Friday, July 30, 2010

Photos from the Research Farm, July 30, 2010

Squash blossoms ready for the kitchen.

Edible flowers: They look too good to eat.

A butterfly investigates a Zinnia.

Workers harvest Swiss Chard at Green Spark Farm in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Phlox in full bloom.

Johnny's events calendar - August 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Product Spotlight August 2010

Direct-seeded herbs

Dill is one of the most versatile herbs.
It can be use for both cooking and bouquets.
It's not too late to direct seed herbs for fall! These annuals will be ready for harvest within 60 days and will benefit from the cooling temperatures of autumn:

Cilantro is the perfect accompaniment to late summer's eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers, to enjoy in Mexican, Indian, and Asian dishes. It tends to bolt in the heat of summer, but if you plant the slow-bolting variety Santo now, you'll have a good leaf harvest in 50-55 days.

Dill is useful for cooking in the leaf stage, or you can let it flower and use the pretty yellow umbels in bouquets. The best variety for flowers is Vierling. For high leaf yields in a small space, try the dwarf variety Fernleaf.

Leaf fennel makes a superb addition to salad mix when you cut it at the baby stage. Or, let it grow to full size and harvest the ferny, anise-flavored leaves.

Parsley takes about 75 days to maturity, but it's fairly cold-tolerant and can be grown during the fall in a hoophouse or under row cover.

Candy carrots
Napoli carrots are so
sweet, they're like candy!

Napoli carrot is a special Early Nantes variety renowned for its sweetness in cold weather. Napoli is ready for harvest in about 58 days, but it can be left in the ground to get sweeter as the weather gets cooler. In the South, carrots can be grown outdoors for winter harvest. In the North, Napoli is the perfect carrot for hoophouse production. Eliot Coleman, author of The Winter Harvest Handbook, plants them in late summer in an unheated hoophouse and seeds a sufficient quantity that he can harvest them all winter. Eliot calls them "candy carrots" and delights in the fact that children love these delicious winter carrots.

Napoli grows up to 7" long. It has smooth, blunt roots and strong tops. It's available as organic or nonorganic seed, and can also be ordered with conventional pelleting or pelleting approved for organic production.

Fall spinach

Spinach does best
in cooler temperatures.
Spinach is an important crop to plant in the next couple of months. In the field, it will flourish in the cooler days of autumn and will even withstand some freezing weather. In the hoophouse, it can be kept growing all winter if it's protected with row cover held above it on hoops. It's also a great crop to seed in fall and overwinter under Quick Hoops™ for early spring harvest.

The main obstacle for the fall spinach grower is getting seed to germinate in hot weather. If the soil is above 85F/29.4C, germination will be spotty at best. Before planting, cool the soil by watering it and covering it with shade cloth for a week. Or, if you are planting on a small scale, soak the seeds in water overnight, then drain well and put them in the refrigerator for a week. When the seeds sprout, they can be planted carefully.

Space is the best variety for fall planting because it is the most cold-tolerant and will continue to produce after first frost. For overwintering, try seeding Tyee in September for spring harvest.


Mache can be grown all winter.
The mild, sweet, nutty flavor and tender leaves of mache, also known as corn salad, makes it a perfect substitute for lettuce in late fall and winter. The small rosettes of dark green leaves are ready in 50 days. It can be grown all winter under Quick Hoops™ or in a hoophouse. It also can be grown in a planting tray in a cold greenhouse. Because it can tolerate cold, you can harvest it as needed throughout the winter. Be sure to plant enough for a long season of tender salads!

Quick Hoops™

4-foot Quick Hoops™ bender
Low tunnels made from electrical conduit bent with our new Quick Hoops™ Bender can extend the season this fall and next spring. The hoops can be covered with shade cloth to cool the soil for starting fall crops. Then the shade cloth can be replaced with row cover for frost protection in fall. Add a layer of greenhouse poly when the weather gets cold and you can keep many crops growing well into winter.

Last winter, we used Quick Hoops™ at Johnny's Research Farm in Albion, Maine to trial varieties and planting dates. For example, we started some lettuce in the greenhouse in September and transplanted into the Quick Hoops™ in October. Those plants grew a few inches and then became dormant until early spring. We direct seeded another round of lettuce in November, and those seeds didn't germinate until spring but were ready for harvest much earlier than spring-planted lettuce. You can read more and see photos on Johnny's Facebook page.

We'll be continuing our trials this fall and winter with the goal of identifying the best varieties for Quick Hoops™ production. You can expect to hear much more about this research in the future. In the meantime, we encourage you to experiment with these easy and inexpensive low tunnels to find the best timing for your own fall, winter, and early spring crops.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Production, Harvest, & Post-Harvest Solutions to Beat the Heat

Note: We've recently updated this article and republished it on to better help our readers find up-to-date heat-tolerant, variety-specific information.

"Is it hot enough for you?"

You've probably heard this question more than a few times during the dog days of summer. If you're like most growers, your main concern is not for yourself (you can get out of the heat!) but for your crops. Most vegetables, even those we think of as heat-loving vegetables, don't do well when temperatures soar into the 90s and stay there...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 7/28/10

I was standing in my perennial garden last weekend looking at all the activity in the cluster of bee balm plants that I have been trying to increase over the past few years. There's such a variety of bees and insects that use this flower I can see where it gets its name from. I actually spotted the first hummingbird moth of the season, at least the first one I've seen, on this patch. Fascinating creature. And speaking of that:

A neighbor of Johnny's Research farm stopped in Friday last week to ask about the bees in his yard. Seems there's tons of them, so many in fact that their buzzing wakes him up in the morning. They don't sting, but rather buzz around their holes in the lawn. You "can walk right through them without getting stung". Curiosity finally got the best of me so, inviting our resident insect queen Susie, up the road we went.

We drove up his driveway and observed many bees but certainly not thousands, or even hundreds but definitely good numbers of them. They appeared to be drinking the dew off the leaves of the surrounding trees. They were buzzing some flowers but weren't landing on them. Then I looked across the lawn from a lower vantage point and I saw them; thousands of them! An almost eerie sight. There were so many of them you could hear the buzzing if you listened closely. And then I walked closer and they didn't pay any attention to me whatsoever.

As we observed the bees we discovered a few things about them; they're not as big as bumblebees, they're certainly not aggressive and there is indeed hundreds and perhaps thousands of them. They appear to be drilling holes in the lawn. We watched them go into the holes with pollen attached to their legs. So, after watching for a while and getting a pretty decent description of what they looked like and what they were doing, we headed back to the farm to do some research.

We found out they are "mining" bees also known as Andrenid bees. They are ground dwelling bees that are docile, beneficial and unlikely to sting. After mating in late winter and early spring, the females dig a burrow the diameter of a pencil and up to eighteen inches deep. Off the main shaft there may be several brood chambers to hold her offspring. She lays an egg and supplies it with nectar and pollen on which it feeds after it hatches.

The larvae will grow during the summer months and until fall when the adult is formed. Early in the spring the adults emerge and the cycle starts anew. These bees are docile so won't pose any problems to humans or pets. They are extremely important as pollinators and should be left alone. The blueberry growers like them for pollinating their crops as well as native plants. If a homeowner insists on moving them away a simple sprinkler set up will persuade them to move on as they don't like wet areas with lush growth.

Until next week, I'll be in the bee balm. Brian

Friend of the Week: Lady Beetles

Lady Beetle
(Coccinellidae Family – many different species)

Why a Friend: Known as ladybugs, ladybird beetles, and lady beetles, larvae and adults aggressively eat soft-bodied insects. There are many native populations in any given spot throughout the world. The Mexican Bean Beetle is a well-known member of the Coccinellidae Family and is not carnivorous. Both larvae and adults of this species prefer eating bean plants.

Predator of: Aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, scale insects, thrips, psyllids, and spider mites. Lady beetles can eat 40-50 aphids per day and 200-500 within their lifetime.

Life Cycle: Adult lady beetles overwinter in field edges under rocks and leaf litter. They prefer any protected area and sometimes they choose to come inside homes. When encountered inside the home, the insects can be transferred outside into a sheltered spot for the winter. In warmer climates, the adults will slow their development relative to the temperature. Adults emerge in the spring looking for a food source and place to lay eggs. Eggs are laid in masses or singly, depending upon the species, where there is a source of food for the newly hatched larvae. The eggs hatch and larvae begin to feed right away. Lady beetle larvae look like small alligators with six distinct legs. These larvae can differ in color and size, depending upon species. Some are black and/or gray with red or yellow spots. They go through three instar stages before forming a pupa. The adult emerges from the pupa to find a mate and feed on prey.

Lady Beetle Larvae

How to Identify: The lady beetles have three body segments: the head, the pronotum, and the abdomen. The elytra (wing covers) cover the abdomen and can vary in color from yellow, brown, red, to black. Spots are present on some species and not on others and can be variable within a species. Ohio State University has published a Fact Sheet on Lady Beetles as well as an Identification Guide with images and features of common species. Keep in mind that native populations may vary in certain areas, so it is best to check with local cooperative extension agencies when it is critical to positively identify certain species. Lady beetles will exude a pungent-smelling odor when disturbed.

How to Attract: Lady beetles eat mostly soft-bodied insects but occasionally supplement their diet with pollen and nectar. Planting an insectary garden will help bring in native lady beetles by attracting aphids that will not be pests on vegetable crops. These plants will also provide pollen and nectar as an alternate food source for lady beetles. These insectaries will attract other pest predators, as well. We recommend planting the following and letting them go to flower in your insectary planting: Beneficial Insect Attractant Mix (#1832), Colorado Yarrow (#1338), Genovese Basil (#911G), Blue Spice Basil (#181), Mrs. Burns’ Lemon Basil (#774), Common Chamomile (#914), Santo Cilantro (#2928), Bouquet Dill (#920G), Grosfruchtiger Leaf Fennel (#2395), Forest Green Parsley (#529), White Dill Ammi (#1034), Jewel Mix Nasturtium (#1420), and Mammoth Red Clover (#980G). Discouraging ants from ‘farming’ aphids will aid in the lady beetles’ access to their prey.

Further Resources

View all Johnny's seed varieties that Attract Beneficial Insects »

To learn more, visit our Grower's Library for articles on Attracting & Putting Beneficial Insects to Work »


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Visit Johnny's Trial Fields: Twilight Walk August 18th, 5:00 to 7:30 p.m.

Please join us at Johnny's Research Farm in Albion for the opportunity to tour our extensive trial fields, connect with other farmers and gardeners, and converse with Johnny's research staff. We'll be discussing:

Fruiting crops: Varieties and growing tips

Mulch trials: Review the results with the Research team

Flowers: Potential new varieties and fall planting flowers

Caterpillar tunnels: See the newest season extension tool in action, learn about its advantages

Twilight walks are part of Johnny's commitment to provide products and information to help Growers succeed. This August 18th event is the second in a three-part series. The third walk will be held October 20th. Subjects to be covered include:
  • New Quick Hoops Trial
  • Root Crops, including Kohlrabi, Radish, Turnips, Fennel, Celeriac, Parsley, Root
    Parsnips, Chicory Root, Carrots, Scorzonera, Salsify, Burdock
  • Fall Ornamentals
  • Onions
  • Winter Squash
  • Regular and Sweet Potatoes
  • Leeks
Please contact Susan Anderson at with any questions.

The Research Farm is located at 184 Foss Hill Road in Albion. Click here for directions to Johnny's Research Farm.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Video: Afternoon crop walk, July 23, 2010

In this week's episode, we take a look at our melon trials, zinnias, snapdragons, eggplant, corn, and a special treat -- okra. We also examine a lettuce trial with Janika Eckert, a Johnny's board member,  plant breeder, and the wife of Johnny's founder Rob Johnston.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Photos from the Research Farm, July 22, 2010

Summer squash harvest in TubTrug

Summer squash harvest

Pumpkin blossom

Pumpkin pollination

Squash pollination

Squash pollination

Friday, July 16, 2010

Video: Morning crop walk, July 15, 2010

Weekly video of plant growth and progress at the Johnny's Research Farm in Albion, Maine

Today's crop walk of our trial fields includes a look at cauliflower, Swiss chard, corn, grafted greenhouse tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, pumpkins, and some beautiful Amaranthus flowers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 7/14/10

Last week I talked about organic matter and adding it to my garden. In case you're wondering why I'm so focused on that this year let me explain organic matter and it's roles in plant growth and soil health.

Let's first start with a common mistake as I outlined last week and I also mentioned above; what I am adding is organic materials and not organic matter. Organic materials are just what it sounds like; materials that will breakdown into organic matter, that will benefit the soil and feed the microorganisms and feed subsequent crops to feed people or animals in the future. Organic matter has decomposed from organic materials and will further decompose very little; perhaps five percent per year depending on soil conditions and treatments.

Organic matter (OM) has many benefits to look at. The OM holds moisture and releases it as the subsequent crops demand it. Clay soils hold water but it is usually unavailable for plant use; not like OM. Same with nutrients. OM helps eliminate compaction of soils and prevent crusting, which can negatively affect plant growth, and increase water filtration into the soil. During dry periods, soils with a high OM percentage have crops which show less drought evidence than soils low in OM. Often conventional corn fields will have some plants that are obviously affected by the lack of water; if the OM content were higher it would perhaps not be that much of an issue.

Here's some interesting facts I picked up while doing some research for this article: an acre of soil six inches deep weighs around 2 million pounds. 1% OM would weigh in at 20,000 pounds. Most of our soils on the farm average at least 5% OM so each acre contains ~ 100,000 pounds of organic matter. That's a lot of OM! It takes at least 10 pounds of organic materials to produce 1 pound of OM so in order to increase the OM total by 1% we would need to add 200,000 pounds of materials per acre. That's a lot of materials too! 200,000 pounds is 100 tons, which equals 200 yards of the average compost. 200 yards times $45.00/yard equals $9,000.00. That's a bit much for my yearly gardening budget but you can see where I'm going with this.

My garden is 7500 square feet and is at 3% OM. 7500 square feet 6 inches deep weighs in at 340,000 pounds. 3% of 340K equals 10,200 pounds. To increase it to 6% I will need to add 102,000 pounds of organic materials which will break down into 10,200 pounds of OM over time. Of course I won't do this all in the same year. I put on 18 yards of compost this year (average weight of 1000 pounds/acre) which added 18,000 pounds. Now my deficit is only 84,000 pounds. I put 25 yards of henhouse cleanings on (average weight 600 pounds/yard) which added another 15K pounds leaving me only 69K pounds short. The total poundage I added this year so far is 33,000 pounds. Seems like a lot and it is; I shoveled most of it at least twice. Two more years of adding this amount of materials and adding some for breakdown as outlined below and I'll have an ideal OM content in my garden.

Figuring I'll lose 5% of my total OM content per year I'll need to at least add enough organic materials to offset that number. 5% of 10,200 is 510 pounds and multiply that by 10 and you'll get 5100 pounds of organic materials I'll need to add every year just to maintain the OM content of the soil; and more to increase it. 5100 pounds is 5 yards of compost; that's manageable.

Like everything else there's lots of variables at work here. Like crops that add organic matter, the nutrient composition of crops tilled under, the frequency and method of tillage, the types of materials added and any nutrients that will be tied up breaking down the organic materials. The cleanings from my henhouses contains large amounts of soft wood shavings so the chicken manure nitrogen is used to help break down the sawdust and won't be available for the crop to use. Frequent tillage removes vast amounts of OM as does erosion.

Sources of organic materials are wide and varied. Besides the obvious ones of composts and manure other sources abound. Plant and weed debris, cover crops and leaves, organic mulches and straws are but a few amendments which will add to the OM content of the soils over time. Seaweed, kitchen wastes, old potting soils, rotted wood and basically anything that was once alive all add up to more organic materials to put in the garden.

This is not a quick fix but rather a long term process in the gardening world. Continually adding materials to increase the OM content of the garden is a way of life amongst gardeners and farmers. We understand, perhaps better than anyone else, the relationship of plants to soils to us. We too shall sometime add to the OM content of the soil.

Until next week, it's as good as it gets.


Farmer’s Market Tips for Asian Greens

At higher seeding densities (25 seeds/foot) choi will not head up into a large plant. However, mini heads are a great way to market these types of greens differently, and the faster turnaround means more money using less time and space.

Mini heads are a great way to market Choi. They require less growing time, less space, and can be quite profitable. High seed densities (25 seeds/foot) will prevent heading up into large plants.

Sell Mini Choi bagged, by the pound, or bunched for stir fries. Mix and match the green stem, white stem, and red varieties for a colorful display. Do the same with Vitamin Green and Tokyo Bekana to add more diversity to your braising greens.

Keep an eye on your Asian Greens for signs of bolting. If you notice this right away, the tender shoots can be harvested, bunched, and marketed the same as mini broccoli - again very nice for stir fries. Be sure to hand harvest these as a quality control check. If shoots bend and are difficult to snap with your fingers, or if they have fully open flowers, they are too woody and will be tough when cooked. Shoots that snap easily are generally those with flowers that are just about to open (you can tell be the swollen buds) or maybe only one or two flowers jumped the gun and have already opened.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Photos from the Research Farm, July 13, 2010

Pumpkin patch

Johnny's farm workers lay down straw mulch on the pumpkin patch.

Planting lettuce seedlings.

Row cover removal.

Grafted tomato trials


Zinnia close-up view.

A garter snake scurries off after enjoying the sun.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Video: Hot day at the Research Farm

This week's crop walk was a hot one. On Tuesday and Wednesday, it hit the mid-90s here in central Maine -- a little warm for these parts. In this video, you'll get glimpses at several trials -- broccoli, marigolds, chicory and corn (it's more than knee-high by the 4th of July).

We also have an action clip of a couple our farm workers laying down straw mulch over the pumpkin trial field -- a hot and dusty task on this day. We finish up with some tomato pruning. Apologies for the lack of audio. Our microphone imploded during shooting.

Pest of the Week: Wireworm


Wireworm, larvae of the Click Beetles (Many species)

Wireworms are pests on many crops like potato, corn, grain crops, and other various vegetables. They live for years in the pupal stage, therefore making them a difficult pest to eradicate.

Life Cycle: Wireworm adults (click beetles) lay eggs in groups in the soil. Adults are active at night during the summer months. Eggs hatch and larval forms dwell in the soil for 2-5 years until pupating into the adult click beetle. The inch-long larvae are light brown in color. They seek deeper soil when the weather is very hot or very cold but are commonly found in the top 8-10” of the soil. Larvae tend to be found in wetter parts of a field or in fields that were recently turned from sod into cropland; although, larvae can be found in fields that have been in cropland for many seasons.

Click Beetle

Plants affected: Crop damage occurs during the wireworm’s larval stages. Larvae feed on seeds, roots, and tubers. Wireworms are attracted to and feed on corn and grain seed, and potato seed pieces and tubers. This feeding can reduce a crop stand, thereby reducing overall yields. Wireworms will also burrow into tubers damaging the crop and making it unmarketable. When soil is drier, wireworm damage tends to be higher on tuber crops due to the pest seeking moisture from the crop.

Control: Population density estimates can be inferred from larvae caught in bait stations. Bait stations consist of a shallow hole dug in the field, 6-8” deep and 3-4” wide, filled with corn or wheat, and covered with a piece of black plastic. The bait hole is left for a week then dug up to count wireworm larvae. Several of these bait holes should be placed in a one-acre field to assess accurate populations. Screening can also give a grower an estimate of how much wireworm pressure is in a field. Screen a one foot square area, 6-8” deep. Several of these samples should be taken in a one-acre field. If there is one wireworm found in the square foot of soil screened, then the pressure is considered high. This is not an adequate method for control. Rather, it is a way to determine if a field is appropriate for crops that are susceptible to wireworm damage. If wireworm pressure is deemed high, choose crops that will not be as susceptible to their damage. There are conventional pesticides that are labeled for wireworm. A biological control consisting of a fungus that infests insects has been scientifically researched and proven as effective as conventional controls for wireworm. Johnny’s is investigating carrying such a product. Read all product labels in full and follow label instructions as specified for that particular product.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 7/8/10

It certainly feels like the middle of the summer; with temps in the 90s and high humidity the past few days, but the calendar says the first of July so I'll wait a while to see if we are indeed in the middle of the summer or if this is a prelude of things to come. Certainly is different from last season which saw cool and moist conditions for most of the growing season.

The sunny and hot days of summer are great for killing weeds. I was cultivating in a field last week that had a carpet of weeds 6-8 inches high. One pass with the tractor was all it took; the field earlier this week look great! 90% of the weeds were killed and one more pass through this week will clean up the field for the season. Two cultivation passes for one growing season - if all crops were only that easy! Vining crops will canopy over soon so cultivation will be over for the season. Time moves so quickly this time of year!

The last corn cultivation happens this week; we'll seed red clover in the corn then cultivate it in. The clover will grow in the under story of the corn so once we mow the corn we'll have a nice crop of clover already established and growing. Next spring we'll plow under the clover once it has grown vigorously for a few weeks and is getting ready to blossom. This is the point in time where it will have the maximum amount of nitrogen in the soil and will benefit the subsequent crops significantly. Annual alfalfa works equally as well, but it's growth rate is much faster.

The spring crops have pretty much gone by now; the spinach is bolting and the lettuce is sending up its flower stalks. The swiss chard for seed is blossoming and will be setting seed shortly. The squash and pumpkins are loving this weather as are the melons. Everything that likes it warm is doing great right now. It's nice to see some warm weather after last year.

The challenges of last year like Late Blight and excessive moisture are but memories now and I'd like to keep it that way. I'd really like to see a "normal" growing season for this year. The next two months will see lots of growth here at Johnny's farm and that's one thing that makes it interesting; things are always changing.

And on the home front I checked on my garden the other day - well, at least what used to be my garden. I'm still spreading cleanings from the henhouses on my plot and tilling it under as time allows. I've added 18 yards of compost and at least 25 yards of henhouse cleanings and still have a few yards left to go. Once all my organic matter is tilled in I can plant a cover crop for the remainder of the season. It's definitely different not having a garden this year but we get many of our veggies from the farm here at Johnny's and the balance from the farmer's market and at vegetable stands close by. We picked up the first new potatoes on Saturday last week, along with a head of lettuce, and they were awesome! I kind of miss harvesting them from my garden, but, oh well...

We do have a few things planted on the one strip of plastic I put down this spring. We planted cabbage and Brussels sprouts along with collards on poly and covered them with floating row covers to keep the flea beetles at bay. We planted gladiolas on plastic; we'll see what they do. We like glads but it's a pain to dig them up and store them every year. I have a friend that plants them deeply, 8 inches or so, and leaves them there. The past few years they haven't frozen so they come up year after year. I suppose some year she'll lose them but it certainly saves a lot of time.

I had lots of volunteer potatoes, both here and at home this spring. They can carry a strain of late blight so we pulled them and disposed of them. The potato trial here looks great this year - the plants are tall and robust. In fact, everything looks great here this year!

Another month and we'll be harvesting - scary.

Until next week, Brian.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Photos: Johnny's Variety Trials Twilight Crop Walk

Some photos from our June 30 crop walk at the Johnny's Research Farm in Albion, Maine.

The No. 14 back field is our largest. No. 14 features an assortment of lettuce, greens, peas, and summer squash.
Lettuce trials: Johnny's Farm workers did a great job making it beautiful.
Cover crop on left with four clean rows ready to plant.
Another view of the lettuce, greens and chicory trials.
Guests have a closer look at the lettuce trials.
Pumpkins under Agribon row cover. The cover has been removed and now workers are mulching the pumpkin field with straw. Video upcoming.
Guests walk to main fields after returning from back field. That's a pepper trial under the hoophouse in the background.
Tools and Supplies Product Manager Adam shows off a caterpillar hoophouse under which we're trialing eggplants and other crops.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Video: Morning crop walk at Johnny's Research Farm

Here are a few quick clips from our weekly walk around the Johnny's Selected Seeds Research Farm in Albion, Maine. It's early summer and we've had almost perfect weather for growing -- moderate rains followed by warm, sunny days. The crops are looking good. Our first plantings of lettuce and spinach have peaked. The broccoli looks ready to harvest. We also take a look at peppers, tomatoes, squash and a few flower varieties, including some beautiful snapdragons.

For the latest farm news, read weekly report -- "What's New at the Farm" written by Brian, the Johnny's Farm Manager.

Friend of the Week: Hover Fly

Hover Fly or Flower Fly (many different species) – Order Syrphidae

Why a friend: Larvae of the hover fly eat crop-damaging and disease-transmitting insects. There are many species of hover fly throughout the world. Adults are easily attracted to where a grower needs them. Hover fly larvae consume as many and sometimes more pests than ladybird beetle larvae. Adult hover flies help pollinate plants as they feed on the nectar and pollen in the flowers.

Predator of: Aphids, small caterpillars, thrips, scales, and other small soft-bodies insects

Life Cycle: Adults lay eggs on the undersides of leaves of crops that have pests present. Eggs hatch and the larvae begin feeding. Larvae pupate into adults in 10-30 days, depending upon the temperature. These beneficial insects overwinter in colder climates as pupae in the soil or on crop debris. In warmer climates there will be adults and larvae present all year. Pupation will occur at 30-33 days during the cooler temperatures of winter in southern regions.

How to Attract: Native populations of hover flies are easily attracted to pest populations with well-positioned insectaries. An insectary is a garden planted to attract beneficial insects. Insectaries can be planted with white alyssum, yarrow, cilantro (let it go to flower), parsley (let it go to flower), basil (let it go to flower), anything in the carrot family, clover, nasturtium, buckwheat, ammi, golden tuft, dill, cosmos, mizuna, hairy vetch, and chamomile. Insectaries planted in the immediate area of the target crop will be the most beneficial. Plant an insectary outside the open end wall of a hoophouse. Adults will fly into the hoophouse to lay eggs on the crop plants. Insectaries can also be placed in strips between fields, put into a planting plan within the field, or planted into containers. The containers allow them to be mobile so you can place them just about anywhere you need them. We recommend planting any of the following and letting them go to flower in your insectary planting: Beneficial Insect Attractant Mix (#1832), Colorado Yarrow (#1338), Genovese Basil (#911G), Blue Spice Basil (#181), Mrs. Burns’ Lemon Basil (#774), Common Chamomile (#914), Santo Cilantro (#2928), Bouquet Dill (#920G), Grosfruchtiger Leaf Fennel (#2395), Forest Green Parsley (#529), White Dill Ammi (#1034), Jewel Mix Nasturtium (#1420), Mammoth Red Clover (#980G).

How to Identify: These true flies (in the Order Diptera) float over crops and duff (thick layers of organic matter on soil surface) like a kite, seemingly not moving. They are a rare exception in the insect world in that they can fly backwards. They have one set of wings, unlike the insects that their body color mimics (wasps and bees in the Order Hymenoptera) who have two sets of wings. This mimicry is thought to deter predators from eating the hover fly because of potential stinging. Hover fly larvae are not easily found, even for entomologists. They resemble a slug or worm that is about 4-8mm long and can be off-white or light green in color. Adult populations are easy to spot when there are aphids or other soft-bodied pests present. They hover over the crop looking for a good place to lay eggs, and will land and feed on the nectar and pollen of flowers nearby.

Further Resources

View all Johnny's seed varieties that Attract Beneficial Insects »

To learn more, visit our Grower's Library for articles on Attracting & Putting Beneficial Insects to Work »