Today Joel DiBernado, Head Grower at Creek Hill Nursery in Leola, PA shares their success story in transitioning from conventional growing to cutting fertilizer use 90% and replacing with beneficial insects, compost tea, and other biological controls from Sound Horticulture!
Beneficial Insects, Compost Tea, and Biological Controls: A Greenhouse Grower’s Development
One is never too old to learn. Growing up, as a greenhouse grower, any bug on the plant was the enemy. Now, the insect kingdom is being used by us to help clean up “bad” bugs.
It started in July of 2010 with a series of seminars on biological methods to combat normal greenhouse pathogens, a visit to a Connecticut grower, their in-house seminar, and meeting a good consultant, Alison from Sound Horticulture. These encounters put confidence behind the excitement that this may actually be a practical way of dealing with aphids, spider mites, whitefly, and thrips.
Practicality, plus employee safety, environmental safety, and having a consultant that knows the ins and outs of their uses, are pretty good catalysts for change. The use of beneficials requires a change of habits and mindset, and very close weekly monitoring. We use the methods of weekly placement of sticky cards and weekly scouting, and we rallied the growers to be scouts, giving that time a coveted priority.
The scouting concept took a little time for the growers to get used to, but it was soon welcomed by their discoveries of how many insects there are naturally around the greenhouse when harsh pesticides aren’t used on a weekly basis. Exclamations of, “what’s this bug?” fed an inquiring pursuit of searching thoroughly.
The scouting takes place on set days in the week. Scouting is thorough and given a high priority. It’s the only way this can work. It tells us what beneficials to order and in what quantities. We have a dedicated gal, Emily, who reads and records all the sticky cards and evaluates the growers’ scouting sheets. She then assembles a plan with consultation from our consultant at Sound Horticulture, Ali. Ali and Emily make a plan with the growers’ involvement, too. Every week the growers get to apply or release the beneficials. They get to watch first-hand the decline of the “bad” bug populations.
This new mindset also replaced the seemingly mindlessness of thinking one had to feed every week with synthetic fertilizers. Instead of constant feeding, we just stopped. It was many months before any plant showed ill effects. Now our fertilizer use is cut by 90%. We do, however, treat the water constantly with acid to drop its pH. Our water has a lot of nutrition in it from farmlands and the over use of fertilizer by the lawn industry.
At the same time we stopped feeding, we started to use compost tea supplied to us through Sound Horticulture. The theory here is that you coat the foliage and soil with good biology and you have a protection against the bad fungus that randomly lands. Mycorrhiza, Hyphal, good bacteria, and all sorts of microorganisms make up the compost tea.
All this is just allowing nature to use the built-in components of self-preservation. Biology and insects naturally prey on the bad elements in nature to restore the balance of plant life. Using synthetics constantly alters their natural abilities to ward off the bad and derails the preservation process. There are a lot of other side benefits as well. The growers, knowing that we would water everything, would pace their watering to accommodate so there was less excessive watering throughout the week. Good judgment was being learned. Plant growth was also not excessive; the cutting back of foliage through the summer months was greatly reduced.