In between the endless hours of writing code, meetings and answering emails most everybody at PlantSense happens to be avid indoor gardeners as well. We have a Botany lab in our office where we conduct experiments and trials with our sensor. But there is plenty of space for us to grow various types of indoor plants, fruit trees and some flowering annuals…and we do! Everything from Poinsettias, Calibrachoa to Avocado trees find their home in that room… including a couple of plants I’m pretty sure I pull up as weeds in my garden, but they can rest assured they won’t be eradicated from their new happy home. So over time quite an Oasis has grown right in the middle of our computer filled office. Now being that our lab is an enclosed room in an office building we have created an isolated environment that lacks the defenses that nature provides in the outdoors. So if a nasty bug gets in there it tends to reproduce exponentially, since nature’s balance is lacking in an enclosed room with lots of tender plants and cozy temperatures with no natural predators. So basically it is the perfect environment for aphids, spider mites, white flies or any other plant pest that manages to get in to procreate without the consequence that something above them in the food chain is going to knock them off once they have reached a tasty sized population!
Recently some spider mites found their way into the botany lab on a plant that was brought in from a PlantSense employee’s home. Within a few weeks those spider mites on that one plant managed to spread throughout our entire lab, happily sapping the strength out of our little oasis. Our lab provides the perfect environment for spider mites to go from egg to adult in one week. Adults lay up to 20 eggs a day so when you do the math you realize it doesn’t take long for the problem to get out of hand. The signs of Spider mites was obvious with the flecking on leaves, spun tiny webs everywhere, and leaf yellowing. The mites feed from underneath all the green leaves, scraping away at the leaf surfaces so they can reach the juicy interior of the leaf.
Because they are so small discovery of these symptoms are how they are typically found. We actually found them at the tops of the Easy Bloom sensors crawling around making webbing between the petals, obviously feeling quite at home and safe from hungry predators. Since the lab is in our office we wanted to stay away from any harmful pesticides to control our new found nemesis….plus how fun is that!? We knew we wanted to go green, so with my experience with using them in the past I decided our best option would be to release beneficial insects such as predatory mites. Predatory mites eat pest spider mites while not harming plants, pets or people. They are raised at commercial insect farms and sold to consumers to control pest mites on plants. Predatory mites are smaller than the pest spider mites but they are ferocious and hungry killers. An adult predator eats 5 adult spider mites or 20 eggs in a single day. There are several different types you can buy depending on the temperature and humidity where you plan to release them. Retailers often do a good job explaining which ones to purchase for your area and or give a variety of mites in your purchase to make sure all your bases are covered. Our specific package of mites offered three types of predator mites that all have a slightly different comfort zone for them to thrive in. So if our lab was perhaps a little too humid for one of those mite species, you could count on the other two species to thrive and do the task at hand…eating spider mites! Once the pest spider mites are eaten and the food source is gone the predatory mites simply die off.
Releasing predatory mites early before an infestation gets bad helps to insure a quick solution. If an outbreak gets bad predators may need to be released a couple times. We had a pretty bad infestation considering we had webbing and mites frolicking around at the top of our Easy Bloom and PlantSmart sensors. At this point we are trying to get away with only one release of predators. We’ve been monitoring the situation, and to this point with only the one release of predatory mites, the pest spider mites appear to be under control. The prior heavily infested plants now have no new webbing, and new tender growth on the plants is not showing any symptoms of spider mite damage. There are still pest mites running around (now for their lives!) but they are far less easy to find while the happy predatory mite population is getting larger. We will continue to monitor the situation but so far it appears the green solution to our spider mite problem is working. And yes we had our entire office engrossed in this project and checking out the progress of our new little friends… I think they had a lot more fun doing this than avoiding a lab that had to be fumigated or pesticide sprayed on all the leaf surfaces. Let the mites do the work for you and stay green my friends!
A more detailed article regarding Predatory Mites can be found at: http://www.easybloom.com/plantlibrary/care/taking-chemicals-out-of-spider-mite-control