The purpose of this project was to research traditional, chemical-free methods of pest control, specifically for squash bugs and cucumber beetles, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The goal was to identify and document local ways to conduct pest control as it has been practiced in New Mexico for centuries. To identify local ways to control pests, we first conducted interviews with local farmers and local Native populations which we recorded and have put on our website for future reference. We then evaluated these methods by implementing them across multiple grow sites operated by three local farmers who collectively comprise the Agri-Cultura Network, an organic farming cooperative based in the South Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
As consumers are exposed to a greater variety of healthy, locally grown food sources, they become more willing to pay premium prices for agricultural products of higher quality. Producers, on the other hand, face the challenge of satisfying this demand in a manner that is both sustainable and profitable. The purpose of this project was to research traditional, chemical-free methods of pest control suitable for Albuquerque’s climate and growing conditions. The goal was to identify and document local ways to conduct pest control as it has been practiced in New Mexico for centuries. To identify local ways to control pests, we first conducted seven interviews with local farmers and local Native populations. We then evaluated these methods by implementing them across multiple grow sites operated by three local farmers who collectively comprise the Agri-Cultura Network.
Our contention is that the adoption of local, traditional practices for pest control will enable producers in this area to deliver more products in a cost effective manner by both reducing labor inputs and mitigating losses.
New Mexico is uniquely suited for this type of research, as traditional agriculture has been practiced here for centuries. The Pueblo Cultures, from the Anasazi to the Pueblos today, practiced farming as subsistence farmers who indeed relied on keeping their farming practices sustainable. Later, with the migration of Mexican indigenous peoples from Tlaxcala and Spanish settlers, these practices were further reinforced, with small-scale farmers by necessity practicing self-sufficiency and sustainable practices along the Rio Grande. These methods have been preserved and refined over centuries, yet many modern-day farmers have forgotten these traditional methods of their forefathers.
The objectives of this project were to first determine traditional methods for control of squash bugs and cucumber beetles on cucurbit crops (squash, cucumbers, melons and pumpkins) and finally test these methods across three different farmers’ fields to determine their efficacy in maintaining adequate crop production with limited inputs. Additionally, we wanted to produce outreach materials for local farmers on how to enhance their farming practices in an organic, sustainable manner in the form of online videos, presentations and brochures.
After interviewing six farmers across Central and Northern New Mexico, we determined that the two most potentially helpful traditional methods to control squash bugs were the application of cotton wood ashes to squash plants and the placement of wooden boards around the plant to provide shelter for the squash bugs (Anasa tristis) which made them easy to kill all at once. We also chose to compare these traditional methods with some conventional methods (pyrethrin and row cover) to see how they would compare. Overall, the treatments we tested were:
- Pyrethrin- Applied as needed.
- Row Cover- Covering crops at planting time and taking off when flowering began (about 30 days after planting) to encourage fertilization of squash plants.
- Boards- Two wooden boards placed on either side of squash plant and checked five days per week. If squash bugs were present, they were killed either by hand or by stepping on them.
- Cottonwood ashes- Applied once per week over entire plant. First a solution of water, soap and vegetable oil was sprayed on the plant to enable the ashes to adhere. The ashes were then sprinkled onto the plant, leaves and surrounding soil. A final spray of the soapy water solution was then applied for extra measure.
- Boards and Cottonwood ashes- Both the board method and cotton wood ash method were used simultaneously.
- Boards, Cottonwood ashes and manual removal- Both the board method and cottonwood ash method were used, and, in addition, if squash bugs were seen on plant, they were killed manually.
- Control- Squash bugs were not managed in any way.
We also decided to test these treatments over two seasons; spring-planted squash (April/May) and fall-planted squash (August/September), since many traditional methods we researched advised planting squash after the fourth of July as a way to minimize squash bug attack.
Cucumber beetles (Diabrotica and Acalymma sp.) can cause not only physical damage to cucurbit plants (cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and melons) by eating leaves and tissues, they can also carry diseases such as Squash Mosaic Virus, which causes deformed fruits and, thus, greatly reduces the sellable crop. In order to control this pest, we applied three different traditional organic treatments:
- Garlic spray- A mixture of crushed garlic cloves, water and liquid dish soap was sprayed onto cucumber plants three days a week.
- Chili pepper spray- A mixture of crushed chili peppers, water and liquid dish soap was sprayed onto cucumber plants three days a week.
- Garlic/Chili pepper combination spray- A mixture of crushed garlic cloves, crushed chili peppers, water and liquid dish soap was sprayed onto cucumber plants three days a week.
- Control- Cucumber beetles were not managed in any way.
We conducted seven video interviews across New Mexico with practitioners of traditional agriculture.
These interviews are posted online at:
The interviewees were:
Estevan Arrellano – Estevan Arrellano is a journalist, writer, researcher, graduate of New Mexico State University and a Fellow of the Washington Journalism Center. He is now a Visiting Research Scholar at the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture. He has received an Individual Fellowship from the Ford Foundation, and in 2007 the New Mexico State Legislature recognized him as one of the 15 top Hispanics in New Mexico. He is also involved in setting up the International Acequia Documentation Center, under the auspices of the Lore of the Land. (from www.loreoftheland.com)
Clayton Brascoupe – “Clayton Brascoupe works with the Traditional Native American Farmer’s Association. Mr. Brascoupe and other TNAFA members believe that family oriented farming is the best approach in developing a sound future in agriculture, which has always been at the heart of the community’s economy. ” (from http://nativeharvest.com/tnafa)
Bob Pederson – Bob Pederson of Thanksgiving Farms is working to reduce hunger in the Taos area by using his skills as a farmer to grow food for the Food Bank and to teach people about growing food. He gives a away a significant portion of his his substantial output to local Food Banks, and in every box are recipes and instructions on how to grow.
Scott Pittman – Scott Pittman is the founder of the Permaculture Institute. “The Permaculture Institute is an educational non-profit, offering Permaculture Design Courses and in-depth sustainable living classes at different locations in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Mexico and South America. Scott Pittman, founder of the Permaculture Institute, has been teaching permaculture courses since 1985 in over 20 countries on four continents. Scott is known for his foundational work in establishing permaculture movement in the U.S. Southwest.”(from www.permaculture.org)
Roy Rivera – Roy Rivera has been a farmer and educator, and his family has farmed the same plot of land near the Rio Grande for decades. Roy has been using traditional pest control methods on his family farm since he was a child.
Bernadette Torres and Nino Castro – Bernadette Torres is a Curandera and Herbalist who began her journey with medicinal plants and healing as a child in the mountains of Taos, New Mexico. Nino Castro is a healer and ambassador for the indigenous Ashåninka community in the central jungle of Peru. (from curanderismo.unm.edu/shabetas.pdf)
For the squash bug experiment, we determined that the biggest influence on squash bug pressure was the season of planting, with fall-planted squash plants having much less pest pressure than spring-planted squash plants (Fig. 1). However, it should be noted that depending on when the first frost of the season occurs, fall-planted squash plants may not produce as much fruit as the spring-planted crops due to inclement weather. Therefore, farmers must keep this in mind when deciding on when to plant their squash.
In terms of how the individual treatments affected squash bug pressure, we determined that using row covers or boards worked the best overall, while using cottonwood ash or not managing the crop resulted in the highest pest pressure (Fig. 2).
When looking at the fall-planted crop, the pyrethrin treatment prevented squash bug pressure completely, while the control plots (no treatment) had the highest pest pressure (Fig. 3). However, although pyrethrin worked the best, it should be noted that all of the other treatments had very low pest pressure and did not require chemical applications.
For the spring-planted crops, both the row covered treatments and the board treatments had the greatest influence on squash bug pressure, while cottonwood ash and no treatment had the highest squash bug pressure (Fig. 4), similar to our overall results (Fig. 2).
In addition to the above results, we also determined that by using Gorilla Brand® duct tape to remove squash bug eggs from the leaves and stems of the plant every six days, it is possible to completely prevent the spread of squash bugs through the cucurbit crop. While we were not able to do a full, two-season trial of this method, our initial results have shown an almost 100% reduction in squash bugs and for a minimal cost (see Impacts on Agriculture below).
When analyzing the effects of the garlic and chili pepper sprays on cucumber beetle pressure, we were unfortunately not able to count the number of cucumber beetles directly due to their extremely fast-moving and transient nature. Therefore, instead of daily counts, we performed daily visual monitoring of cucumber plant appearance. Our observations showed that the ‘control’ plots where no treatments were given showed crop damage due to physical cucumber beetle feeding approximately two weeks before similar signs on either the garlic, chili pepper or garlic/chili pepper combination treatments. Furthermore, only the ‘control’ plot showed symptoms of Squash Mosaic Virus, beginning at week five of the experiment (approximately eight weeks after planting) and continuing through the end of the season. While we could not decipher differences between the spray treatments, it was clear that they did reduce cucumber beetle pressure compared to not treating the crop.
The results of this experiment have shown that it is possible to manage both squash bugs and cucumber beetles organically and without the use of toxic chemical sprays (such as pyrethrin, which is still organically certified), while still producing a healthy cucurbit crop. Furthermore, all of the methods we tested are relatively inexpensive, which hopefully will encourage farmers using chemical sprays to switch to one of our low-cost, environmentally-friendly management options.
In fact, in the past several years, many farmers in the area have stopped planting squash entirely because of the lethal attacks of squash bugs, which generally kill the squash plants within weeks, thus greatly reducing net income. And while using the Gorilla Brand® duct tape method does require additional labor to remove the eggs from the plants, which can appear to be costly (it took between 45 and 60 minutes to remove eggs from a 100 foot row of mature and heavily infested squash plants), the money most farmers will make with the additional lifespan of the plant, as well as overall vigor, will more than make up for the investment in time and labor costs. We hope that farmers will implement at least one of our tested methods in order to provide squash for their communities instead of avoiding the crop altogether or continuing to suffer from squash bug and cucumber beetle attacks.
For our farms the economics of removing the squash bug eggs with tape work out as follows:
First visit @ 10 days after planting, then every six days throughout season. As the eggs generally hatch in 7-10 days, removing them every six days ensures we get most of the eggs. The plants will generally produce all season if we can keep the bugs off them.
So if we planted May 1 (typical in our area), then it’s 154 days until October 1. So 154/6=approx 26 visits removing the eggs per season. We’ve found that it takes one person about an hour per 100 foot row to remove the eggs. That equals $260.00/row cost per season (@ one hour/row and $10.00/hr labor cost.
Since it takes 60 days before the plants start producing (again typical in our area) then there are:
154 days – 60 days= 94 productive days/season
Currently, without removing the eggs or using other treatment methods, our plants are generally destroyed by August 1 (if not sooner). So we’re adding 60 productive days for $260/row using this method.
We plant 50 plants per 100 foot row.
$260.00/50 plants per row = $5.20/plant/season cost to remove eggs with this method.
If a squash plant produces three lbs/week (and we’ve found this to be a reasonable estimate), then added revenue is:
60 added days/7= 8.57 weeks
8.57 weeks x three lbs/plant/week= 25.71 lbs. more squash per season per plant
Which equals $51.42 per plant added revenue per plant @ $2.00/lb (typical market price for us)
$51.42 minus $5.20 cost = $46.22 extra revenue per plant per season = $2311.00 extra revenue/100 foot row/season
Educational & Outreach Activities
The interview videos and an instructional video are available online at: www.acnresearch.com
We prepared a powerpoint presentation and accompanying speech which is attached to this report.
We prepared a brochure which is attached to this report.
We have developed a method that is both practical in terms of the time commitment required to implement it and also economically viable, resulting in thousands of dollars of extra income per season. This method can enable small-scale farmers to control a persistent and difficult pest.
We have also created a website to communicate knowledge about traditional pest control methods, both the methods we tested and also other methods from each interviewee. The interviews also provided a platform to talk about other aspects of traditional and organic agriculture.
Based on the results of this study, we found that using row cover, boards and/or Gorilla Brand® duct tape will help to reduce pressure from squash bugs, and that planting a squash crop in August or later will significantly reduce squash bugs compared to an earlier spring planting. We also suggest spraying a garlic, chili pepper or garlic/chili pepper spray on cucumber plants three times a week to reduce pest pressure from cucumber beetles. With time, care and the diligent application of one or more of the above methods, it is possible to have healthy cucurbit crops, and to do so organically and inexpensively.
We would like to do another group of test plots to verify the numbers. We would also like to put the method into practice on our farms and track the economics over several seasons. But one thing we have learned, that we can speak confidently about, is that we can now control Squash Bugs on our farms without chemicals, and do it in a way that is economically viable and increases both our production and profits.