Do you need some insects that can eat other insects on your farm? How about insects that act as parasites on other insects, or insects that pollenate crops? If the answer to any of those scenarios is in the affirmative, Hickory Meadows Organics near Whitakers, N.C., recently hosted a field day, Establishing Beneficial Insect Habitat on Organic Farms, that was right down your alley.
The field day featured talks by N.C. State University entomologist David Orr and Tonny Kleese, one of the owners of Earthwise Co., an agricultural consulting firm in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The speakers focused on how organic farmers can establish plant plots that encourage populations of beneficial insects on their farms. However, Orr noted that farmers that grow conventional crops and those that want to enhance game bird and wildlife populations for hunting may also potentially benefit from these beneficial insect habitats, as well.
Kleese pointed out there is a wide range of considerations when establishing habitats. First, for a grower to decide is which plants to grow. For organic farms he suggests a seed mix containing Little bluestem, butterflyweed, common milkweed, black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, lance-leafed coropsis, swamp sunflower, showy goldenrod, heath aster and partridge pea.
Kleese said the best time for planting this particular mix is in late April and early May. Growers should avoid areas with high fertility for their plots with these seeds.
Equipment that is needed includes a tractor, a disc/tiller, a field cultivator, small buckets, a cultipacker mower and weedeater. For burndowns in the third year, growers also need a propane torch and a water source for fire management.
When seeding, he said, it is best to keep grass seed separate from flowers, so use separate buckets for the grass and for the flowers. Distribution by hand is easiest. Use a cultipacker or similar equipment to enhance seed to soil contact.
Mow the weeds during the first year to keep taller plants from shading out smaller ones
The plants that are chosen should each have a specific purpose.
Little bluestem grass in the plant mix in the field helps move a fire throughout a plot, Kleese said.
“Choose the site carefully,” he added, developing that theme. “For example, sometimes these fires burn quite hot so you might not want to put a plot under an electric line.”
The site should be accessible to vehicles with water, so they can be burned down safely, with water to contain flames.
Be sure to read our more detailed feature on beneficial insect habitats in the August issue of Carolina-Virginia Farmer magazine.
Also, if you’d like additional information on integrated pest management, the Department of Entomology at N.C. State University maintains a website, Biological Control Information Center at http://www4.ncsu.edu/~dorr/.
Tony Kleese and the Earthwise Co. maintain a website at http://www.earthwiselife.com/