Old Man Winter more or less brought our outside gardening endeavors to a quick and speedy end. There are a few things left to do such as covering perennials in the garden for the winter and maybe even putting a few tools away. So, what is a gardener to do now? Well, one thing about the U of M Extension Garden website, is that there is a lot there to study and many times they offer information about other well regarded websites by other Extensions or University sites that are well worth the time and effort to visit. The first one that I have been looking through is the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Sciences, Biological Control, A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America. It can be found at https://biocontrol.entomology.cornell.edu/purpose.php.
The website states, “The goal of this effort is to extend the delivery of biological control information to the widest possible audience of researchers, Extension personnel, educators, land managers, growers, and the general public. In this guide, up-to-date text and pictures of natural enemies can be accessed world-wide. Such ready access will help in the development and delivery of educational material and will assist in the development, collation and integration of databases of value to biological control.” It covers parasitoids, pathogens, predators and weed feeders. So, for example, the weed feeders have been used in specific areas to control exotic weeds that were probably brought in by humans. The use of weed feeders have often brought exotic weeds under control up to 90 percent of the area or have caused the plant to fail completely in the area. Parasitoids are, “Insect parasitoids have an immature life stage that develops on or within a single insect host, ultimately killing the host, hence the value of parasitoids as natural enemies. Adult parasitoids are free-living and may be predaceous. Parasitoids are often called parasites, but the term parasitoid is more technically correct. Most beneficial insect parasitoids are wasps or flies, although some rove beetles (see Predators) and other insects may have life stages that are parasitoids.”
Pathogens cover such things as Bt which many gardeners have used in the past. According to the website, “pathogens have been mass produced and are available in commercial formulations for use in standard spray equipment. These products are frequently referred to as microbial insecticides, biorational, or bio-insecticides. Some of these microbial insecticides are still experimental, others have been available for many years. Formulations of the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, for example, are widely used by gardeners and commercial growers.”
Predators are something that we all are also familiar with. We sometimes find that with the predators that they can become a nuisance in themselves such as the Asian ladybeetles. “The arthropod predators of insects and mites include beetles, true bugs, lacewings, flies, midges, spiders, wasps and predatory mites. Insect predators can be found throughout plants, including the parts below ground, as well as in nearby shrubs and trees. Some predators are specialized in their choice of prey, others are generalists. Some are extremely useful natural enemies of insect pests. Unfortunately, some prey on other beneficial insects as well as pests.” So, there are good things to some of the predators and there are some not so great things that happen with using them.
As gardeners become more aware of the environment around them and the interest in using less chemicals, studying the use of biological controls will benefit many. For more information on gardening, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org