Insects in the Field 101: Pests and Beneficials

By Erin Espinosa

One of the most common questions our farmers get asked by customers is how do you keep all the pests away?

The short answer is we don’t!

As farmers, we plan for a certain amount of loss from pests. However, there are many strategies we can do to reduce the impact. It is helpful to understand the pest’s life cycle to know when the pest emerges and when to monitor your crops closely. It is also helpful to understand behaviors of the pest, such as where they like to hide on the leaves, their speed, or their mating behaviors. A lot of this knowledge comes with experience and practice, but there is a lot of information online as well. (My favorite resource is the UMASS Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment.)

Organic strategies to manage pests include physical barriers like reemay, organic pesticides, planting habitat for predator populations, and more. Some of my favorite farm memories include watching beneficial hoverflies appear in defense of an aphid infestation. Insects are fascinating!

Management Strategies for Pests

Below is a list of our most popular pests on the farm, along with some of our preferred management strategies.

Pest: Flea beetle
Impacted Crops: Brassicas including bok choy, arugula, radish, broccoli 
Management Strategies & Beneficial Predators: Reemay, organic sprays 

Pest: Cucumber beetle 
Impacted Crops: Cucumbers, squashes, watermelon, cantaloupe 
Management Strategies & Beneficial Predators: Reemay, sticky traps with pheromones 

Pest: Tomato hornworm  
Impacted Crops: Tomatoes
Management Strategies & Beneficial Predators: Manually destroy, Predator is the beneficial parasitic wasp 

Pest: Thrips 
Impacted Crops: Onion, leeks 
Management Strategies & Beneficial Predators: Plant habitat for beneficial predatory lacewings 

Pest: Cabbage worm
Impacted Crops:  Broccoli, cabbage, bok choy 
Management Strategies & Beneficial Predators: Reemay, planting bird habitat, organic spray 

Pest: Leaf miner 
Impacted Crops: Spinach, beets, Swiss chard 
Management Strategies & Beneficial Predators: Reemay and destroying infested leaves 

Pest: Colorado potato beetle 
Impacted Crops: Potatoes, eggplant 
Management Strategies & Beneficial Predators: Reemay, organic sprays, manually destroying  

Pest: Aphids
Impacted Crops: Transplants in greenhouse, crops grown indoors, leafy greens, turnips, radishes, many more. 
Management Strategies & Beneficial Predators: Attract beneficial predatory insects like lady beetles, hoverflies, midges, lace wings. Nature usually works this one out for us.

Take a Closer Look

If you are a total bug nerd like me, you have probably started looking up pictures online of all these insects. In case you haven’t, here are few of my favorite insect pictures over the years.