Welcome to the final GROW blog post written by me, Christopher. It’s been an awesome summer being a Youth Exploring Science teen working with the GROW team, and I’ve learned so much throughout this whole experience. But before the final goodbye, there’s a lot to recap about what happened this summer with the greenhouse. It was, to say the least, a fascinating journey.

Lacewing
Marigolds in the GROW greenhouse

My summer goal was to explore how we can handle the unique pest infestations that arose in the greenhouse. Back in June, it seemed like we were going to be battling aphids all summer. The aphids were so dense that they collected in piles underneath our marigolds, forcing us to clear out all the plants from our deep water culture aquaponic and start from scratch. But oddly enough, after clearing out the hydroponics, the aphids never returned in force. Our pest surveys with sticky traps would catch mostly leaf hoppers and flies, and aphids only occasionally appeared on select leaves of lettuce. In short, aside from our first clearing, we never had to take direct or drastic action to counteract pests in the greenhouse this whole summer.

It may seem like an uninteresting conclusion to a problem we hyped in the beginning, but that is the nature of science: sometimes your results aren’t what you expected. And that is when you can glean some new knowledge. Rather than finding out what humans can do about large populations of pests, we’ve been discovering a lot about what nature does about large populations of pests. What’s been surprising and fascinating is the diversity and variety of bugs and insects we’ve been finding in the greenhouse. Many of these insects were harmful to our plants, chief among them being ants, leafhoppers and leaf miners, but there were just as many beneficial insects there to help us. A simple sift through the leaves of the marigolds and sweet potatoes could reveal silent damsel bugs lying in wait to claw their next meal or busy spiders weaving their webs underneath leaves. Nature has a fascinating way of finding its way back to balance, and just as quickly as the aphids came, so did a host of neutral or beneficial insects to make their home in the greenhouse. Even though we like to think it is separated from the outdoor world, the greenhouse is a place where insects migrate in and out to create a balanced ecosystem.

While we never had to take any direct action, our research and brainstorming still gave us a lot of insights about how we can control pests in the future. The challenges with pest control in hydroponics are unique because of their reliance on sitting water, but hydroponic farmers around the United States have found their own ways to make sure pest populations are kept under control. Using sticky traps, releasing beneficial insects or using carefully calculated quantities of all-natural pesticides are just some of the methods industry professionals use on a larger scale, and we can use some of those methods in our greenhouse when and if the need arises.

All in all, working at GROW and in the greenhouse has been an enjoyable and enlightening experience. It’s one thing to read about hydroponics online and dream up plans, but to help take care of one and to participate in ongoing scientific investigations into real problems is truly special. I hope to come back to GROW in the future and help as a volunteer, but until then, this is Chris signing off!

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