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May 28, 2003

Web site provides gardeners greener dos and don'ts

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A Purdue University Web site offers gardeners the opportunity to explore various pesticide-free solutions to their insect pest problems.

The Alternative Control Outreach Research Network (ACORN) Web site can help homeowners identify pests' natural enemies and offers alternatives to pesticides.

"We help gardeners find alternatives to pesticides by providing a variety of suggestions and tips," said Cliff Sadof, professor of entomology.

Sadof and two biological control specialists, Bob O'Neil, professor of entomology at Purdue, and Rob Wiedenmann, of the Illinois Natural History Survey, noticed that homeowners often treat pest symptoms without adequate information about the source of the problem and often are unaware of alternatives to insecticides.

"With the ACORN Web site, gardeners are able to find and test solutions to pest problems in their own home gardens," Sadof said.

For example, by entering the Colorado potato beetle in the Alternative Control Guide (ACG) on the ACORN site, you will find that it is a major pest of potato and eggplant, but only of minor importance to tomatoes.

While ACORN provides no magic bullet to kill this pest, the ACG lists eight kinds of natural enemies that can attack Colorado potato beetles in your garden. Suggestions are provided to put each of these beneficial organisms to work in controlling the beetles. For instance, potatoes could be mulched with straw to create a shelter where ground beetles can hide during the day so they can feast on potato beetles at night.

"By becoming more familiar with how biological control works, gardeners can learn to use natural enemies or alternative methods to control their pest problems," Sadof said. These natural enemies can be predators, pathogens or parasites that kill insect pests.

O'Neil said, "We teach people the basics of biological control and how to spot the good bugs and keep them alive so they can kill the bad bugs that are trying to eat your gardens."

In addition to the Web site, Sadof and Purdue and Illinois Cooperative Extension Service field staff conduct many workshops and have taught more than 500 Master Gardeners the basics of biological control of insect pests in home gardens. As a part of the workshops, gardeners were encouraged to participate in a summer research program that tested specific control methods.

Sadof said participants were asked to measure the changes in their pest management practices in two successive growing seasons. More than 20 percent of the gardeners stopped applying pesticides for up to two consecutive growing seasons following the workshops.

"With workshops available and materials online, homeowners can gain experience with biological control practices that can solve their pest problems without the use of pesticides," Sadof said.

Writer: Meggie Issler, (765) 494-8402, agnews-stories@purdue.edu

Sources: Cliff Sadof, (765) 494-5983, csadof@purdue.edu

Bob O'Neil (765) 494-7207, bob_oneil@entm.purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/


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