Each day our agriculture staff strives to assist Cascadian Farm growers to improve their farming operations. One research and extension program aims to improve pest control methods in vegetables using beneficial insects. As with any biological control program the aim is to attract and retain the beneficial insects (this is our organic pest control) in close proximity to the crop. By providing them with habitat and adequate and easily available food, we can encourage a diverse range of beneficial and pollinator insects to visit the field. We know pest populations will vary with each crop, location, environment and season, so building diversity helps to deal with any variation in pest population within a growing season.
Working Within the Ecosystem to Control Pests Naturally
The USDA National Organic Program requires growers to utilize alternative pest control options before resorting to the use of pesticides, even where that pesticide may be approved for use in organic agriculture. Rarely do we find a silver bullet, a single option, to overcome a problem in organic crop production. Instead organic growers often talk about the "many hammers approach" were we utilize multiple techniques at the same time, each working within their unique part of the ecosystem, to help manage a problem. Our aim is to always work with the natural cycles and tools nature has provided.
Some of the options we use are very simple, but highly effective techniques, such as altering our planting and harvest dates to avoid periods of intense pest pressure, utilizing varieties tolerant or resistant to pests, providing sufficient soil nutrients to maintain optimal plant health, and using good crop rotation and sanitation practices.
Insectaries: Strips of Plants That Attract Beneficial Insects
With the help of entomologists from Washington State University and a Cascadian Farm grower in eastern Washington, we have developed insectaries, strips of specific plant species, to act as habitat and food sources for beneficial insects. The entomologists are excited because they often see beneficial insects not normally found in fields were synthetic pesticides are used. Everywhere you look insects are at work. Some of the useful plants we use include bachelor's button (cornflower) Centaurea cyanus, white alyssum, buckwheat, and dill to attract a diverse range of beneficial insect species such as ladybugs, green lacewing, parasitic wasps, damsel bugs and assassin bugs.
By carefully selecting and evaluating different flowering plants we are able to utilize a combination of plants specifically suited to the farm, cropping system and pest species. Knowing that we can do our part to help a grower meet the organic standards, reduce their growing costs, and improve their sustainability, while at the same time reducing our environmental footprint is always satisfying. So many hammers all playing their natural role within the ecosystem as part of a program to bring you food produced with the vitality that nature always intended. We know this is the right way to grow the food that sustains us, our families and friends, our communities and this small planet.
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