Tag Archives: sustainability

7 tips to keep pests – and pesticides – out of your garden

By Amer Fayad and Allen Straw

Amer Fayad is the associate director of the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab at Virginia Tech. Allen Straw is a specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension focused on horticulture, small fruit, and specialty crops.


artwork of insectsMaybe you’re one of those backyard gardeners who can’t wait to get dirt under their fingernails.

With the last-freeze date approaching in May, your motivation should be high!

Maybe this year you’ll consider doing something different – taking a step in the direction of a garden that is less toxic and more natural.

Virginia Tech experts can help you get there. The university’s agriculture scientists work overseas to prevent millions of dollars in crop damage – all by teaching practices known as integrated pest management. Closer to home, agents at Virginia Cooperative Extension work with commercial growers as well as backyard gardeners to spread some of the same seeds of knowledge.

Based on our work in Asia, Africa and Latin America – as well as the commonwealth – we’ve come up with seven top tips.

Insects are your friends. So-called beneficial insects eat the pesky six-legged creatures that feast on your veggies and fruits. Familiarize yourself with the shape and color of the garden-friendly lady beetle, lacewing larva, praying mantis, ground beetle, robber fly, assassin bug and others so that you don’t kill them by mistake. (To that end, don’t indiscriminately spread poisons around, either.) Spiders are also excellent at keeping unwanted insects at bay.

You have a lot at stake when you plant a garden, so don’t forget the stakes. Trellises, cages and stakes are great ways to keep plants and leaves from trailing on the ground, where they become vulnerable to diseases and insects. Mulch is another practical aid to keep soil off your plants. Dirt isn’t a dirty word, but keep soil in its place!

Mimic nature’s timing – water your plants in the early morning. Dew clings to plants in the morning, so that’s when they’re accustomed to being wet. If you get the watering out of the way early, your plants won’t be drenched later in the day, when they’re sunning themselves. Practice drip-irrigation if you can.

Try a beneficial fungus called Trichoderma. In the United States, this unsung microbial agent is underutilized. But overseas, Virginia Tech scientists unleash this tiny hero as a parasite to scarf up other fungi before they can attack and destroy crops. Using Trichoderma as a soil amendment reduces harmful microorganisms and can give roots a boost, leading to more bountiful harvests.

Invest in floating row covers. In our international work, we often use netting. More common in the United States: employing fabric as an insect barrier. Floating row covers are often used to protect warm-weather plants from the first fall frosts. But they can also discourage marauding insects and even small rabbits or chipmunks. The lightweight fabric is placed directly over plants, protecting them from cucumber beetles and other pests for at least the first three or four weeks or until flowering. No need for a hoop or a tunnel. Simply anchor the fabric against the wind. Short hoops can be used when netting or other covering is employed to protect transplants such as tomatoes and peppers.

Practice interplanting. Instead of grouping plants together, vary the rows. This should slow the spread of insects or disease. You can also throw in some marigolds as well, which attract beneficial insects, though don’t expect miracles.

Don’t underestimate the power of your two hands. Wrap plant stems with aluminum foil near the soil line – this can shield tomatoes and peppers from cutworms. Pick off insects by hand. Set traps for slugs. If you see an infected leaf, remove it and dispose of it outside the garden. Clear out any vegetative refuse at the end of your gardening session.

At this point it may be time to stop reading and start weeding. If you’ve had your fill, get out and till. Just remember: On any continent, “prevention” is often a key word. It’s easier to deal with unwanted problems by heading them off rather than waiting until after they’ve wormed their way into your precious patch of earth.

Beneficial insects? Photos from VCE: http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/2909/2909-1414/beneficial-insects/index.html

Integrated Pest Management for Vegetable Gardens: http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-708/426-708.html


Helping communities become more sustainable and economically secure

Ten years ago, an endowment was created to help communities across the commonwealth and beyond be more sustainable and resilient through partnerships with Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and local community members.

Since its inception in 2004, the endowment, which has grown to more than $2 million, has provided income to fund numerous projects that foster partnerships and spur creative research at the granular level. It has also provided seed money for an array of projects with wide-ranging impacts.

“A gift like this can get lots of different projects started,” said Rick Rudd, head of the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Professor of Excellence in Community Viability, a position funded by the endowment. “We are helping people leverage resources.”



Donald Turner named 2015 Virginia Farmer of the Year

Michael Parrish and Donald Turner

Dinwiddie County Unit Coordinator and Senior Virginia Cooperative Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent Mike Parrish (left) and Swisher Sunbelt Farmer of the Year Donald Turner in one of Turner’s tobacco fields (right).

Virginia Cooperative Extension has recognized Donald Turner of Turner Family Farms in North Dinwiddie, Virginia, as the 2015 Virginia Farmer of the Year. He joins nine other state winners as finalists for the overall award which will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Georgia.

Turner has farmed for 41 years and is currently a diversified row crop farmer. This past year, he farmed 1,166 acres of cropland plus another 165 acres in timber for a total of 1,331 acres.

He also produced about 4,000 bales of wheat straw last year.

“We bale enough straw to deliver what the market requires,” Turner said in an interview with Sunbelt Ag Expo.



For Virginia Tech scientists, saving the Chesapeake Bay is all in a day’s work

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 1, 2015 – More than 150 major rivers and streams flow into the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia’s most well-known estuary. This historically significant body of water has also provided livelihoods for fishermen, recreation for locals and visitors that flock to the region, and of course has been a vital water source for residents for hundreds of years.

The environmental woes of recent decades, however, have made the bay more memorable for the major challenges that have been foisted upon its delicate ecosystem.

Virginia Tech researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have been working on several fronts to develop novel strategies to preserve the Chesapeake Bay while also implementing ways to balance population growth with sustainable uses of the bay, including as a water, food, and recreation resource.



2014 Virginia Farm to Table Conference will focus on nutrition, health, and sustainability

Fresh produce at a local farmers market.

Fresh produce at a local farmers market.

Nutrition, Health, and Sustainability From the Ground Up is the theme for the 2014 Virginia Farm to Table conference being held Dec. 2 through 4, 2014.

The conference, hosted by Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Soil Health Coalition, and the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 2 and 3, at Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, Virginia.

Day 3 will take place Thursday, Dec. 4, at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia.

Those who are interested in boosting local economies, promoting soil health and human nutrition, working to grow and develop community enterprises, and supporting local agriculture and conservation of natural resources are encouraged to attend.

The conference will offer many opportunities for discussion, learning, and networking.