April 20 – April 26, 2015

#47: Beneficials

Introduction by Steve Ela of Ela Family Farms

On a sustainable farm, the word “beneficials” refers to all the things that promote the long term viability of that farm. It is most often used to indicate organisms, such as insects, that either eat pests or fill niches that pests might otherwise occupy. What is beneficial is highly dependent on the type of farm and the ecosystem the farm is located in. There may even be cases where a particular insect is beneficial for one type of farm and detrimental for another, just because of the different ecosystems.

Almost all crops have pests, but a sustainable farm will first encourage and utilize beneficial organisms that are already present in that ecosystem before turning to other control measures. Encouraging beneficial organisms may involve the planting of cover crops that provide refuge for the beneficial insects, making sure spray types and timings don’t reduce the beneficial insect mortality, or mixing crop types so that more beneficial insect species can thrive. In many cases, these beneficials might refer to the ladybugs, lacewings, and other insects that control aphids and mites. It might also refer to viruses used to debilitate pest insects or even the spiders, earwigs, nematodes, and other species present that help to keep the orchard system in balance. The use of beneficials is a way a sustainable farmer can utilize controls that are already present in the farm ecosystem and allow that system to operate without needing to introduce outside inputs that might disrupt other critical parts of the farm system.


Steve is the operations manager and a partner of Ela Family Farms. Steve oversees the day to day goings-on of the farm. On any given day this may include planting new cherry trees, changing tractor tires, putting together gift baskets, or marketing fruit. Steve is very involved in promoting the fruit industry. He served as president of the Western Colorado Horticultural Society, currently serves on the Colorado Agriculture Commission, is vice-president of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, and serves on numerous local boards and organizations. Steve is active in organic tree fruit research and has helped to organize two major national organic tree fruit research symposiums. Additionally, Colorado State University has several ongoing organic research projects on Ela Family Farms.

In this Week’s Food List:

Our gardens and farms are fragile but resilient ecosystems. So much so that the simple introduction or reduction of one component can dramatically alter its functionality. In this week’s Food List, we consider how beneficial insects affect our farming ecosystems and the ways we can encourage their presence.

Gardens are beautiful feasting grounds for many insects, both desirable and undesirable. Master gardener Jen Aron shares her knowledge of designing insectary gardens that attract beneficial insects. Along with planting gardens, beetle banks are another great way to provide for beneficial, predaceous insects. By providing a safe home and environment for beneficials, they will come in abundance.

Hats off to our pollinators — without them, our food would not be nearily as diverse, nor delicious! We celebrate true honey and the history behind beekeeping. The buzz about beekeeping is no longer a rural conversation — urban apiary has become a popular past time. Finally, bees are getting the recognition they’ve long deserved, from communities rural and urban, thanks to initiatives like the Save the Bees Mural Project. Hopefully, with the help of wild bees, we will be able to quickly mitigate the issues of colony collapse disorder.

While pollinators often steal the show, many insects are important for pest management. Methods of farmscaping help create the habitat for pests and predators alike to help maintain a natural farming system. There are thousands of beneficial insects for pest management — check out this pocket guide.

It’s wild to think that the future of our beneficial insects is in question. How can we provide for our active bees? Are RoboBees a feasible and favorable option? Or will other ingenious inventions, such as the Flow Hive, help reintroduce beneficials keeping back into our lives. It’s time to consider how you can do your part in supporting the lives of our busy, buzzing friends.

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Beneficial insects

“Insects are integrated into the farming practice to add value to crops,  combat the effects of adverse insects, and aid in sustainable production of agriculture.” – Gwendolyn Ellen, Integrated Plant Protection Center, Oregon State University


“Designing and managing farm landscapes to achieve a specific purpose, such as creating habitat for beneficial insects that provide crop pollination or crop protection, rotating crops to break pest cycles or provide on-farm diversity, or managing buffers to protect water quality or reduce soil erosion.” – Xerces Society

Beetle Banks

Rows placed between crops that are “inoculated” with Pterostichus melanarius, a predaceous ground beetle. They live and raise their families in dirt mounds covered with pollen-rich native bunchgrasses, then venture into the adjacent crop rows to feed. It’s an impressive system, one that greatly reduces the use of pesticides.

Colony Collapse Disorder

“The disturbing and unexplained disappearance of bees around the globe.” – Gary Johnston, Beeyond the Hive

Integrated Pest Management

“A plant protection regime that utilizes all relevant technologies, in a harmonized way, to sustain pests in a given agro-ecosystem under the economic threshold.” – Shimon Steinberg, BioBee

Biological Pest Control

“The deliberate and planned introduction of beneficial living organisms to reduce populations of noxious plant pests.” – Shimon Steinberg, BioBee


Planting an Insectary

Gardens are beautiful feasting grounds for many insects, both desirable and undesirable. Master gardener Jen Aron shares her knowledge of designing insectary gardens, gardens that attract beneficial insects. She points out that many of our favorite vegetable plants, like broccoli, also bloom into wonderful attractive flowers for pollinators and predaceous insects. Insects search for nectar and habitat, both of which we can provide in our gardens by thoughtfully selecting plants to allure beneficials. Do this and you’ll find butterflies flirting in your flowers, bumblebees eagerly collecting pollen, and ladybugs patrolling your grounds for delicious intruders.


Local Book CoverTitle: Beneficial insects
Location: OSU’s Integrated Plant Protection Center, Corvallis, OR
Featuring: Gwendolyn Ellen
Found on Page 141 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

Beneficial insects are predators, parasites, and parasitoids which provide farms with a variety of ecological services, including insect, pest, weed, and disease management, and pollination and microbial breakdown contributing to soil tilth.

Many predaceous ground beetles don’t fare well with soil and pesticide disturbance. Gwendolyn Ellen helps farmers learn how to create beetle banks with the Farmscaping for Beneficials Program (FSB) at OSU. Beetle Banks provide the insects with a warm, dry winter shelter close to a ready food supply of crop pests and weed seeds.

Gwendolyn explains that beneficial insects can be encouraged through the decreased use of pesticides; providing undisturbed nesting and overwintering sites (such as beetle banks); providing blossom within the field throughout the season and habitats for food sources and refuge; and by mowing less farm edges and encouraging plant and habitat biodiversity. The disappearance of predaceous ground beetles occurs due to the use of pesticides. Their disappearance can allow for slugs, works, and invertebrate pests to take over, creating the need for even more pesticides. Oregon grass seed growers are transitioning from now disallowed field burning practices to more alternative grass seed production practices which include minimum tillage.


Farm Hats Off to the Pollinators

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 19.03.54Did you know that more than 80 percent of our US crops require or benefit from pollination? Pollination is a breeding process in flowering plants where the pollen is transferred from the anther of the male parts of the flower to the stigma of the female, usually achieved through the interaction with wind or pollinators. To say pollinators play a vital role in our agricultural system is a bit of an understatement. More importantly, as Stone Barn Center emphasizes in this article, it’s crucial that we do our part in encouraging the work of pollinators.  And it shouldn’t be that difficult as there are over 200,000 species of animals with instincts that qualify them as pollinators. While many of these species are insects — honey bees, butterflies, and beetles — small mammals, bats, and birds play their part.

Learn fun facts about different pollinators and way you can encourage their presence.

Perennial Plate

Kars Honey

Eastern Turkey is famous for its pure honey. The nectar comes only from wild mountain flowers and the native “Caucasian” bees are never given any sugar to increase production. But this bee and way of life are under threat from non-native species and over commercialization. Watch to find out what truly natural honey is.


Local Book CoverTitle: Urban Apiary
Location: Feldman, Hoy & Diaz Brooklyn Rooftop Honey, Brooklyn, NY
Featuring: Jon Feldman and Eddie Diaz
Found on Page 142 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

Eve Felder’s bees in Duchess County inspired Jon. He’d always assumed that one day he would live out in the country with a small garden and bees close by. He never considered keeping bees in the city — he thought the noise and pollution would keep the bees from doing their jobs. Then his friend Brandon Hoy had the idea to put them on the roof above Roberta’s garden. When they began, beekeeping was illegal in New York. Now they’ve moved on to get ten gallons of honey from each hive.


Bees Swarm City Walls

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 23.37.11Louis Masai has long used art to illustrate the beauty of threatened wildlife. He intertwines human elements into his work to draw in questions and awareness. As he says, “my subject matter focuses on animals but always strives to find a human reference to juxtapose an element that might not be previously obvious.” When Masai learned of the implication of colony collapse disorder, he launched his Save the Bees mural project.

Art has always served an important role during times of transformation. What do you hope your murals communicate to the community?

Louis Masai: I hope that they encourage people to think about that environment and the role that we have as humans. I hope that people conclude that, perhaps, if we all take a little more care and consideration, the lives of others could be a lot easier. Above all else, I enjoy leaving something that the community can feel happy to walk past.

How has the overall response been from your Save the Bees Project? Do you notice different types of conversations arising from your work?

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 23.37.48Louis Masai: The project has been overwhelming. It has encouraged people from all corners of the world to contact and discuss environmental matters with me. Overall, the response has been very positive. And, as a result, I shall be painting more murals in Canada, Italy, and Australia. I think that a lot of people have noticed the impact of the way I transmit the message through [street] art in public spaces and have been enlightened. It’s a fresh new approach to what is probably considered a bit boring [and repetitive] to the general public [with regards] to most conservationists and activist concerns. Not that I am either of those things — I’m still just an artist. But I can grab a whole [group] and get them thinking in new ways that others failed to do. Art is very powerful and when it stops being confined to a white cube on a well todo street, it reaches a whole new world of eyes.

What are some of your favorite ways to consciously observe, respect, and/or support the bee populations?

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 23.38.20The crazy thing is that, although I’ve always been a keen gardener and conscious mind, it’s only via the Save the Bees Project that I have become as aware as I am now [of the bees]. I recently moved [to a new] home and studio, and in doing so, knew that I would need a garden. The place we found has one and it’s huge, which is a blessing in London. I’ve been slowly plowing my way through it and making it work in an eco friendly way. I have started planting vegetables and lots and lots of wild flowers. I will keep one part wild for the pollinators. I’ve put that plot very close to my vegetable patch. I’m hoping me and the bees can help each other in this way. I have also planted some blossoming trees. I’m excited to see it all come together. Everything is still very young as you might expect, but already we have lots of bees sucking on buttercups and cherry blossoms. Eventually, I’ll set up a hive too! But first, we must have abundant food for the little ones…


Born to Bee Wild

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 23.44.18When we think about pollinators, the first that come to mind are probably the honeybees. In the last decade, the existence of honeybees has been threatened by a condition known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), a symptom of human activity. It’s estimated that bees contribute a massive $15 million in revenue to the farm economy, and one beekeeper in Washington made it his mission to isolate a way to combat CCD naturally. He found that by interbreeding feral bees with the domestic bees of his hive, he was able to hybrid bees resistant to a common disease among bees. And this is only the peak to the beehive. Recent research has led researchers and farmers alike to realize that honeybees, domestic or feral, need variety — variety in flowers to pollinate and variety in mating partners. In fact, since 1922, only 2 types of honeybees have permitted for breeding in the US, where they were bred for easy handling and productivity. As a result, their lack of genetic diversity in conjunction with monocropping has weakened the honeybees ability to resist CCD. Genetic diversity is only one solution to the CCD equation.

Learn more about honeybee genetic diversity and solutions for CCD.


Ecological Pest Management: A Preventative Measure

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 19.08.38Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 19.10.17While every farming system is unique, the principles of ecological pest management apply universally. Manage Insects on Your Farm highlights ecological strategies that improve your farm’s natural defenses and encourage beneficial insects to attack your worst pests. Learn about the principles of ecologically based pest management and the strategies of farmers around the world to address insect problems. Minimize insect damage with wise soil management and identify beneficial insects to put these “good bugs” to work for you. Examples of successful pest management strategies sprinkled throughout the book will stimulate your imagination to develop a more complex, more diverse ecosystem on your farm.


Farmscaping: Farming for Pest Management

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 19.13.07By incorporating principles of farmscaping, helpful animals can help suppress unwelcome pest species. In this illustrative brochure, Xerces Society outlines the Principles of Farmscaping for Natural Enemies.

  1. Determine which species are most likely to be helpful.
  2. Know and map farm habitats
  3. Manage your farm to attract and retain natural enemies.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is at the forefront of invertebrate protection, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs worldwide. Over the last two decades, the Society has built an internationally respected pollinator conservation program that has worked with farmers on three continents. To learn more about the Society’s work, please visit


Pocket Guide for Farmers: Natural Pest Enemies in the Pacific Northwest

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 23.42.55Here is a great resource for farmers to decipher what insects around their farm are beneficial and predacious to damage causing pests. The guide includes photographs of the most common species in the Pacific Northwest region. It includes the main groups of natural enemies, their predacious activity, and tips for observing them.


When the Bees are Most Active

From Local: The New Face of Food & Farming By Douglas Gayeton

Misuse of pesticides is one possible explanation for colony collapse disorder, the disturbing and unexplained disappearance of bees around the globe. When Corky Luster learned of this phenomenon he decided to do his part…by making honey. He puts hives wherever people will have them. To see his bees you ring doorbells, pass through gates to enter side yards—being ever mindful of family dogs—sidestep lawn furniture, avoid sprinklers, and duck beneath arbors. Or you go downtown and wave politely at hotel doormen before mounting elevators to the roof. Sometimes you stop beside busy highways. You even visit local farms just outside the city. Luster is an urban beekeeper and his honey tastes of Ballard, an enclave in northwestern Seattle, where most of his bees are found.

Luster’s work revolves around the Pacific Northwest’s three seasonal nectar flows, when his bees are most active. First comes the big leaf maple season. That’s followed by Himalayan blackberries and then Japanese knotweed, the last two being nonnative invasive species that nonetheless provide bees with a steady nectar supply. When those are out of season, the bees find trails or abandoned lots with lots of blackberries or dandelions. These big-city bees are also productive. While their yields vary from year to year, and depend on weather, Luster often gets 120 pounds or more from a single hive.

I encounter more urban beekeepers at Roberta’s, a hipster hangout in Brooklyn, New York. Its heavily graffitied cinder-block exterior leads into an interior adorned with even more cinder block. There are rough hewn wood-paneled walls, thrift store chandeliers, and tattooed pizzaioli making wood-fired pizza. A picture window looks out on shipping containers that house a pirate radio station. Beyond that a profusion of crops grow in recycled barrels, and raised beds extending between neighboring buildings. The roofs above this creative mayhem belong to Jon Feldman and his two partners. Their urban apiary puzzles me. We stand on a warehouse’s tarpaper-lined roof, surveying an industrial vista of concrete, more concrete, and asphalt.

“I always imagined that I’d be in a rural area with a small garden and bees close by,” Feldman tells me. “Or perhaps a close friend upstate would allow me to use his land. Never, not even for a split second, did I imagine keeping bees in the city.” It was his partner, Brandon, who thought to use a nearby roof.

Back at Roberta’s we sample their honey with a few slices of bread. It’s not clear and vaguely sweet like the clover honey I have back home. This honey is dark, intense. A bit complex, which begets the question, “Where is the Brooklyn nectar flow?”

Since New York City legalized urban beekeeping, the trend has crossed the five boroughs, but not without complications. Feldman recounts an infamous urban legend that turns out to be true: “The Case of the Mysterious Red Honey.” In 2010 local beekeepers opened their hives to discover honey frames stained red. Was it bacteria? A bee toxin? Perhaps bees pollinating an odd flower like sumac? For months beekeepers pondered the mystery before discovering its cause: a maraschino cherry company in neighboring Red Hook. Instead of pollinating, the bees had fixated on a steady diet of corn syrup and Red Dye No. 40. Such are the travails of urban beekeeping.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 23.45.32

Could Robot Bees Help Save Our Crops?

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 23.47.39RoboBees were created to respond to a problem so alarming that President Obama created an action plan for the Departments of Defense, Transportation, and Interior. This may sound unrelated to the food movement, but it’s not. Rather, it’s a contemporary solution to a serious problem that we face in the decline of nature’s pollinators. Inspired by the biology of a bee and the insect’s hive behavior, a team from Harvard began creating a miniature robot in 2007 to mimic nature’s intelligence. “We do not see robotic pollination as a wise or viable long-term solution to Colony Collapse Disorder. If robots were used for pollination—and we are at least 20 years away from that possibility— it would only be as a stop-gap measure while a solution to CCD is implemented to restore natural pollinators.”

Learn more about the technology of Robobees


Honey on Tap

Honey harvesting is a true labor of love. A father-son team have presented the world with an ingenious invention that taps honeys straight from the hive — ultimately protecting the bees from unnecessary disturbance, and minimizing the amount of time and energy spent in extracting the honey.

3 Things You Can Do

The right mix of insects is vital to maintaining a healthy farm and garden. From pollination to pest control, these creepy crawlers are a secret ingredient to farmers’ success.

      1. Design your garden to welcome beneficials.  Help beneficials help you. With thoughtful consideration, you can provide shelter and food for these garden helpers.
      2. Flower bomb! Bee friendly, flirt with the butterflies, and support local beautification.
      3. Buy organic. Organic farming helps build and maintain healthy soils, avoids the use of harmful pesticides, and promotes biodiversity — thus supporting healthy ecosystems for beneficial insects to thrive within.
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