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Archive | Pests

Weed Control: Mulching Questions Answered

The Mulch and Soil Council have investigated the use of colorants in mulch products.

Weed control through mulching makes sense for many growers, but there are often questions about sourcing, safety and sustainability. May is a critical time for many gardeners to deal with existing or imminent weed issues before problems get totally out of control. Mulching is a key component of a multi-pronged approach to gaining the upper hand in the weed control battle.

Is Cypress Mulch Sustainable?

Shredded cypress is a popular mulching material for weed control because it is slow to decompose and the long strands lock together and don’t blow or float away easily. Attractive and natural looking, cypress mulch has many fans in the garden. The majestic swampy cypress forests across the Southeast, where most of the cypress mulch is harvested, are a true ecological sanctuary and face encroaching building development as more and more people flock to the Sunbelt. Gardeners are  now beginning to look at the source of their mulch and question the sustainability of cypress mulch harvesting.

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Compost Tea: A Remedy for What Injures Your Crops

A compost heap with kitchen food waste, animal manure, vegetables, fruit peel and green refuse.

Compost tea can serve multiple functions to develop healthy and fertile soil.

Combating disease on fruits and vegetables can be a frustrating experience, even for the most committed organic grower. A brief spell of adverse weather at just the wrong time can reduce peaches to unappetizing brown mush, apples to hard scabby nuggets, and cucumber vines to wilting, mildew-covered disasters. Organically approved disease control materials that are effective and do not demand too rigorous an application schedule are hard to find. So, what can you do when your grapevine gazes at you imploringly, begging for relief from yet another battle with botrytis?

Perhaps a spot of compost tea would be just what the doctor ordered!

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Fly Deterrents: Manage Odors Without Pesticides

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Jeff Henry demonstrates official application form of soft rock phosphate as a fly management tactic.

Every farmer knows that having manure odor management and fly deterrent tactics are essential for a good quality of life, for both humans and animals. But getting there too often depends on chemicals, pesticides and toxic methods. It does not have to be this way.

And now is the right time to develop those fly management tactics. Manure odors and fly populations are at their highest levels during summer’s warmth. During summer in livestock shelter areas, with even small accumulations of fresh and decaying manure, the odor-fly relationship is cause-and-effect as manure and urine odors attract a variety of types of flies.

This we know: fresh air that is free of manure odors does not attract flies, and manure that does not produce an odor does not attract flies. Can an ideal manure odor management and fly prevention program for livestock shelter areas exist in farm practice? The ideal program results in a livestock shelter area (barn, stables, loafing shed) so free of flies, full of fresh air and chemically safe that one could comfortably picnic there with family and friends. Our image of ideal success — the livestock shelter as picnic zone — guides us to its establishment in the real world.

Real Foundations for Manure Odor Management and Fly Deterrents

The tactics to start with are: (1) a cluster of standard, low-risk, fly-prevention tools to decrease an existing fly population. Several weak items working together can support each other’s actions; (2) an emphasis on decreasing fly attractant levels typical in livestock areas (the volatiles produced by manure, urine, decaying bedding material and spoiled hay/feeds), thereby preventing fly population increases and usually ensuring its decrease. Decreased concentration levels of fly attractants also make the program easier to accomplish by decreasing the need for the prevention items in (1). Further, with consistently very low levels of manure’s attractant volatiles, area fly traps’ attractant baits become relatively more effective.

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Breeding Wildness Back for Resilience

Cherry tomatoesWild tomatoes are better able to protect themselves against the destructive whitefly than our modern, commercial varieties, according to a study published in the academic journal Agronomy for Sustainable Development. Researchers show that in our quest for larger, redder, longer-lasting tomatoes we have inadvertently bred out key characteristics that help the plant defend itself against predators. Led by Newcastle University, UK, the research shows that wild tomatoes have a dual line of defense against attack; an initial mechanism which discourages the whitefly from settling on the plant and a second line of defense which happens inside the plant where a chemical reaction causes the plant sap to “gum up” blocking the whitefly’s feeding tube. Thomas McDaniel, who led the research, says the findings highlight the natural resistance of wild plant varieties and suggests we need to “breed some of that wildness back in” instead of continuously looking for new methods of pest control.

This article appears in the April 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Snap! Build a Weasel Trap to Protect Your Poultry

It’s another idyllic evening on your patch of rural heaven. Tired from a long day, you drop off to the Land of Nod, but all is not peaceful in the kingdom this night. A feathered commotion shatters your slumber. What could it be? Grabbing the flashlight, and perhaps your trusty scattergun, you plunge into the inky darkness to defend your livestock. Needless to say, mayhem ensues and your light reveals your worst fears. A weasel has been on a murderous rampage. What do you do when nature invades the coop? Bite back!

Few wild creatures have the reputation for barnyard mayhem that the tiny weasel does. A member of the mustelid family, it shares the same bloodlust as its cousins the mink and wolverine. Tipping the scales at just a few ounces and barely a foot long, this tiny hunter is well-equipped for relentless pursuit of a meal. Slim and slinky, it is astounding the cracks they can crawl through to get at a rabbit hutch. Poultry fencing is no barrier either, and they can find a way into any building.

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Interview: Scientist, Author Jonathan Lundgren Discusses Ground-Breaking Research into Insects and Species Diversity

Acres U.S.A. is North America’s monthly magazine of ecological agriculture. Each month we conduct an in-depth interview with a thought leader. The following interview appeared in our Febjonathan-lundgrenruary 2016 issue and was too important not to share widely.

Dr. Jonathan Lundgren is an agroecologist, director of the Ecdysis Foundation and CEO of Blue Dasher Farm in Brookings, South Dakota. He received his Ph.D. in Entomology from the University of Illinois in 2004 and was a top scientist with USDA-ARS for 11 years. Lundgren received the Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering awarded by the White House and has served as an advisor for national grant panels and regulatory agencies on pesticide and GM crop risk assessments. Lundgren has written 107 peer-reviewed journal articles, authored the book Relationships of Natural Enemies and Non-prey Foods and has received more than $3.4 million in grants. Dr. Lundgren has trained five post-docs and 12 graduate students from around the world. One of his priorities is to make science applicable to end-users, and he regularly interacts with the public and farmers regarding pest and farm management and insect biology. Lundgren’s research program focuses on assessing the ecological risk of pest management strategies and developing long-term solutions for sustainable food systems. His ecological research focuses heavily on conserving healthy biological communities within agroecosystems by reducing disturbance and increasing biodiversity within cropland.

Interviewed by Tracy Frisch

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