By Olga Lansdorp, Project Coordinator, Climate Change Adaptation for Small Scale Farmers, Society Promoting Environmental Conservation
Have you ever had your eyes opened to a new way of seeing the world, to find that there is no turning back? I first experienced this when I was 18 and worked studying birds in the Rocky Mountains; suddenly the forest was alive with alarmed parents, begging chicks, predators, and males showing off, to name a few examples. It was a whole new world opening up before me, and I loved it.
I did not expect to have a similar experience at an IPM field day with experts Dru Yates and Kiara Jack of E.S. Cropconsult, organized for farmers to help them manage their diseases and insect pests. It wasn’t until the end that things got truly interesting. First we went over the principles of Integrated Pest Management, which produces economically feasible recommendations for farmers dealing with pests and diseases. It looks at proper identification, monitoring and thresholds for your diseases and pests, relying on Biological, Cultural, Physical and Chemical control options to deal with them.
Once we went over the theoretical background, we decided to go out on to the vegetable crops to identify pests and diseases. I thought it would take a lot of time to find a single insect, so I stood back and let the experts do the work. Within seconds Kiara cried “An aphid!”, followed shortly by “.., a parasitized aphid!”
Did you know that parasitic wasps lay they eggs inside a developing aphid larvae, turning the aphid into what is known as a mummy aphid? I certainly didn’t. A mummy aphid is a completely different colour from its sisters, a metallic shiny brown rather then green or black, and it also has a different shape, growing into a round blob rather than its more svelte sisters. Sometimes you can even see a round hole in the top of a mummy aphid: in this case, the wasp larvae burrowed out and flew away. IPM experts like to see mummy aphids, because they are a sign that the aphid populations are being controlled.
Within fifteen minutes there were many more examples of insect pests and beneficial insects. There were beneficial serphid larvae, tiny green larvae whose intestines you can see through their skin, and who move around as if there foot is tethered to the ground; there were tiny thrips and collembola who cause damage by sucking the leaves; weevils who cause characteristic notched damage to leaves; diamondback moth caterpillars, who are distinguished from similar species because they “freak out” when their heads are poked, moving their heads rapidly back and forth while they back up away from the stimulus. There is a whole world of creatures whose unique characteristics make them either a pest or a beneficial to farmers.
By knowing more about the insects and diseases farmers open themselves up to new methods of control. For example, many beneficial insects are limited by water availability, so including some buckets of water between plants may boost their populations. Or a young seedling being eaten by wood-lice or sow-bugs may be helped by spreading diatomaceous earth, which clogs up breathing organs and cuts up soft-bodied organisms.
It was an eye-opening experience to explore the farm fields with experts Dru and Kiara. Near the end of the day Dru cried out “An aphidoletes larva!!” Kiara rushed over to have a look, and together they counted 5 of these orange midge larvae, voracious aphid-eaters, which they were not expecting to see. It was good to see that they were still just as excited as I am about new creatures after all these years of monitoring crops.
The Climate Change Adaptation for Small Scale Farmers project is supported by Vancity enviroFund, Vancouver Foundation, SPEC individual donors, the Gow-Jarrett -Millard Family and Whole Foods Market.