Friday, June 28, 2019

Making The Most Of Predatory Insects

Closeup of a black and red ladybug beetle dangling from the bottom of a cluster of white flowers Photo by Janice Gill on Unsplash
Beneficial insects and beneficial organisms are the backbone of what we do here at ARBICO Organics. We send out millions and millions of insects, beneficial nematodes and other living creatures. While we refer to them broadly as “beneficials”, they are (with a few exceptions like earthworms, bees and green lacewing adults), predatory beings. Some are direct predators of insects and larvae and others, like some of our bacterium and fungi compete for resources and overwhelm pathogenic cells. It is a constant war in the microscopic and microbial world.Whether you are growing indoor tomatoes or tending to a larger landscape, predatory insects can be an important tool for you.

Recently our Operations Manager, Arianna Taylor, was asked by Cannabis Business Times magazine to answer a few questions for an upcoming issue. They asked her how to get the best results when using predatory insects for pest control in an IPM (Intergrated Pest Management) program. Here is what Arianna has to say on this subject:

Long fields of green crops with dark brown furrows. Phot by Adele Payman on UnsplashWhy are predatory insects an integral part of an Integrated Pest Management Program?
Any good pest control program begins with a well thought out plan; working predatory insects into that program early on can make a big difference. By introducing insects early and establishing strong populations of predators, pest insect numbers can be kept below thresholds therefore preventing excess treatments. Sometimes other treatments are necessary, that is the beauty of IPM. No one thing is going to be good enough to solve the problem. Predatory insects are just one piece of the IPM pie and work congruously with the other mechanisms for pest control. IPM programs have room for multiple modes of action including trapping, mechanical control, predatory insects and if necessary, spraying in moderation.Overuse of certain insecticides can lead to resistance in insect populations. By minimizing chemical input and using predatory insects as a pest control method, insect resistance is avoided and end product testing risks reduced. 

A greenhouse with plants on either side of a tile walkway leading to a green door in a brick wall with stained glass church-like windows. Photo by Renee Fisher on UnsplashHow can I create an environment conducive for optimal insect effectiveness?
Predatory insects, like many living things, have requirements for living environments. Keeping temperatures and humidity in ranges for predator activity increases effectiveness. Idea temperature and humidity along with the preferred food source promotes maximum predator reproduction rates. Cover cropping can help provide conducive habitats for predator breeding as well as help to control moisture within the soil. The use of compatible or soft insecticides can also keep pest populations under control. 

Why is continuity important in a predatory insect program?
Ensuring that predatory insects are thriving can lessen the pest population. By providing good habitats and augmented predator releases, predators can outcompete a pest. A single application of predatory insects will not provide the rate of consumption necessary to compete with rapid pest reproduction rates. Repeated applications on a schedule allows for introduction of additional predators while others transition through life stages. Specialist insects often require additional lead times, so planning is a necessity.

How can I use predatory insects to help control not just plants in the greenhouse, but surrounding foliage and structures to prevent infestation?
Woman with orange shirt and black pants walking between the rows of a white plastic covered hoop house. Photo by Raychan on Unsplash
When introducing predators as part of an IPM program, it is a requirement to look at the environment as a whole. This includes monitoring and treating the entire area surrounding the growing operation. If the greenhouse, for example, is surrounded by pest laden plants, measures must be taken to prevent those pest from moving into the grow. Clean and clear pathways and walkways, use sprays to knock down or eliminate pests or introduce beneficials in surrounding plants if economic thresholds allow it. 

I want to use predatory insects, but I need to spray. What should I consider?
A black and red ladybug on a green plant approaching lots of little white aphids. Photo by Jordan Spraggins on Unsplash
A ladybug hunting aphids
Timing is everything. Applying compatible or soft sprays can help to bring down pest populations to a level in which predator introductions can thrive. When using sprays, make sure there are no residual effects that will harm predators. Many biological sprays can be used in conjunction with predators and cause no harm to their populations. 
As the requirement for final product testing becomes everyday practice, we learn that using chemical inputs during flowering is problematic. It is nearly impossible to ensure that late use of insecticides will not test at levels which prevent the product from going to sale. When using predatory insects in late stages of growth, the need to worry is eliminated.*
*Some labs are testing for foreign matter and Arbico Organics cannot guarantee that leaving insects, in whatever capacity, on the plant will not prevent a result of failing.

Tomatoes of many colors lying on a wooden surface. Photo by Vice Lee on Unsplash
If you are unclear as to just how to get going 
with our insects, we are available Monday-Friday 8am-5pm Mountain Time (with some holiday-related closures, of course). We have a roomful of consultants who are more than happy to help you work through your options and best practices; just call 800-827-2847. If you have a specific question, you can also shoot Dr. Buglady an email at

Here’s wishing you beautiful tomatoes in all the best colors!

Submitted by Pam & Arianna

Monday, June 17, 2019

Migrant Pollinators In My Backyard.

A White Winged Dove sitting amongst some white blossoms on top of a Saguaro cactus.In support of National Pollinator Week, I’ve decided to showcase a pair of very welcome summer visitors to Southern Arizona, the White Winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica) and the Lesser Long-Nosed Bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae). These species have several things in common: they are super-pollinators, they migrate between southern Arizona and Mexico and they are both flying around in abundance in my neighborhood.

Although I have lived in the Sonoran desert for many years, I have to admit that I paid very little attention to the doves around me. I had heard their calls (they are hard to miss), but I attributed most of that to Mourning Doves without giving it much thought. All that changed a little over a month ago when I opened my bedroom curtain and came face-to-face with a bird sitting on a nest. It was so close to my window that I could have reached out and touched it. In order not to disturb it, I quickly and quietly closed the curtain. But, not before surreptitiously taking a photo. I showed the picture to a co-worker who excitedly said. “That’s a White Winged Dove! They are so cool!” I
2 white winged doves (an adult and a juvenile) sitting in a nest in the branches of a tree.
White Winged Dove Adult & Juvenile
wondered why and thus began my new-found fascination with this bird.

White Winged Doves appear in southern Arizona in late spring to begin their breeding season here. What makes them special is that they migrate at this time to correspond with the reproductive cycle of the iconic Saguaro cactus (Carnegeia gigantea). Saguaros begin flowering from late April until mid-June; fruiting and ripening take place in June and July. As soon as they get to town, White Winged Doves start visiting the saguaros. They hop from one cactus to another sipping nectar and picking at seeds until the fruit comes in and the feasting begins. It is this flitting to and fro that makes them exceptional pollinators as they fly with pollen all over them. The doves are also adept at dispersing seeds; they scatter them everywhere they go. Here is a video of them in action.

The White Winged Dove and the saguaro are a perfect example of Mutualism in nature. This is when two species depend on and benefit from each other. The doves rely nearly exclusively on the saguaro for water and nutrients and the cactus needs the birds to spread its seeds and pollen.

Thousands of bats in flight at sunset.
Lesser Long-nosed Bats travel at least 1,000 miles north from Mexico to join us here in southern Arizona for pretty much the same reasons as the dove: to have babies and take advantage of the cactus buffet. In response to the presence of these pollinators, the saguaros have generously adapted to provide for both day and night feeders. Not only do their flowers bloom at night and stay open until the afternoon of the following day, nectar is produced in the night and in the morning. There is clearly enough for everyone!

a close up of a Lesser Long-nosed Bat on a black background approaching a white cactus blossom.
Lesser Long-nosed Bat
Saguaro cacti are not the only form of succulent on the menu for Lesser Long-nosed Bats. They also feed on various types of agave. In fact, those people who love tequila (okay, maybe not the morning after) owe a debt of gratitude to these bats. Simply put, without bats pollinating agave in the natural manner, there would be no tequila. As the demand for more, and higher quality, tequila has increased the attention paid to these creatures has also increased. Once on the endangered list, these little guys have made a comeback in part due to those growers preserving safe migratory pathways for them. Nothing has proven to be as successful in getting a good crop as the old bat standby. Rarely does increased human demands bring back a species from the brink, but this seems to be the case here. Here is an interesting video with more on this.

Two White Winged Doves sitting close together with their heads resting on each other.
Dove Love
I spent weeks peeking at the bird family in my bedroom tree; it was as if I was in on a secret world. I learned that both parents take turns sitting on the nest and, although their markings are essentially the same, I came to recognize each individual. They laid two eggs, but only one survived. That baby was remarkably strong and beautiful and gifted (do I sound like a proud relative?) and was up and out in no time. Now all that is left in their spindly little nest is the left-behind unhatched egg. It seems sad now. White Winged Doves are monogamous, at least through a mating season, and sometimes reuse a nest, so I take a look everyday hoping they’ve come back. I wish I had a picture to share, but I was worried about disrupting them, so the only pictures I have are through screen and glass and the details are hard to see. However, this blog has some pictures that show just what I was seeing. If you like birds in general or just want to see some truly amazing bird pictures, check out these 2018 Audubon Society Award Winners.

Submitted by Pam

Friday, June 7, 2019

What The War Left Behind.

White cliffs on a beach with white spyres coming out of the light blue sea. Normandy, France
Beautiful Normandy, France
This week we had World Environment Day on June 5th
and the 75th anniversary of the D-day invasion in Normandy, two weighty topics back to back. The combination of these two events made me wonder about the effect that World War II had on the environment. The answer is “wide-spread and ongoing” and quite eye-opening.

WWII was fought or felt in virtually every corner of the world, with the two main fronts being the Pacific (War in the Pacific) and Europe (The European Theater). Many of the key fighting nations had far-flung colonies that were not in these areas; but they pulled soldiers and resources from them, so distance was not a shelter for citizens of those countries. Even those parts of the world that were spared fighting in their homeland were not spared the economic and (as we shall see) environmental effects.

I found a really interesting site that clearly explains how WWII came to be by using a series of maps, check it out here.

Black & white photo from World War Two showing an American soldier, Alfonton Ortega from LA, making white crosses after the D-day landing.  
Alfonton Ortega from LA making crosses after D-day
Perhaps the greatest hit to the environment from WWII came from the sheer loss of life.
Somewhere between 50 and 80 million people died worldwide. This includes military and civilian deaths and deaths due to famine and disease. The nations that suffered most were the Soviet Union, with 22-28 million dead and China (fighting the Japanese) with 15-20 million gone. Amongst the dead would have been the caretakers of the land, those that dredged out waterways, disposed of waste, managed fish and wildlife resources, planted trees, etc. Not to mention those with academic knowledge about the environment, such as scientists and teachers. A gruesome truth is that not only were these people gone, but their corpses caused an ecological disaster in and of themselves. In the aftermath of a battle, military equipment, salvageable items and general booty would have been taken by troops or locals. Often the dead were left where they were. In places such as Eastern Europe/Western Russia (where there had been massive loss of life in horrible conditions), the land could not be plowed after the war – there were simply too many bones to be able to get a plow through. To this day, people are still going out and removing bodies for re-internment.

A curved image of a diver swimming by a wreck in a blue lagoon with a white sand beach and green hill. In Vanuatu, South Pacific
Vanuatu, South Pacific
The War in the Pacific (for the Americans) did not have the vast battlefields as in Eastern Europe. This was an island-hopping war supported by ships and planes. But these vessels did not carry just men; they inadvertently carried weeds and spores of species on their surfaces as they traveled from island to island. The native ecosystems of the islands were forever altered by these small invaders. Additionally, loud planes and even louder guns caused noise pollution, which disrupted local species both in and out of the water. Imagine how quiet those islands were for thousands of years (probably longer) and then came the boom. The ships and planes did not always stay above water, of course. Many went down and leaked oil and contaminants into the water. Time and human effort have cleaned up most of these to the point that the wrecks are now draws for tourists. In Palau, some of the wrecks have been salvaged and sold off to pay for war claims.

By now, I expect many of my readers to be wondering about whether I will talk about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. This is arguably the biggest environmental concern ever, much less what came out of WWII, but it is also so much more and there is just too much there to wade into in this blog and do any of it justice. If you'd like to learn more and watch a short video, go here.

Toxic shipwrecks were and are still a problem in the Atlantic; especially following such big events as Dunkirk and D-day.Trace amounts of oil can still be detected in these waters from the ships that were lost.

View looking down on green fields seperated by rows of dark trees. Bocage district, western France 
Bocage district, western France
The war in Europe was characterized by widespread land degradation and habitat destruction. From the Normandy landscape of bocage (or hedgerows), where ancient barriers were knocked over and torn down, on through some of the most beautiful landscapes and towns in Europe, armies on both sides caused near total destruction. Not all the damage was done in battle; heavy equipment tore up the ground,  destroyed vehicles leaked oil and heavy metals and large areas were cut down to make way for troops and lumber.

Black and white people wandering around in smoky rubble.Aftermath of World War II, France
Aftermath of WWII, France

The recovery that Europe made after the war is nothing short of phenomenal. Starting with nothing but the need to survive and a renewed respect for teamwork, land was slowly returned to viability and new and improved social orders were formed.

The environmental effect of WWII goes far beyond what one can point to: goods needed for the war effort created new technologies and a military-industrial complex that needed new sources and infrastructure to support it. Chemical, munitions and aviation factories, working non-stop, required large amounts of electricity and pumped out lots of dirty emissions. The need to win the war, and fast, trumped any misgivings about long-term detriments. The post-war civilian demand for what these factories created (plastics, synthetics, pesticides, herbicides, petroleum-based products, medicines, aluminum and more) meant that this industrial beast stayed fed.

After decades of continued industrialization, many parts of the US were blanketed by smog and waterways churned with pollutants. There had been early voices of concern about war-related pollution, but it took until you could literally see the pollution before the environmental movement became part of the social zeitgeist and people were willing to fight for change. Although environmental issues are more widely accepted than ever, we still have a long way to go to overcome complacency. Here at ARBICO Organics, we will continue to do what we’ve been doing for the last 40 years – offering earth-friendly alternatives and keeping poisons out of our world one customer at a time.

Submitted by Pam

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