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2013 SARE IPM Study Summary

Synopsis of IPM Study - grant # FNC13-938 Back to Study Page

Jump to: ★ First quarter ★ July Interim Assessment ★ September Interim Assessment ★ Final IPM Analysis

First quarter: We learned several things in the first quarter of our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) project. First, winter rye which was to be used for mulch under the cucurbits inhibits growth of most plants due to the allelopathic effects of the plant. The late summer pushed our time line back several weeks. Produce cannot be planted until three weeks after the rye is crimped. In combination these two events delayed our cucurbits crop eight weeks. Squash bugs prefer blue hubbards over the red kuri plants. Pest have not even laid eggs on the kuri to date. Squash bug eggs take 5 days to hatch in 90 degree plus weather and up to 12 days in cool weather. Only adult squash bugs born the previous year lay eggs. The millet and buckwheat have attracted some beneficial insects, namely lady bugs and assassin flies. They are not in the numbers we would like to see, however last year we had none.

In the construction of the chicken tractor I made a number of changes on the fly. The chicken tractor houses 6 plants on each end in the sun with a shade area in the center for shelter, nest and water. It is for day time use only. The ends fold up so that it can be rolled over mature plants. The design works very well there will be only two minor changes on the second unit. The wire will be stapled on the inside to hide all the ends. The mechanism to raise and lower the wheels will be a leaver style to make operation easier.

At this point the chickens have only been in the chicken tractor 5 days. They are eating bugs but we cannot determine which bugs. We will use the egg cluster counts to determine if they are killing the mature squash bugs. As of July 5th we are pleased with the early results and hopeful that the end result will be positive.

Chicken tractor layout

July Interim Assessment: Our test model was to plant 12 hubbards and 12 Kuris in a pattern as shown in the photo. The chicken tractor would sit over half the plants. The premise was to count both sections and thus by comparing the two counts we could obtain quantitative analysis of the effect the chickens had on the pest populations. July has brought with it a number of challenges. First the continued cool weather (in the 50's) is now coupled with no rain for weeks. Lack of rain, cool weather and the aliphatic effect of the rye combined have effected our ability to get substantial growth from the hubbards and kuris. The cucumber beetles are killing the new plant replacements faster than we can propagate them. If the plants are too small the chickens scratch them out pursuing bugs. As of the 28th virtually all of the plants in both plots are dead. We have stock in the greenhouse for replacements. The bugs appear to have migrated to the center of the garden to attack the more healthy cucurbits.

I have decided to till both plots and completely remove any rye in the test area. We will then re-plant in an attempt to re-establish the hubbard population. We will wait a few days before placing the chickens back into the chicken tractor to give the plants a chance to root.

September Interim Assessment: The replanting was a success, the hubbards are looking good. The squash bugs had moved to the remaining cucurbits in the center of the garden. They first killed most of the remaining zucchini then attacked and killed most of the cucumbers. After most of the cucurbits were dead they appeared to migrate back to the hubbards in large numbers. We killed 33 adult squash bugs and a number of nymphs and beetles on Aug 28th. This is also the day we integrated treating the hubbard plant stems with pepper spray to keep the stripped cucumber beetles form attacking the stems. The concept is that the pepper spray makes the stem very unappealing to the bugs. I had direct sprayed the bugs with the pepper spray to test it's effectiveness with direct contact. At this point I realized that if the chickens were to eat these bugs it may be harmful to them. So we pulled the chickens for a few days. Further research indicates that it is not harmful to birds: Can chickens taste hot peppers We will conduct further test to assess the effectiveness of ghost pepper spray. One test we are conducting is to see if the spray will kill squash bug eggs on the plant.

Final IPM Analysis:

Bottom line - it was a great success. After a number of issues including the weather, a steep learning curve and a complete reevaluation we were able to prove this method will work to control squash bugs in a vegetable produce business. In conclusion this is what we learned and how we will set up next years program: SARE Website Project FNC13-938 North Central Region.

  1. Winter Rye - Works great for weed control, the growing rate and allopathic effects delay the planting time too much to be effective for vegetable production. Unless you alternate two plots crimping the rye in the spring and waiting to plant that plot the following spring. It does add a massive amount of organic matter and is highly beneficial for fallow sections.
  2. Millet - An absolute must as a perimeter beneficial insect attraction crop. Brought parasitic wasp and lady bugs to the farm for the first time, and in large quantities.
  3. Buckwheat - As a perimeter beneficial insect crop. Also attracted beneficial insects and kept stink bugs out of the garden.
  4. Sorghum - Originally planted as a dust control barrier. No quantifiable effects determined other than the perimeter IPM total system was very effective. The whole system brought in lady bugs, lacewing, hover flies, parasitic mini-wasps and tachinid flies.
  5. Red Kuri Squash- Althoughit works to attract pest away form the cucurbits the pest much prefer the blue hubbards.
  6. Blue Hubbard Squash - Absolutely will pull the pest away from the cucurbits. Place a minimum of two plots on the outside corners of the garden area. One on each corner would be better. Kill your pest there with whatever method you prefer. Keep a ready supply of replacement plants in the greenhouse. It is better not to mulch under the hubberds, it makes monitoring the bugs much easier if they have less area to hide.
  7. Chickens - They will devour the bugs once they settle down in the hubbard area. The must be in the area at dawn and dusk to catch the bugs when they come out of the ground to feed and lay eggs. Next year we will place an electric chicken wire mesh around the plots to protect the chickens from predators at night. Two to four chickens per plot is more than enough to control the bugs.
  8. Ghost Pepper Spray - This year we pinched the egg clusters off or cut off the entire leaf of the blue hubbard. This also effected the growth of the plant. A spray made with ghost peppers in a short test late in the summer appears to eat thru the egg shell. The few we tested shriveled up and never hatched. This will reduce the damage to the plants considerably since we do not have to remove sections of leaves. Pepper spray does not effect chickens only mammals. Can chickens taste hot peppers Be very careful when using and making the spray. It is organic and also appeared to kill the few catepillers and tomato worms we were able to find and test this late in the season. We will conduct more extensive testing next year. Making pepper spray - put one or two peppers in a blender about half full of water. Puree until completely immersed, let stand 15 to 30 minutes to leach all the capsaicin out of the pepper. use a strainer and funnel to pour it into a quart spray bottle. Add a teaspoon of Dawn or Ivory dish washing detergent and finish filling with water. Wear eye protection, wash hands well after and use extreme caution. When using in the garden make sure the mist does not blow back into your eyes, wear goggles.
  9. Chicken Tractors - This design worked very well and is easily moveable. Construction details and cost are included in our program. The only issues was the wheel brackets need to be metal as wood will just not support the weight. Next year we will encircle the chicken tractor with electric chicken wire to protect the chickens at night.
  10. IPM - A 3 or 4 foot wide strip of millet and buckwheat around the entire perimeter of the vegetable production area worked very will. next year we will incorporate it with a farm scaping program to include marigolds, tansy and nasturtium to attract lady bugs, lacewing, hover flies, parasitic mini-wasps and tachinid flies.
  11. Winter rye can be easily and effectively crimped using a rotary tiller with the PTO disconnected so that it can free wheel. See our video
We would be happy to discuss our project and findings at any time contact us. or review the project on the SARE Website Project FNC13-938 North Central Region.


This project and all associated reports and support materials were supported by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture- National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed within do not necessarily reflect the view of the SARE program or the U.S. Department of Agriculture

2013 Rocky Creek Valley Farm

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