A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend North Carolina State’s Tomato Field Day, at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River, NC. Every summer crowds flock from all over the Southeast to learn what’s new in the world of tomatoes. Since it’s not always convenient for you to drop what you’re doing to make a road trip to North Carolina, I’ll highlight something I learned from the field day.
Stink Bug Control by Dr. Jim Walgenbach
The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) was introduced into the United States from Asia. The insect pest was first found in Pennsylvania and is suspected to have made its way to the US in packing material. BMSB was first reported in 2009 in Hillsborough County, FL and since been found in additional Florida counties. It has a wide host range including fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals.
Fifth instar nymph of the brown marmorated stink bug on raspberry in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Photo Credit: Gary Bernon, USDA-APHIS
BMSB has a typical stink bug body shape and size with a mottled brown coloring. The key identification feature is alternating dark and light bands on the last two antennal segments.
Trissolcus japonicus adults. Female to the left; male to the right. Photo Credit: FDACS – DPI
Biological Control with Natural Enemies
Dr. Walgenbach’s team is currently researching the impact of suppressing BMSB populations by native predators such as: katydids; jumping spiders; earwigs; and lady beetles. Current observations indicate only a minor effect from these predators on BMSB.
BMSB egg masses parasitized by T. japonicus. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
Trissolcus japonicus Assessment
A regional effort has been implemented to monitor the introduction, spread, and efficacy of the Asian parasitoid Trissolcus japonicus. Trissolcus japonicus is a tiny wasp that parasitizes the eggs of various stink bug species. It was first collected from China and brought back to quarantine facilities in the US for evaluation, as a potential biological control agent. Host-specific tests have indicated that T. japonicus prefers to parasitize BMSB eggs over eggs of other stink bug species. It is suspected that release permits for the wasp will be available from the USDA in the near future.
Reporting in Florida
The brown marmorated stink bug overwinters in homes to keep warm. If stink bugs are found in yuor home, they may be the BMSB and should be reported to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry. Specimens should be collected for identification.
To follow the research of Dr. Walgenbach and his colleagues, please visit NC State’s Entomology webpage.
Bumble bees and other pollinators often visit the vast fields of cotton flowers in north Florida’s agricultural lands. Although cotton is mainly self-pollinating, pollination by bees can increase seed-set per cotton boll. Note the pollen grains stuck on each bee. Photo by Judy Biss
Bumble bees are among the most recognizable of insects. They are large, colorful, and a wonder to watch. They’re also popularized in media, cartoons, and clip-art images, but beyond the popular images, bumble bees are worthy of our attention as important pollinators of both native plants and agricultural crops. They are one of hundreds of pollinating bees that are critical to the abundance of our native lands, wildlife, and also our food supply. Protection of pollinators has received national recognition and many programs are now geared towards pollinator conservation.
Why is Pollinator Protection Important?
According to the UF/IFAS publication Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides:
The western honey bee is conceivably the most important pollinator in Florida and American agricultural landscapes. The honey bee is credited with approximately 85% of the pollinating activity necessary to supply about one-quarter to one-third of the nation’s food supply. Over 50 major crops in the United States and at least 13 in Florida either depend on honey bees for pollination or produce more abundantly when honey bees are plentiful.
“Growers also use other managed bees species, such as the bumble bee to provide field and greenhouse crop pollination services. Additionally, there are more than 315 species of wild/unmanaged bees in Florida that play a role in the pollination of agricultural crops and natural and managed landscapes. These include mining bees, mason bees, sweat bees, leafcutter bees, feral honey bees, and carpenter bees, among others.”
Pollinator Protection was formally recognized at the federal level in 2014, when the President of the United States signed an official memorandum entitled: Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators which outlines specific steps to increase and improve pollinator habitat. These steps are geared towards protecting and restoring populations of not only honey bees, but native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies; all of which are vital to our nation’s economy, food production, and environmental health.
Bumble Bee Biology and Ecology
There is much to learn about these fascinating insects. Here are some facts to feed your curiosity. Additional resources are listed at the end of this article.
- Bumble bees belong to the genus Bombus within the family Apidae. As such, they are related to honey bees, carpenter bees, cuckoo bees, digger bees, stingless bees, and orchid bees.
- There are about 50 species of North American bumble bees.
- Bumble bees are social and form colonies like honey bees do, but bumble bee colonies are smaller (50 – 500 individuals), and their colonies only last one season.
- Bumble bees generally make their nests in the ground, using abandoned rodent cavities or under old tree roots, etc.
- Each spring, a mated queen emerges from winter hibernation and finds a suitable underground cavity. She begins collecting nectar and pollen and laying eggs to build her colony.
- By late summer and into fall, the only surviving member of the colony are new queens.
- These queens mate and then they hibernate during winter 2-5 inches deep in the soil. The following spring these queens emerge and start new colonies, repeating the annual cycle.
- Bumble bees are adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions and can forage in cooler, cloudier, and wetter weather better than other bees. Because of this adaptation, they are generally the first bees out in early spring and the last bees out in the fall.
- Since bumble bees are adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions, they are also able to feed on a wide variety of flowering plants.
- Bumble bees do make honey, but only enough to feed the colony during bad weather, when they are unable to go out and forage.
- Bumble bees, like the blueberry bee collect pollen from certain flowers using a unique behavior called “buzz pollination,” or “sonication.” This behavior is not found in European honey bees. Some plants, blueberries for example, hold tightly to their tiny pollen. Bumble bees and blueberry bees grab the flower structure and powerfully vibrate their wings while holding onto the flower. Their whole body vibrates and literally shakes the pollen lose from the flower.
- Bumble bees are so effective at pollinating important food crops, they are raised commercially and sold to pollinate produce such as tomatoes, peppers, cranberries, and strawberries.
Create Your Own Pollinator Pasture
You can help increase the abundance and health of bumble bees, other native pollinators, and honey bees by creating nectar and pollen rich bee pastures. These pastures can be filled with annual plants, which grow from seed each year, perennial plants, which return and spread on their own each year, various flowering shrubs and trees, or any mixture of above. You can also manage existing natural areas and woodlands by employing recommended prescribed fire regimes, non-native invasive plant control, and other practices to encourage a diversity of native pollinator plants.
The ideal bee pasture is one in which flowers are blooming as continuously as possible throughout the year. Research shows bees thrive best in open sunny pastures that are as large as possible, with a diversity of plants types. While flowering shrubs along woodland edges are well used by bees, a bee pasture that is allowed to become dominated by trees and shade will become less attractive to bees. A dedicated, open, sunny pasture having nectar and pollen plant diversity is best. Just as with any field you intend to plant, the first step is to collect a soil sample for analysis of existing nutrients and pH levels. (For more information on soil samples read the article Soil Test First!
Pollinator Plant Types
There are many plants that provide nutritious nectar and pollen for North Florida’s pollinators. Some examples of plants which are good pollinator food sources are maple trees, redbuds, poplars, gallberries, blackberries, palmettos, partridge pea, mint, thistles, goldenrod, asters, tickseeds, sunflowers, squash, melons, and clovers. If you purchase a bee pasture blend from a seed company, make sure it is suited for growing in North Florida and does not contain noxious, invasive, weedy plant species. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council maintains a listing of documented invasive plants here: List of Invasive Plant Species.
Summary and Resources
The business, biology, and botany of pollination is fascinating and critical to sustainable and diverse food production in Florida and the United States. Bumble bees are just one of the many native pollinators that frequent our forests, fields, and gardens. Consider turning your fallow lands or backyards into productive bee pasture and reap a sweet harvest.
For more information please see the resources used for this article below:
Bring the whole family for a fun day at the NFREC Art & Garden Festival and talk with agricultural scientists about new crops, methods and equipment for modern farming.
As the weather cools and plants perk up, join us for a day of fun activities for the whole family! View farm animals and equipment, and talk with agricultural scientists about new crops, methods and equipment for modern farming. Take a stroll through the new botanical garden or hop on a tractor-trolley for a tour highlighting fruits and nuts for our area. Speak with experts about all your gardening questions, or purchase unusual, hard-to-find, top-performing plants for your garden. Children’s arts and crafts activities will take place in a huge “Kid Zone” located in a shaded area of the garden area. Local arts and crafts will be for sale, and food and beverages will be available.
The University of Florida/IFAS will host the Art, Garden & Farm Family Festival on Saturday October 6, at the North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC), Quincy Campus. The event will be held form 9:00 am to 2:00 pm EDT. NFREC Quincy is located off Pat Thomas Highway, State Road 267, at 155 Research Road, Quincy, FL, just north of I-10 Exit 181, or three miles south of Quincy, Florida.
The event is free and open to the public. For more information: http://nfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/art-and-garden/
Supplemental water is necessary for good crop yields in fruit and vegetable production. Water quality is equally as important as water quantity when it comes to fruit and vegetable production. Unfortunately, water can transport harmful microorganisms from adjacent lands or other areas of the farm. The water source and how the water is applied influence the risk for crop contamination to occur.
Water is used for various purposes during production: harvesting, and handling fresh produce, irrigation, cooling, frost protection, as a carrier for fertilizers and pesticides, and for washing tools and harvest containers, hand washing, and drinking.
Washing lettuce. Photo Credit: Cornell University Extension
The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) proposed water compliance date is not until 2022, but it will be here before you know it. Water quality is an important component of a Food Safety Plan. A good first step in ensuring compliance with FSMA water quality standards is to evaluate the water sources on the farm. For more information on compliance dates, please visit the Produce Safety Alliance’s Website.
The three common sources of water used on farms are surface water, well water, and municipal water.
Surface water includes ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. It is at the highest risk for contamination because there is limited control on what flows downstream or from adjacent land. Wild and domestic animals, manure piles, and sewage discharges are all potential sources of contamination in surface waters.
The most common water source for North Florida farms is well water. Well water used for farming is at a moderate risk of becoming contaminated, when compared to surface water (highest risk) and municipal water (lowest risk). Wells are at a higher risk of becoming contaminated when located near flood zones, septic tanks, drainage fields, and manure/compost storage areas. The risk of contamination is further heightened if the well was not constructed properly, or if the casing is cracked. Wells should be properly sited, constructed, and maintained to keep contamination risks lower.
A recently installed well pump on a North Florida watermelon farm. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension
Well Design and Construction
- Preliminary Investigation – A preliminary investigation helps determine the design of a well. Existing wells in the area should be checked out to help determine depth and potential capacity. If records for the area aren’t available, then test holes should be drilled to determine the best location for water production.
- Casing – Casing material should be determined based on site characteristics. The casing needs to extend above the surface water level to reduce contamination risks. The casing is sealed in place with grout. A poor grouting job can also promote contamination. Casing diameter is selected based on well capacity.
- Well Screen – A commercially designed well screen should be installed to minimize hydraulic head loss. Screen diameter and material should be determined based on the preliminary investigation results. Gravel packing is recommended in some areas.
For more recommendations on well design and construction, please visit the University of Florida/IFAS publication: Design and Construction of Screened Wells for Agricultural Irrigation Systems
Please note that it is important to monitor your well water quality at least twice during each growing season. A list of FSMA approved water testing methods can be found at Cornell University’s Law School Website.
The warm February prompted early bloom in 2018, but March freezes wiped out most of the fruit in the variety trial at NFREC Quincy.
Peter C. Andersen University of Florida North Florida Research and Education Center
A one and one quarter acre (0.5 hectare) peach orchard was established during March 2015, at the North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy. The cultivars included in the trial were as follows: Gulfking, Suncoast, Flordacrest, Flordaking, Gulfcrimson, GulfPrince, Gulfsnow, GulfAtlas and Gulfcrest. Flordaking and Flordaking are melting flesh peaches, Suncoast is a melting flesh nectarine, and the remaining Gulf series are non-melting flesh peaches.
The chilling requirement of peach and nectarine cultivars is measured by the cumulative amount of hours below 45°F required to break bud and flower. Approximately 625 chill units were recorded for 2018, and most of that total occurred during the month of January. February 2018 was extremely warm with 20+ days above 75° F, which promoted early bloom. The chilling requirement, the bloom date, and the number of fruit per tree measured in 2018 were as follows:
There was a compressed bloom period in 2018, with all cultivars blooming from February 14 through 27. Freeze events occurred on March 9 and 15, which almost eliminated the entire peach crop. The temperature at the NFREC-Quincy dropped to 27°, and was 28° at a nearby weather station. All varieties were well passed full bloom and had small fruit when the freeze events occurred.
Peach trees at nearly full size in the fourth year should produce at least 300 fruit per tree. The only variety that could justify a commercial harvest was Gulfsnow, which set an average of 50 fruit per tree. Unfortunately, in 2017 we also lost the entire peach crop to a March 15 freeze. Thus, despite a general warming trend for winters during the last two decades, erratic winter temperatures remain a potential problem for the culture of peaches in North Florida.
Join us for the Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference on February 19 & 20 in Pensacola! Registration includes a farm tour, dinner after the tour, breakfast & lunch the next day, and excellent educational sessions. The complete agenda is now available. Use your mouse or finger to “click” on the image below for full screen viewing. Register online at: Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference Registration Page
Click your mouse on the image for full screen viewing.