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Pollinator-Friendly Pest Management Solutions at Winter Street Farm

By Alina Cypher on 15. August 2022
Alina Cypher

New Hampshire is home to many small, diversified farms that are near and dear to my heart. I want to highlight a two-person operation run by a power couple that has been making major strides in pest management. 

Winter Street Farm is a three year old business, run by owner-operators Abigail Clarke and Jonathan Hayden. They are certified organic and sell their vegetables through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which means that they grow almost every vegetable under the New England sun. They use the horsepower of tractors, but most of the merit goes to their clever minds, strong bodies, daily gumption, continuous learning, and their willingness to reach out to agricultural and conservation professionals for recommendations and financial assistance.  It’s always a pleasure to visit their farm with my Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) colleagues and plan preventative pest management strategies and pollinator habitat restoration.

Not all heroes wear capes, and these farmers will go to great lengths to protect their crop while also protecting pollinators. Jonathan and Abigail are extremely passionate about conserving native pollinators/beneficial invertebrates and avoiding the use of pesticides, while producing a marketable crop. They carefully rotate their crops, plant multi-species cover crops, transplant most crops for better seedling survival, trap and monitor for problem pests, and even physically vacuum up cucumber beetles! 

 

Abigail Clarke transplanting pea seedlings with a transplanter tool
Abigail Clarke demonstrates how to transplant peas with ease using a transplanter with chain paper pots as an alternative to plastic trays. Though peas are often directly seeded into the soil, Winter Street Farm opts to transplant most of their crops due to soil-borne pests such as the onion seed maggot that attack germinating seeds. Photo: Alina Cypher/Xerces Society

 

Fending off flea beetles with exclusion netting

Last year, despite all of Abigail and Jonathan’s multifaceted efforts towards managing the brassica flea beetle, they experienced major crop loss, particularly on their tender leafy greens. This non-native insect wreaks havoc on their brassica crops (bok choy, tatsoi, radish, arugula, baby kale, hakurei, and any new planting of cabbage, kale, and broccoli), causing economic damage to their budding livelihood. 

To address this issue, they physically exclude flea beetles from reaching their tender brassicas by installing hoops and covering them with insect exclusion netting – knee-high structures known as “low tunnels.” The keys to successful pest exclusion with low tunnels are to purchase a netting with a pore size that is small enough to exclude the problem pest, while still maintaining airflow, adequate light, and a reasonable temperature for the crop. Additionally, the netting must be anchored tightly against the ground and installed prior to the arrival of the pest – with special attention to crop rotation for soil borne pests!

 

Cabbage beds under exclusion netting
Two beds of cabbage and napa cabbage under exclusion netting to protect from flea beetle damage. These low tunnels have been anchored to the ground with black sandbags. In the middle ground there is black tarp used to terminate cover crops or weeds. It's an alternative to herbicides and can be reused for multiple years. In the background are two high tunnels that were installed with the financial assistance of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Photo: Alina Cypher/Xerces Society

 

A flea beetle perches on the exclusion netting, unable to reach the protected cabbage below
A flea beetle (black) perches on the hoop of the low tunnel and the taut insect exclusion netting, unable to reach the protected cabbage below. Photo: Alina Cypher/Xerces Society

 

Perennial plantings to host beneficial insects and pollinators

With pest management there are no silver bullets, but many overlapping methods can contribute to the overall health of the agroecosystem. One of Winter Street Farm’s tactics for keeping pest populations in balance is by planting mostly native flowering plants and grasses to host beneficial insects nearby their crops. 

One alternative to purchasing and releasing farmed beneficials is a method called conservation biological control, which provides habitat for the wild invertebrates that are already present in the environment. Not only does it provide food (pollen and nectar) for pollinators and other beneficial insects, but perennial plantings provide long term shelter for these good guys to nest, overwinter, and for their young to emerge in following years. With this long term gain of newly planted diverse habitat comes some serious dedication to site preparation for a successful planting. Luckily, Jonathan and Abigail are aces with using tarp to terminate unwanted vegetation. 

I’d say the future for Winter Street Farm is flowery and bright!

 

People looking at bare ground previously covered by a tarp
Owner operator Jonathan Hayden and NRCS Soil Conservationist Jon Meadows inspect the site preparation and recently seeded pollinator and beneficial insect planting alongside a drainage ditch. Farm dog Puffin sniffs the 6mm tarp that was used to smother non-native vegetation on the site. The tarp has been moved to prepare a second abutting pollinator planting that will be seeded this fall. Photo: Alina Cypher/Xerces Society

 

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