California Update

 In General

Last September, we were notified that shipments to California had something called tiny fire ants, which we had never heard of before and aren’t listed as living in our county. We knew something was biting people working in the grove but they’re so small you really need a magnifying glass to see them.

California, rightly so, shut us down until we got them under control — but then they went for months before they decided we could ship again. They’re coming from a county-owned right of way with a creek that runs along our eastern border. Since we can’t control the source, we’ll continue to treat the perimeter of the farm.

We probably spent more time researching pesticides than we did using them. Neem oil probably would have been effective on its own, but California required that we use pesticides that were EPA labeled to treat ants. We’ve gotten some questions about what we’re doing and wanted to share that research with you.

Following the notes from CDFA letter that came with your plant:

  1. Peanut butter and borax. Peanut butter is obviously non-toxic, the borax is a naturally occurring mineral that is slightly toxic in large quantities or if inhaled. We used plastic stakes to create peanut butter traps so nothing touched the trees in the greenhouse and they only touched bark on the trees in the grove.
  2. Advion (indoxacarb) is designated by the EPA to be a “reduced-risk” pesticide with moderate to low acute and chronic toxicity that does not cause mutagenic, carcinogenic, developmental, or reproductive effects. It is labeled for use in vegetable gardens and on fruit trees. We sprinkled it along the perimeter of the property (to stop the ants from crawling out of the creek) and under California benches in the greenhouse. The benches are three to four feet tall so they were too high for the bait to splash even in very heavy rains.
  3. Pyriproxyfen is an insect growth regular that is considered a long-term control because it doesn’t break down as quickly as other treatments. It’s labeled for use on agricultural products but we use it only to treat the perimeter of the farm so it does not come in contact with any of the plants we ship.

3. Spinosad is a naturally occurring bacteria that is OMRI approved for treating a wide variety of insects. Like BT, it’s non-toxic to mammals and bees but very toxic to insects. It also is labeled for use on food crops and found in treatments for head lice and fleas and ticks on dogs. We use it under our California benches and then as a soil drench three days before plants are shipped. The soil drench is necessary because the initial infestations of tiny fire ants were found in soil not on the plants. It does bind to soil and breaks down quickly so there is minimal exposure for our customers — even if they eat their entire plant. as soon as it arrives

The CDFA letter was included with every California shipment to ensure that inspectors and customers were both aware of what we have been doing to control this invasive insect.

Please email vicki@neemtreefarms.com or give me a call at 813-689-2616 if you have any additional questions,

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