On Wednesday, attendees of AmericanHort’s Plug & Cutting Conference visited Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, North Carolina. They were greeted by an indoor basketball court, numerous microwaves and break tables for employees, conveyor belts, cutting planters and a vast overlook where a 40-acre greenhouse expansion is underway.
The Pest Management Workshop for Propagators at Metrolina, a biological controls-focused educational event, was hosted by Juan Ponce of Metrolina, Suzanne Wainwright-Evans of Buglady Consulting, Ron Valentin of BioWorks, Jeff Gabric of BASF and Jaclyn Bennett of Parabug.
The workshop included a presentation on scouting from Buglady Consulting Owner Wainwright-Evans and Metrolina Assistant Grower Carleton Stuecker.
As part of its scouting practices, Metrolina uses sticky cards throughout its production. The best way to read a sticky card is to read from the top left and look over and down like a book, following the squares, Stuecker said.
In addition, growers should take damaged plants and gently brush them, he said.
“Here, the main thing that I like to start with is look for movement,” he said. “Most things aren't going to move, so look for the movement. Once you've identified the movement, you can use your magnifying glass and see what you have there.”
At times, a magnifying glass won’t detect small mites, so growers will need to look at them through a microscope if they have one, Stuecker said.
“We've marked the major pests and insects that we have here,” he said. “Then we'll go in, and whatever our recordings were for the area, we'll put in as a location — the crop that we found it on and the numbers of insects that we have.” Then, the operation puts the information in a database and decides how to proceed from there.
Growers need to be specific in their biocontrol efforts, Wainwright-Evans said. She gives the example that in the past, when growers saw thrips, they would assume they were western flower thrips and treat them as such. But in reality, there are many types of thrips, which can harm plants or otherwise get in the way.
“Actually, here, because they have soybeans around, there will be soybean thrips on sticky cards,” she said. “When they cut some of the grass and wheat fields around here, we'll get influxes of some of the grass thrips, which are not necessarily damaging, but we have to be able to tell the thrips apart.”
Items for scouting
Wainwright-Evans explained some of the items that she finds most useful for scouting. These include, but are not limited to, sealable vials of alcohol and paintbrushes.
“What I do is just take the tip of the brush, stick it in the alcohol and as the thrip goes by, you just touch it — the thrips will stick — and then you just touch it in the alcohol [in the vial], and the thrips will fall out,” she said. “You can do this with mites, you can do this with aphids, you can do it with almost any insect.”
Next on Wainwright-Evans’ list is an aspirator, which can collect larger insects such as moths, fungus gnats and shore flies. Growers can also use them to collect predatory insects, such as hunter flies, and move them from one section of the greenhouse where they aren’t needed to a section where they are.
“You can just go doo, doo, doo, doo and suck them up,” she said.
Other items that help with identification are microscope cameras — Wainwright-Evans says to pony up more money for one with superior optics — and a 10x hand lens. (It’s good to have a hand lens with an LED light if you’re over 40, she says.)
To help scouts identify insects, Metrolina has decks of cards with photos of both insect pests and beneficial insects that were handed out during the presentation. Wainwright-Evans suggests growers make their own.
“If you buy pre-made decks, they have a lot of insects in there that you're not dealing with in your greenhouse, and you want to keep it as simple as possible for your scouts,” she says.