Students at Manitoba's Assiniboine Community College fight bugs with bugs
Students and researchers at the Brandon college have brought a pest problem under control
But take a closer look and you'll see a small but mighty research project changing the way greenhouses control pests by fighting bugs with bugs.
Insects like aphids, spider mites, caterpillars and other pests have long been a concern for growers, wreaking havoc by damaging and even killing plants or spreading diseases. They were also a huge problem at ACC's greenhouse when instructor and researcher Poonam Singh joined the college last year.
"We had lots and lots of pest issues," she said. "We had thrips [commonly known as corn flies or thunderflies] and spiders mites and aphids and what not... we were using chemical pest control like pesticides but we were not able to 100% control them."
Pesticides kill all
The other problem with pesticides, according to Singh, is that they will kill all insects, not just the bad ones. So she decided to try a biological pest control experiment with the students. She tried the same thing and saw results while working as a researcher on the west coast.
"I thought that as we are growing food and it is more sustainable, why not we try something to control these biologically," Singh said.
Sticky yellow cards placed among the plants in the greenhouse catch bugs. Singh and the students then count and document what they are and decide which 'good bug' might help control the 'bad bugs' that were caught.
Depending on the bug, different species of wasps, parasites or mites might be released into the greenhouse to eat or kill the 'bad bugs' that might be causing problems. Safe and target specific, according to Singh.
"It is such a controlled environment," she said. "You are sure what you are releasing inside... it is not going to fly away. This is a very knowledge and management intensive program."
This is a very sustainable way of controlling pests- Poonam Singh, instructor/researcher at Assinboine Community College
Students found as many as 635 thrips during a single monitoring last year. In their last week of classes in April, thrips numbers had fallen to just 17. Singh said the goal isn't to completely eradicate a species, but to control it so the good bugs can also survive.
"It's been almost a year now and everything is pretty much in control and I anticipate I will keep doing this," she said. Singh said it was as much as a learning experience for her as it was for the students. She had never before seen some of the species that were collected.
Singh said she and students at ACC are now working to develop a breeding system for the bugs and hopes to continue the project in the years to come.
Interest from area greenhouses
She also reached out to and has had interest from local greenhouse and nursery operators who want to explore their own biological pest control systems.
"This is a very sustainable way of controlling pests... managing pest populations and keeping them in check," Singh said. "We all should be doing this. This is our way forward."