December 3?

a. Payroll tax holiday to small businesses that hire: Concensus is it would help the business and employees have extra cash, but is questionable as an incentive for businesses to create more jobs.  The main question being how long would these benefits last.

b. Loans to small businesses: We agreed that banks need to support smaller/micro loans as opposed to current tendency that they don’t want to process applications of less than $100,000.  Must  streamline the process. Small fixed rate loans with fair interest and easy application process would encourage small business expansion rather than current lending that only helps larger well established businesses.

c.  Investing in infrastructure: The focus on fundamental change is more important than band-aid fixes which give quick fix jobs, but help to perpetuate the problems in the long run.  We don’t feel that the immediate fixes being discussed, i.e. highway repairs and expansion,  will have long term benefits.  Are we still producing at a loss as soon these new jobs will fade?   e.g. “Adding another lane on a freeway instead of building an infrastructure which encourages less traffic.”

Need to streamline the planning and contracting process: Someone heard on the news about a highway built across China that took 18 months from conception to completion whereas it takes 8-10 years just to complete the paperwork for a highway project in our country.

The infrastructure we want is mass transit in all cities and between cities just like in the Bay Area and New York with a vision of a whole new way of doing things and helping the transition from peak oil.  Is this what Obama’s proposals refer to when they say “expand transit”?

“This is a moment for the president… to follow through on [the vision of] foundations for a green infrastructure.”

We want to see the first steps of infrastructure upgrades interwoven into a long-range evolution of a green culture.  We believe we can move in a different direction reflecting different societal values to accomplish the jobs creation goal. Weatherizing homes is not enough. What about weathering all buildings? What about upgrading the electrical grid? We want  to see programs for small businesses to set up solar powered systems to not only provide for themselves, but to sell/earn credit for excess pushed back into the grid.  This would add massive incentive for big and small businesses, as well as homes down the line.  It would also help to offset the cost of installing such a system.

c. Extending benefits for unemployed: Retraining programs. We strongly agreed that these would be more beneficial for the unemployed in the long run. Some were shocked to learn from those who have been on unemployment that if they signed up for a training program they lost their benefits. It should be the opposite where you cannot be on unemployment benefits unless you are in a retraining program. This led to discussion about encouraging living wages and affordable housing.

PERSONAL STORY related to unemployment benefits
Encourage programs such as food stamps that have greater return on the dollar for the money in circulation ($1.73 for every dollar given out as food stamps).  One member stated that when his family went on food stamps all those years ago, they ate better than they ever had.  As the father could no longer spend family funds on cigarettes and alcohol.

PERSONAL STORY regarding outsourcing

One member mentioned that she had been a part of a company that had found it cheaper to outsource than employ at home.  We feel that there should be no tax credits to companies that outsource, but rather the opposite.  Company stakeholders don’t just exist on Wall Street, but are also people in the community that rely on the company’s existence.   The point was also made that NAFTA needs to work through FAIR TRADE, not just free trade, and grow from there to equity in the global economy.

All agreed that what we really need is the government to put its foot down with regulations (preferably green) that push us forward.  When jobs are outsourced under legitimate motives based on fair trade, but there is still a need to push our infrastructure and economy forward,  enforcement of  laws to achieve greater social and economic justice will stimulate business to find ways to satisfy needs. We welcome investment in jobs to expand the monitoring and enforcement of fair non-polluting trade.

We discussed the difference between fair trade in response to regulations and fair trade for moral reasons.  Laws aren’t enough and corporate leaders need moral transformation. However, many big corporations argue on moral points when it is a cover-up for clearly unjust decisions. The government could invest in moral education to transform our business leaders to authentically care about other people.

“Our values as a society are shifting from ‘do whatever it takes’  to consideration of growth for all countries, developed and developing….by expanding the stakeholder perspective…and avoid the ‘him vs me’ attitude.”

e. Assisting states and local governments:

Unfunded Mandates: get rid of them!  When states receive these, they have to take funding away from existing programs (e.g. education, law enforcement, etc….).  No law should be signed that does not have the funds to go with it.
2. What parts of local economy are working/thriving?
Oil companies, solar installation, simple pleasures, medical marijuana, pet industry, apartment rentals (as people aren’t buying homes), small home remodelling like bathrooms, biological pest control, vegetable garden installation services, other organic industries. Health services are expanding (Kaiser has hire several new doctors for our County. However, we hear of fraudulent billing of Medicare by local hospitals.  Both hospitals are doing extensive renovations that no other institution can afford.

Rinvon Vitova "Let's Talk Jobs" Forum

We had 12 people attend the Jobs Forum which we held in our shipping area.

3. What parts of the local economy are suffering?
Construction, video rentals, landscaping, nurseries, small farms.
4. Opportunities for growth/ jobs of the future:
Generally: Government needs to put foot down with laws, regulation, enforcement and incentives towards greener technologies.  Private business will fill in the gaps or adjust and create many jobs to address new services, infrastructure and markets.


Water infrastructure:  set up water catchments to fill aquifers, change codes to require gray water recycling and fund skills training and property tax credits.

Fish and shrimp farming in sustainable systems.

Recycling and repurposing waste: for example shredding tires insulation and for sidewalks and playgrounds and recycled plastic mixed with calcium carbonate to make paper
Mesquite and mulberry trees planted on roadsides: mesquite seeds can be harvested and the flour sells for a high price, people can grow silkworms like in Uzbekistan

Create small green business incubators:  low or no rent and technical support for people with new business concepts (Definition of green biz:  drives a cleaner, more efficient and more competitive economy)

Expand certificate training programs like Green Gardener of Santa Barbara to certify business and residential landscapes—stimulates expanded production of tools and materials for non-toxic gardening and foodscaping, stimulates demand for  green landscapers  (also develop ideas for helping landscapers develop income-producing revenue in the winter)

Give grants to train managers and support staff to use the latest software to grow their businesses: focus on marketing, sales, contact relationship management, cost accounting, cash flow management. High quality, intensive, handson training at low cost with paid internships in small businesses. The green biz incubators can hire unemployed graduates of the technology training to form a free consulting pool so they get experience with different kinds of businesses.

Replicate the Entrepreneurial Academy that was given by Ventura County but with more intensive hands-on support from consultants like those at SCORE.

Build community energy co-generation projects.

Electric vehicles – yesterday!!

Revamp Uniform Building Code to reward use of energy and water efficient and environmentally friendly designs and construction, requirements for all buildings, unlike LEEDS.

Give grants to retrain manufacturing and construction workers in skills related to organic and sustainable agriculture, resource conservation, natural building, gray water recycling, etc. Could be through non-profit regional development, demonstration and training centers, like Seed Savers Exchange and The Land Institute.

Clean up toxic waste everywhere and increase education how to stop pollution.

Require airlines tow the planes on the runway instead of running the jet fuel engines that produce enormous amounts of CO2, employs more people at the airport and does a lot to combat global warming.

5. What are the obstacles to job creation:

Markets. Companies need to change through market and product development that requires more learning, more new skills.

“We must restructure institutions from growth-dependent to steady-state economy. It’s impossible to have a perpetrually growing number of jobs.” … easy!!

6. Other observations our owner-managers would like to share with the President:

Rincon-Vitova Insectaries business has been stable.  An extraordinary boost in assets at the beginning of 2009 allowed us to hire unemployed college graduates as low-paid interns for internet marketing projects and employ our production workers more than usual in the off-season doing energy conservation facility development . Hence, we expanded rather than decreased jobs in 2009.

Our customer base has shifted toward more urban pest management and a few larger industrial customers have gone under. Our sales of natural pesticide products and insect traps and lures has increased relative to our sales of beneficial insects. Our sales of vacuum insect collectors has gone up — scientists now have funds to study the effects on insect populations from global warming, an example of many small ways in which intelligent response to global changes supports jobs creation.

We could grow our business more quickly if the following obstacles were removed:

Having to administer health care benefits for employees: It is a burden to be responsible for the health care of our employees.  A single-payer health care system not tied to employment would release our potential in our field of specialty without having to become expert about purchasing medical insurance.

Having to wait so long for approval of building permits and difficult communication with plan checkers: Uniform Building Code and local political forces make it difficult to do energy and water conserving projects and there aren’t many local subcontractors with the skills to do the most green technologies.

Hiring  people qualified in their specialty who lack basic business skills and have limited access to relevant, reasonable cost outside training. Learning the basics of our business operations takes over a year and learning to do advanced skills for our company to grow takes over three years of experience and training that is not accessible at any educational institutions and few other companies. If the educational system made relevant basic training more available, our company would be growing at three to four times the rate that it is with the managers spending  so much time doing basic in-house training. SCORE has helped a little, but there is so much potential for SCORE to help with this.

If we could have spent the amount of time and resources carrying out our development and marketing plans that we spent during the past three years on health insurance, jumping through hoops for building permits and basic business training, we might have been able to lead our group to double the sales of our company, create two to four permanent new jobs, improve everyone’s compensation, and help twice as many customers stop using polluting chemical pesticides.

Winter Rains Bring Spring Flowers

Here at the Bug Farm, the rainy season is in full effect. In places with a mild Mediterranean climate like ours, this is the best time to plant habitat seed mixes. (In areas further north, plant after the danger of frost is past.) The rain makes it easy for the habitat plants to get established, and by the time the spring crops are planted, some of the flowers should already be blooming and doing their part to support a healthy natural enemy complex to protect the new crop.

If you haven’t sown your habitat seeds yet, don’t fret. Keeping the habitat-to-be wet for a couple of weeks before planting will sprout weed seeds to help reduce weed problems later. Be careful not to disturb soil too much when killing the weeds before planting, though. Tilling can bring new weed seeds up to the surface, undoing the weed control benefits of pre-germinating the surface weed seeds. We’ve found that shallowly raking works well to pull up the weed seedlings without revealing too many new seeds.

See our Habitat Seed Mix page for more information on attracting beneficials with habitat plantings, along with a list of seed mixes we carry.

-Alia Tsang, bug farm intern

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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