Beneficial insects: A must-have item on your holiday list

Order your beneficials from your supplier now to ensure their delivery when your greenhouse begins to fill with plants.

A tricycle for Betty: check. A new sweater for Joey: check. Beneficial insects for your greenhouse business: check. Michigan State University Extension recommends scheduling the releases of your beneficial insects for your biological control program just as you would schedule the shipments of your plugs and liners.

For growers new to biocontrol, planning ahead is essential for the success of your program with natural enemies. Similar to your vegetative cutting supplier, the company supplying your beneficials needs two to three weeks in order to ensure they have enough inventory to fill their orders. Beneficial insects are, after all, living organisms and suppliers need to breed sufficient numbers for distribution throughout the week. Work with your supplier to plan your shipments.

Upon arrival, be sure to check the viability of your beneficial insects. Natural enemies need to be received quickly and kept cool throughout shipment. When opening the box, be sure that the cold packs are still chilled. Before spreading onto the crop, dump out a small portion of the container onto a white piece of paper and observe whether the insects are alive with a hand lens.

Storage of beneficials should be avoided since their viability decreases with time due to death, starvation, desiccation and cannibalism (for some). If storage is necessary, place bottles on their side – this evenly distributes insects to discourage them from eating one another – in a refrigerator for preferably no more than one day. When ready to distribute among the crop, gently shake the bottle or roll it back and forth on a hard surface to redistribute the insects. Sachets, often packed with grain mites that serve as a food source for your organism-of-interest, tend to last longer as long as the packets remain dry. Do not get the sachets wet as the media in the packets often molds, reducing the viability of the beneficial insects.

So plan ahead and order your beneficial insects now with your supplier before production ramps up into full swing.

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