Whitefly Control Without Pesticides

In the last 14 years, Water Fresh Farm co-owner Jeff Barton says he’s had no significant pest problems in his half-acre of greenhouse vegetables – and beneficial insects are the only protection against whitefly, thrips and spider mites in the Hopkinton, Mass. operation. It may not be for everyone, but we asked Jeff to describe the benefits of his unique pest control program and how it works.

Q: How long have you had a biocontrols program with your vegetable crops?

Barton: We have been growing since 1997. We only grow vegetables. We started out just with tomatoes and now we have expanded to grow beefsteak tomatoes, cucumbers, Boston or Bibb lettuce, sweet Italian basil, baby spinach, herbs and we’ve just started growing microgreens. We decided soon after we started that we wanted to grow hydroponically and without pesticides.

The first year we learned what that really meant. We got a whitefly infestation and it had a huge impact on our crops. The following year we worked with Dr. Merle Jensen and started an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Since then, we have only used beneficial insects to control pests. We bring in Encarsia formosa [parasitic wasps] to control whitefly in our tomatoes. We do it prophylactically. We get cardboard strips from Biobest that have the Encarsia formosa eggs on them, and we hang them on the tomato plants. We use them throughout the year and it’s worked out well. We still get some whitefly in the greenhouse but we’ve been able to manage it effectively without needing anything else.

For cucumbers, thrips and spider mites are an issue, so we bring in predators for those as well – they come in little bags and we distribute that on plants in the growing area throughout the greenhouse.

Last year, my grower started bringing in banker plants that will attract the pests. The pests will be on those plants and it gives the beneficial insects more food.

Q: Why did you decide to go with just biocontrols?

Barton: It was our personal preference and also the program made sense from a marketing aspect. It works, and people understand it. They “get” ladybugs. They understand there are predatory bugs that go after pests. They intuitively understood the value of that.

Q: How much whitefly control do you get with the beneficials?

Barton: I don’t know if I can get as specific as a percentage, but we’ve been able to manage it very effectively. The pests will still get into the greenhouse, but we have been utilizing the beneficial insects prophylactically, so they’re in the greenhouse before we have a problem. They have been able to manage the pest so in our view, there is no impact on the plant health, and therefore, no impact on crop production.

Q. Was it difficult to learn how to use them?

Barton: No, not really. We worked with Biobest and they have been great. They’ve come on site a few different times to understand what we’re trying to do and design a program for us to help manage any kind of whitefly that might come into the house for the size of the crop we have. Rather than us trying to become the expert and design it all ourselves, we got help from Dr. Jensen and from the manufacturer to help us understand what we should be doing.

And it’s not super expensive. The return on investment is hard to determine, because you’re using it as a preventative. If we didn’t spend the money, what would have happened? By introducing it are we getting more production? I don’t know.

But I can tell you in our first year in the greenhouse we did get whitefly and it was amazing how rapidly it went from “Hey, we have a little bit of a problem” to an absolute infestation. It really wasn’t much time at all. We have been able to manage it pretty effectively just with beneficial insects for the last 14 years.

Q. How is the beneficials program a part of your marketing effort?

Barton: We have our own market, so we sell a lot of our product here, but we also do a big wholesale operation for the tomatoes and cucumbers. We’re in the higher-end grocery stores around here now, including Whole Foods, Roche Brothers, and a handful of Stop & Shops. It’s a great story with those customers.

The market we built connects directly into the greenhouse. I do a talk on Saturdays in which I explain what we’re doing and the beneficial insects are always an important part of that. Invariably people say, “It’s a bug war!” They get it. We let the bugs battle it out but the good side always wins, and it protects the plants.

Leave a Reply

3 comments on “Whitefly Control Without Pesticides

  1. Hello Richard, Jeff and Barney, Thanks for this great article and explaining how bio-control really can do an amazing job. Key is to start early and I can truly say that the staff at Water Fresh Farms has done an amazing job for year already in getting the Encarsia, Eretmocerus in the greenhouse in time to get them established. Ronald Valentin Biological Control Specialist Technical Trainer and Coordinator Biobest USA Inc

  2. Great to hear you have success. Is there a link to connect to Biobest? We have tried introducing bio controls on a limited basis but without an enclosed house and a year long growing cycle in south Florida I have doubts the systems will prevail for long.

Latest Stories

October 22, 2016

Here’s A Great Way To Bring Horticulture And Scho…

The Green Plan It Challenge gives school students in the U.K. the opportunity to participate in a 10-week project where they rethink the role of green space and develop solutions to horticulture-related problems.

Read More

October 21, 2016

How To Select The Best Nutrients For Growing Cannabis

With a little bit of knowledge about the requirements of cannabis plants and how they absorb and utilize nutrients, you can confidently select the products you need without breaking the bank.

Read More
Sakata vincent-choice-sunflower

October 20, 2016

Sakata Develops New Downy Mildew Resistant Sunflower

‘Vincent’s Choice Deep Orange DMR’ has a deep orange color and a bit more pointed petal form than the other varieties in the Vincent series. It is resistant to more than 10 races of downy mildew that currently affect sunflower.

Read More
Albert Grimm, Jefferys Greenhouses

October 19, 2016

How Jeffery’s Greenhouse Is Investing In The Indu…

Greenhouse Grower reached out to Albert Grimm, the 2016 Head Grower of the Year and Head Grower of Jeffery’s Greenhouse, to ask what he and his company have done in the last 12 months to invest in the industry. Here is what he had to say.

Read More

October 18, 2016

Dümmen Orange Buys Rose Breeder, Participates In Petal …

Dümmen Orange will be hitting the streets of Columbus, OH, this week, handing out some of its favorite flowers as part of the Petal it Forward program in partnership with the Society of American Florists.

Read More

October 18, 2016

Lighting Research Center Is Surveying Growers On Supple…

The Center, part of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is looking for commercial growers to participate in an online survey regarding supplemental greenhouse lighting.

Read More

October 18, 2016

The Best Garden Products Retailers Found At This Year&#…

We reached out to dozens of plant retailers, asking them to name their favorite products from the summer trade shows. Here’s a slideshow of their non-greengoods picks.  

Read More

October 18, 2016

How To Do Your Own Consumer Research

We talk to Fuel Insight's Doug Sapp about his tips on figuring out how customers really shop your store.

Read More

October 17, 2016

How To Make Your Plant Yard Easier To Shop

Garden retail consultant Robert Hendrickson once observed that merchandisers at garden centers seem to have a bungee cord attached to their belts. They can work freely indoors, but the moment they reach the doors to the outdoor plant sales yard, they’re yanked back inside. That problem doesn’t seem to exist in Europe, as any American plant retailer who has toured their peers overseas can attest. Luckily, a European visual merchandiser who understands how to boost plants sales with effective displays, has written a book designed for non-merchandisers. Antje Verstl’s ‘Eagle & Frog’ is packed with tips and illustrating photos, so readers can clearly understand her advice. After reading her book, I asked Verstl a few questions about her views on plant merchandising and what kind of advice she’d give to American garden retailers. Q. Good visual merchandising can be expensive (labor-wise, and sometimes in materials) and time-consuming. Many retailers feel their staff is too […]

Read More

October 17, 2016

Altman Plants Hosts Media Day To Highlight Its Water Sa…

This month, Altman celebrated more than 100 million gallons of water saved since its water recycling program began operation.

Read More
Coreopsis 'Madras Magic' (Terra Nova Nurseries)

October 17, 2016

New 2016 Perennial Introductions For Zone 6 And Up

Some perennials are at their best in warmer climates, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used in colder areas for season-specific containers or grown with cool-crop annuals to add some unique offerings to a product mix. Here are 11 new introductions hitting retail in 2017 that are hardy in Zone 6 and up.

Read More

October 17, 2016

International Forum Of Agricultural Robotics Will Highl…

The inaugural event, organized by two France-based companies, is designed to bring together ag robotics stakeholders to discuss, debate, and exchange ideas on the future of agriculture.

Read More

October 17, 2016

11 Award Winning Annuals You’ll Want On Your Benc…

All America Selections tests plants in gardens across the country for performance and health. Here are 11 that have made the cut over the past couple of years.

Read More
Caterpillar on leaf

October 15, 2016

Offer Your Customers Host Plants For Caterpillars And B…

Just like bees need plants that provide pollen, butterflies rely on plants for a place to lay their eggs and to provide a food source for emerging caterpillars. Check out this list of plants for caterpillars and butterflies from Michigan State University Extension.

Read More
Bees on flowers

October 13, 2016

45 Pollinator Friendly Perennials Sure To Attract Bees

Pollinator friendly perennials are the foundation of a well-rounded pollinator garden. Check out this list of 45 perennials that are sure to attract bees.

Read More
eric smith Biosafe

October 13, 2016

BioSafe’s New Hort Sales Rep Says Water Regulation And …

Eric Smith, BioSafe Systems’ New Horticultural Technical Sales Representative, has several years of experience that he says will help him when working with growers on critical issues facing them.

Read More
Echinacea Butterfly Postman

October 12, 2016

16 New Perennials For Pollinator Gardens

Customers who want to attract butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators to their gardens need plants that will provide food, shelter, and protection throughout the year. Consider carrying a few of these 16 pollinator-friendly perennials for retail sales in 2017.

Read More

October 12, 2016

Leo Roozen Takes Home Paul Ecke, Jr. Award At SAF Conve…

Since 1985, Roozen has been the president of Washington Bulb Co., in Mt. Vernon, WA, turning it into the country’s largest flower bulb grower.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]