It’s that time of year again – when all the plants in the greenhouse are gone, everything is white and sparkling, and we’re walking in a fresh, clean greenhouse wonderland. Our new little plants are just beginning to come in, and we need to make lots of preparations for the youngsters. I’m Tina Friesen, and I’m part of the Bug Brigade at NatureFresh™ Farms.
From the very first day the plants are in, we are starting an indoor ecosystem. That means a community of living things working and existing together in their environment. In our case, the environment is the warm greenhouse full of plants, and the living things are bugs. We have everything they need to survive – delicious plants and vegetables to eat, fresh air, LOTS of sun and warmth, and water. For them, it’s a tropical paradise!
So how do they get in? When it’s cold out, don’t the bugs go away? Yes and no. With the cold weather, a lot of bugs do disappear, but for some of them it can be a Houdini act – just like the legendary magician, they might be hiding right under the floor! Underneath the ground cover in our greenhouse, they can find themselves a nice little hidey-hole, safe and tucked away from all the brushing, blowing, washing and sweeping of cleanout, and go into hibernation. For insects, that’s called diapause. Then, once we warm up the greenhouse for planting, they wake up from their wintery nap, good as new! Some bugs can hitch a ride with the little plants when they come in, too. Even if the plant looks clean and healthy, there could be tiny insects under the leaves, or eggs hidden inside the leaves, almost invisible, just waiting to hatch in their new home.
In any case, with plants come bugs, and our solution is, well, more bugs! Good bugs, that is. Here’s an example: As soon as the young plants are strong enough, we put a little bag with a hook on every third plant. These bags are called sachets, and inside the sachet is a whole world of life. Tiny brown mites called Amblyseius swirskii and Amblyseius cucumeris live inside, and come out slowly over time to explore the plants and feed on pest insects like thrips, tiny yellow-brown bugs that live on and eat the plants and fruit. If we didn’t put out the sachets, our peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers would end up looking like this!
Plus, thrips can cause even more damage if they are carrying a disease. That’s right, plants get diseases too, and viruses. They are spread from plant to plant by some of the pest insects. For instance, a thrips might eat from a sick plant somewhere else, and then fly away and eat from a leaf on a healthy plant. Now that plant has the virus too! This is called thrips vectoring, which will infect the whole plant, ruining all of the fruit for the rest of the plant’s life. Yikes, no thanks! Bring on the good bugs, they know what to do! Once we have our sachets in, when a pest like thrips hatches out of its egg, there will be a swirskii or cucumeris mite just waiting to nip that problem in the bud.
This is just one of the ways that we protect our plants without using harmful pesticides. There are many other pests in the greenhouse; flying, crawling, chewing, burrowing, hungry little critters
that come in from outside to take advantage of the warmth and get busy eating our plants and vegetables. Lucky for us, we have a whole army of good bugs at our disposal! These same bugs live outside in the natural environment, working to protect Mother Nature’s garden. Step outside and take a close up look at some weeds, wildflowers, shrubs, or even tree leaves, and if you know what to look for, you can find the same system established, and many others too! Ladybugs, lacewings, different species Aphidius, and many other beneficial insects (those are the good guys) that live in the wild feeding on plant pests have been raised for greenhouse use.
So when we bring in our new plants each year in the holiday season, I have one thing on my Christmas list: package after package of my favorite presents—you guessed it—bugs!
(Click image for downloadable coloring sheet)