After 16 years of biodynamic pest control in the greenhouses and this is what I have to show for my efforts?
Meet Phiddippus audax. He is a tiny member of the arachnid family known generically as Jumping Spiders. He is a fast-moving little fellow about 1/4 of an inch in length, who can actually jump 3-4 times his body length when he needs to get somewhere in a hurry. As he is a timid little guy, we more often see him in escape mode. I wouldn’t say he is cuddly, and certainly if you were a potential meal for him, you might feel different about how he looks. But to me he is in the “Good Guy” category, and he doesnt seem as creepy as the over- sized barn spiders that move into the garage in late summer, or as sinister as the beautiful black and yellow orb spiders that move into the field tomatoes in the summer and weave those incredible webs. My Dad actually went so far as to bestow the name ‘Mr. Witloof’ on the little jumping spider, as to almost humanize him.
So what has this got to do with anything?
Well, for most of my life as a greenhouseman, Mr, Witloof made his appearance in the greenhouse furnaces in the fall, when he moved into the greenhouses looking for warmer winter quarters. In early winter, while I would be cleaning burners and doing annual checks of my furnaces, I would find him beating a hasty retreat. But Jake Guest (of Killdeer Farm in Norwich) and I have been noticing that for the last two years there seems to have been a population spike. These funny little fellows are now in the pot trays and plant canopies. I can find an occasional Witloof wandering around up in the brugmansia and fuchsia standards. Or meandering around the shelf behind the seed boxes and radio. They seem to be everywhere now.
Beyond their comical movements and the enjoyment that seeing them brings to me , I think that there are some real reasons why they are now omnipresent. That reason could be that we have actually gotten to the point after 16 years that we can control our pests in the greenhouse biologically, without the aid of conventional or certified organic pesticides. It hasn’t been an inexpensive learning curve to do this, but for the last three years we have been dialed in enough to achieve control with biological insect releases alone.
I am by no means an entomologist or out on the edge of this , but we certainly have learned a lot about biological pest control in the last 16 years. This is due in no small part to the efforts put forth by some determined individuals in the University Cooperative Extension Systems of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Annual meetings, studies, internet access, on-farm education and scouting have additionally contributed. Even vendors have gone from just selling “good bugs in a can” to being proactive in making sure the product they sell to us has good quality control (the good bugs get delivered in the best possible condition) as well as talking with us at length about the possibilities of choice of one predatory or parasitic control over another. Lots of info.
I don’t think I’ll be problem-free in the future. Problems and hurdles always crop up in natural systems. But to go three years without dragging my sprayer out and dumping a bottle of some goo in the tank to go spray for white fly or aphids is huge for me, and something for the farm to feel good about.
So maybe Mr. Witloof is out and about because of this. Even though the arachnids are generally insensitive to most pesticides in the greenhouse, the total absence of any materials makes his household more inviting. In any event, he is a funny little guy who is now part of our defense arsenal for greenhouse pest management for aphids and other soft-bodied plant pests. Welcome home, Mr. Witloof.
Now go get ‘em..