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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What information can you give me on monitoring the emergence of squash vine borer?


Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service regarding monitoring the emergence of squash vine borer.

It sounds liked you have tried many strategies for managing squash vine borer on your farm. You may be aware of the squash vine borer life cycle, but it is helpful to know the life cycle for determining a monitoring and pest management strategy. In your climate, they often have two full life cycles a year and overwinter as fully grown larvae or pupae in cocoons in the soil 2.5 to 7.5 cm (1 to 3 inches) deep. The adult moths emerge in May. Throughout May and June, single eggs are laid on stems and leaf petioles. Eggs hatch in seven to nine days. The larvae bore into the stems and feed for four to six weeks before leaving their burrows and tunneling into the soil, where they spin cocoons. The new moths emerge two to three weeks later, giving rise to a second generation of larvae during August (Hale (no date). Because they overwinter in the soil, it is critical to rotate your Cucurbit crops in addition to the exclusion method your are practicing.

The information that I read on exclusion of the borer suggests covering directly after planting and securing fully. Pull the cover off just before flowering to aid in pollination. Pheromone-baited sticky traps can be used soon after planting to monitor the activity of the adult moths. Start inspecting plants closely for squash vine borer eggs as soon as moths are caught in the traps. An excerpt from an USDA Agricultural Research Service research summary describes their trapping system of this insect:

“Interpretive Summary: Populations of this pest were monitored using pheromone baited traps in South Carolina from 1997-2004. Male moths were first captured in mid-May and they remained active for the next 4-5 months (mid-October). There are two widely overlapping generations of squash vine borers per year in South Carolina. Nine types of pheromone baited traps were evaluated, and a commercially available small wire-mesh trap was the most effective for capturing male squash vine borer moths. A larger wire-mesh trap and a commercially available collapsible nylon trap were the second and third most effective traps. A yellow and white universal moth trap also caught a significant number of moths. A Multipher 3 trap, Pherocon 1C sticky trap, Japanese beetle trap, and boll weevil trap were not effective for capturing male squash vine borer moths. Wire-cone traps are a marked improvement over sticky traps, which are commonly recommended for monitoring this pest.” (Jackson, D. , 2005)

The wire mesh trap that they describe is available through Gemplers. Below under “Further Resources” I have included contact information for Gemplers as well as the product ID number for this wire mesh pheromone trap. To view more of the specific traps referenced in the above summary see the link to this publication below under “references.”

Hale, Frank. No date. Squash Vine Borer. University of Tennessee Extension Service. Publication # SP503-A

Jackson, D.M., Canhilal, R., Carner, G.R. 2005. Trap monitoring squash vine borers in cucurbits. Journal of Agricultural and Urban Entomology. 22:27-39.

Further Resources:

Product Item No: R08301
Info Sheet Item No: IS106

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Permalink What information can you give me on movable high tunnels?

North Carolina

Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information on movable high tunnels.

A moveable high tunnel offers all of the climatic benefits of a permanent high tunnel with the addition of managing soils for pests, diseases, and nutrients. Moving high tunnels has been practiced for over one hundred years, but modern designs, management practices, and research have made moving high tunnels a rather new component to season extension. Movable high tunnels require more management than permanent high tunnels but they offer a short payback in costs while providing long-term soil fertility and disease control.

Maine organic farmer and author, Eliot Coleman, describes several of the advantages of a mobile greenhouse in his book, The New Organic Grower. One advantage Coleman describes is having more natural soil conditions that are not available with permanent structures. By moving high tunnels, many natural soil cleansing and balancing processes occur because the soil is exposed to such elements as rain, wind, snow, direct sunlight, and freezing temperatures (1). This advantage allows for a wider crop rotation that can include the use of cover crops and green manures. By incorporating the use of mobile greenhouses in to his crop plan, Coleman saves money and energy that would be needed for heating and cooling. For example, he can place a moveable high tunnel over an early planting of warm-season crops, such as tomatoes. Once the tomatoes are finished producing in the fall, the high tunnel is then moved over an August-planted cool-season crop to protect it through the late fall and early winter. As these crops are harvested, beds are replanted with late-winter and early spring cool-season crops. The high tunnel is again moved to receive summer-crop transplants once the late-winter/early spring cool-season crops mature. For these crops to be grown in a stationary greenhouse, a heating and cooling/ventilation system would be required.

Several high tunnel companies now offer movable high tunnel kits. Likewise, many farmers have designed their own methods for moving high tunnels. This includes all of the possible ways to move the tunnel, such as by hand or by tractor. Although it is important for any high tunnel to be well-built to withstand heavy rains, winds, and snow loads, it is even more important that a movable tunnel be structurally sound. The structure needs to be strong enough to not twist during the moving process. This may require the addition of more braces than what is usually required in a stationary high tunnel. In fact, Colman’s has designed his mobile greenhouses to be moved along a wheel-and-rail system, now referred to as a V-Track.

Another good example of a movable high tunnel rotation is from Heritage Prairie Farm, in Illinois. Following the guidelines set by Coleman, farmers Mike Bollinger and Katie Prochaska built their high tunnels on angle iron with five wheelbarrow wheels on each side. The 30x48 foot unheated houses can be moved to a new location by four people (3). Ideally, each tunnel is moved three or four times per year. For example: Carrots are seeded in the tunnel in February. By mid-April, they are mature enough to be outside under row cover, so the tunnel is pushed away to open ground. Tomatoes are then planted in the tunnel, where they bear much earlier than field tomatoes. In late summer, spinach is planted outside, where it grows until November, when the tunnel is pushed back over it, extending harvest into December. As the spinach finishes up, the tunnel can be moved again to another crop, such as leeks, which can be harvested until February, when it’s time to start carrots again.

Byczynski, Lynn. 2010. “Movable Hoophouses: The Next Generation.” Growing For Market. March 1.

1. Coleman, Eliot. 1995. The New Organic Grower. White River Junction, VT:
Chelsea Green Publishing.

2. Four Season Tools. 2009. “Our Method: Spacing Between Mobile Greenhouse
Lots.” Kansas City, MO: Four Season Tools, Retrieved March 28, 2011.

3. Growing for Market. 2009. “A Movable High Tunnel.” Growing For Market, Jan.1.

Further Resources
Four-season growing in movable tunnels is explained fully in Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Manual, available for $15 at or 800-307-8949.
Four Season Tools 602 Westport Rd
Kansas City, MO 64111
Phone: 816.444.7330
Fax: 816.561.5052

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Permalink What information can you give me on disinfecting equipment on my organic blueberry operation?


Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information on disinfecting tools and buckets used in your organic blueberry operation.

Disinfecting garden tools and farm equipment is an important biosecurity practice that helps prevent the spread of plant and animal diseases, fungi, pest eggs, and weed seeds. Cleaning equipment and tools also preserves the life of the tool by removing moisture-rich, rust enhancing soil from steel surfaces. There are numerous recommendations for sterilizing tools and equipment which often includes the use of chemical cleaners or organic sanitizers, such as citrus-based products.

The key to disinfecting equipment and tools is to be very thorough. To start, any soil or debris should be removed from the equipment. Soil and grime should be hosed off of tools that come in to contact with the soil, such as spades, rakes, hoes, and trowels, after every use. Research has shown that the most effective protection is through soaking the tool in a cleansing solution. Although no disinfectant proves to be 100% effective, soaking tools provides the most protection, especially over a quick dipping of the tool in a disinfectant. Tools often contain microscopic scratches that sometimes have air bubbles and short soaks may prevent contact between the tool and the solution.

Chlorine bleach is an inexpensive and effective disinfectant for soaking tools, and is allowable for this purpose by the national organic standards. There are many other disinfectants that are effective. They may be more expensive, however. I think a 50% vinegar solution would likely not prevent some plant diseases, particularly fungal, in your plastic pots and pruners. Vinegar is effective with bacteria organisms, however not as effective with fungal organisms.

Rubbing alcohol (70%) is also a common disinfectant that can be wiped off rather than washed off. There are alternative disinfectants such as periacetic acid and hydrogen peroxide. I have listed some commercial formulations of these products below under further resources. Below are some tips on insuring that whatever you use, it is effective at killing the microbes that could spread disease to your blueberry plants.

Soaking equipment for at least 10 minutes will ensure that most microbial agents are killed. Soaking overnight is the most effective method for sanitizing tools. It is important to mention that steel tool heads are susceptible to corrosion when exposed to oxygen. In fact, the better grade of steel used, the more vulnerable it is to rusting. Once the tool has been cleaned, it should be washed off with clean water and then wiped dry. Any corrosion that forms can be taken care of with sandpaper, steel wool, or a wire brush, depending on the amount of rust. Applying a thin layer of oil will help preserve the tool.

The University of Vermont has published a Guide to Disinfectants. This guide is available online at:
Some of these are allowable by the National Organic Standards and some are not.

Further Resources:
Hydrogen Peroxide:
Di-Oxy Solv Plus Broad Spectrum
GreenClean Broad Sprectrum Algaecide
OxiDate Broad Spectrum Bactericide

Peracetic Acid:
GreenClean FX (Biosafe Systems)
OXICURE (Advance Research Chemicals)

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Permalink What information can you give me on buying dung beetles for my pasture?


Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information about sources of dung beetles.

Current thinking on dung beetles holds that if your management is appropriate, and if there are any dung beetles around, they will find you. They can fly great distances and have an excellent ability to smell fresh manure from far away. They frequent fresh manure, often arriving within minutes of deposition. Dung beetles typically do not visit older, dried, or composted manure.

I want to be sure that you've read the ATTRA publication Dung Beetle Benefits in the Pasture Ecosystem. It includes information on how to find and identify beetles that are already working in your pasture. I especially recommend that you read the "Management" chapter. Also, look at the North Carolina Extension publication listed in the ATTRA publication; it is the final item under "Other Sources of Information." This publication includes colored pictures of various dung beetle species as well as information about which insecticides are detrimental to dung beetle survival. Note that most dung beetles are very small.

Remember that dung beetle activity begins in the spring when temperatures become warm. They usually emerge after a warm spring rain, so that's when you should start to watch for them. Some are very small, requiring that you look closely to actually spot them. Some operate during the night; some work in the daytime.

There is no longer a source in the US to buy dung beetles of any type. At a recent dung beetle field day in Missouri, a representative of Rincon-Vitova, a source of beneficial insects in California, suggested setting up a blog so that people can collect beetles from their place and send them to yours--or vice versa. It would be like a seed or plant exchange. It would not be subject to the types of regulations that his company faces, but would still be totally legal. Apparently, a man in Australia set up a similar system to help people get dung beetles adapted to their places. Everyone would have to learn how to collect and ship beetles. If this should happen, we will post information on the ATTRA website:

I have just received word from Ralph Voss, the convener of the first and second dung beetle field days in Missouri. There will be another dung beetle gathering this year, but this time in Louisiana. I've included the information about this field day and the end of this letter.

There is a new book, Dung Beetles and A Cowman's Profits by Charles Walters. It contains more information about dung beetles and the aborted attempt By Dr. Fincher to identify and introduce additional adapted species into the US. The book contains descriptions of various species as well. Mr. Walters also mentions that the main thing you can do is to be sure that your management is friendly to the beetles--especially your parasite management.

If you need more help in locating or identifying the dung beetle species on your farm, check with the Extension entomologist specialist at your land grant university.

Dung Beetle Field Day Information

What should prove to be the mother of all dung beetle field days will be held on July 16 in Amite, La., located 65 miles north of New Orleans on I-55. The event is being sponsored by the South Poll Grass Cattle Association and will be hosted by SPGCA board member J.A. Girgenti at his farm near Amite.

The field day has several purposes. One is to pay tribute to Dr. Truman Fincher, the entomologist who did so much to import numerous species of dung beetles into this country from all over the world and who then worked to get them colonized over much of the country.
In making your decision as to whether you plan to come, keep these things in mind:
+ Truman has agreed to attend. While I’ve never met Truman in person, we have talked on the phone many times and I’ve always enjoyed hearing his stories about dung beetles. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Truman’s remarks.
+ Dr. Pat Richardson and her husband Dr. Dick Richardson will be there. If you’ve already heard Pat talk about dung beetles, you know what a treat you’re in for.
+ What you will see in Amite is Onthophagus gazellas by the gazillions. The numbers of gazellas on J.A.’s farm is a tribute to his farming practices.

Unlike many field days this one is going to be free. There is one requirement and that is you must register in advance. To register you must send a check or money order for $50, made payable to STALS (that’s an acronym for St. Tammany Agricultural and Life Sciences, which is an FFA group from that area). If you show up for the field day, your check will be returned to you. If you fail to appear, the check will be given to the members of STALS.
Please send your reservations to me at P.O. Box 109, Linn, MO 65051.

You pay nothing to attend this field day and other than the field day activities nothing will be provided. STALS will have bottled water and soft drinks for sale at the farm. We tentatively plan to begin our tour of the farm at 8 a.m. and hope to leave there by 10. By then I assure you it will be quite warm. We have made arrangements to use a church hall to get together after we leave the farm. At the church hall – which is air conditioned – we will hear remarks by our two celebrity dung beetle enthusiasts. After that you will be on your own for lunch.

Amite has two hotels – a Holiday Inn Express (phone – 985.747.0400) and Comfort Inn (phone – 985.748.5550). If you fail to get a reservation at one of these places, Hammond is a short drive to the south.
If you have questions, give me a call at 573-694-1682.

As I mentioned above, Amite is only 65 miles from New Orleans. We love New Orleans and plan to go there before the field day. I would suggest you consider going there. It’s a wonderful city with much to offer. The food is great, the art museum is excellent and the World War II museum is out of this world.
If you are interested, please let me hear from you as soon as possible.

Ralph Voss

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