MOSES Conference Workshops: Beneficial Insects and Bee Overwintering

We recently took part in the annual MOSES (Midwest Organic & Sustainabile Education Service) Conference in La Crosse, WI, with our potato study poster. We were also able to attend workshops, meet inspiring organic growers, and eat great food. MOSES has the enviable problem of too many good programs happening at the same time, as the schedule shows. We attended as many as we could and took notes to share here.

Managing Beneficial Insects

This workshop focused on supporting beneficial insects in the garden to help get rid of pests without using chemicals. Zsofia Szendrei from Michigan State University led this discussion of aphids, lady beetles, and wasps. She stressed the importance of understanding the predator insect life cycle, from eggs to larva, pupa, and adult. We should also consider the different hunting styles of predatory insects: active (walking or flying to find prey), sit and wait, and trap.

She described the effects of a few specific insects:

  • Hover Fly: pollinators, look like bees.
  • Lady Beetles: common native and invasive that eats aphids during the beetle’s larva and adult phases.
  • Damsel Bugs: hunts on flowers, leaves, and stems and eats eggs, aphids, and small caterpillars.
  • Insidious Plant Bugs: similar in activity to the Damsel Bug.
  • Soldier Bugs: similar activity to the Damsel Bug.
  • Ground Beetle: a variety of ground-dwelling bugs that eat eggs, larvae, adult insects, and snails, but require a clear ground (i.e., no mulch) to get around.
  • Parasitoid Wasps: range of insects that lay eggs on or in a host to kill it from within.

Beneficial insects can be introduced through:

  • Classical: importing specific predator bugs; best done in an enclosed environment like a greenhouse because the insects often spread out too widely.
  • Conservation: put in plants that encourage or attract beneficial insects to area.
  • Augmentation: increasing levels of native beneficial insects by concentrating them and then releasing them in a desired area.

Finally, it is worth thinking about the pollination efforts and effects of different insect species. Bumble, squash, and honey bees do much of the pollinating of vine crops. Bumble bees do the best job on pumpkins, squash bees are best at — you guessed it — squash pollination, and honey bees are responsible for almost all cucumber pollination. It is worth creating a habitat for the bees needed for your crops. Some do this by planting a floral strip between rows of crops. Hedgerows are also a beneficial addition as well as open grassy areas for ground nests.

Bee Overwintering

Another workshop talked about the problem of overwintering bees in a northern climate. Kristy Lynn Allen from Beez Kneez and Yukki Metreaud from Boreal Apiaries gave the audience the benefit of their years of experience.

They stressed the importance of thinking about overwintering year round.

  • Spring: build up populations as pollen becomes available and equalize hives.
  • Early Summer: Dandelion bloom signals start of busy season; keep an eye out for swarms: keepers should choose to concentrate on honey or bee production by either suppressing swarms and supering or splitting hives and requeening.
  • Summer: main flow is on to build up new colonies, do mite checks, make queens, and super for honey.
  • Late Summer–Fall: harvest honey, prep for winter.
  • Winter: concentrate on moisture, food, and disease to help bees overwinter.

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