Spring has sprung here at Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Trees are blooming, weeds are growing, and insects and pests are coming out of overwintering sites. Organic growers are getting busy seeding vegetables in the greenhouse and preparing production sites. At this time of the year, we start seeding cucurbit plants in the greenhouse that soon will be transplanted into the fields in late May. One major pest that impacts cucurbits is the striped cucumber beetle that feeds on all plant parts leaving scars and making the produce less marketable. The beetle also is a carrier for the bacterium (Erwinia tracheiphila) which causes plants to wilt and eventually die within two weeks.
Flowering plants can be utilized as a natural pest control tactic by attracting beneficial insects that feed on or parasitize pests, as well as provide habitat for increasing their populations. The flowers serve as a source of nectar and pollen for a variety of insects. It is important to know which flowering plants need to be planted, their time of flowering, and which beneficial insects will be attracted.
Dr. Gladis Zinati, an Associate Research Scientist at Rodale Institute has been using this biological tactic to tackle striped cucumber beetle pest in one of her research projects funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
The first variety to transplant in the season is the sweet alyssum, shown in the photo. Sweet alyssum is a low-growing fragrant annual flowering plant and attracts aphid-feeding insects such as ladybugs and lacewings as well as bees.
This past week Dr. Zinati and her team transplanted sweet alyssum seedlings one row per each insectary strip, with 6 inches of spacing between plants. Next week, they will transplant more flowering plants including calendula, dill, lemon balm, goldenrod and sunflower. Stay tuned and learn about the benefits of these flowering plants in the upcoming blogs.
This project funded by a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant is beginning its second year. For more information on the project, please contact Dr. Gladis Zinati, Associate Research Scientist, Rodale Institute at Gladis.Zinati@RodaleInstitute.org | 610-683-1402