Monday, December 11, 2017

For Bugs There’s No Place Like Hedgerows in the Valley

Everyone needs a home – even bugs.

And if you create a permanent residence, bugs will come by the hundreds and thousands. So will mammals and birds.

Well, the owners of Windfall Farms of Firebaugh this year planted a new home for bugs in the Valley. It piggybacks on one planted years ago west of Interstate 5 – touted as the southernmost perennial hedgerow in the Central Valley.

Grower Mark Fickett  describes the perennial hedgerow.
 “The idea is to have a natural insectuary ,” said Mark Fickett of Windfall Farms. “There are a lot of beneficial insects around the hedgerow. It can reduce the amount of chemicals we use on a given crop.”

Mark and long-time business partner Frank Williams have been big fans of perennial hedgerows. Their first was a half-mile long stand of trees, shrubs and perennial grasses surrounded by farm fields and orchards. The hedgerow even boasted redwoods and sequoias.

Farm tour visitors inspect a fledgling hedgerow.
Now, they have planted a new one east of Interstate 5 – a quarter-mile long row of fledgling vegetation, including California buckwheat, oak, deer grass, sugarbush, coyote brush, rosemary, toyon, lavender, incense cedar, live oak and royal purple sage. Drip lines keep the plants irrigated.

Hedgerows are good things. Their benefits include air and water quality protection, weed control, protection against soil erosion, increased biodiversity and beneficial insect activity. They also provide shelter for mammals, insects and birds as well as nectar for bugs and birds..

 “There is certainly lot more that we can do,” Frank says. The farm plans do more planting to extend the hedgerow another quarter mile.

“This is beautiful,” Dr. Pete Goodell, UC IPM emeritus, said after visiting the new hedgerow. “This one of the largest ones of mixed habitat that I have seen in the state.”

Pete studied the first hedgerow extensively, monitoring insects on a monthly basis for a year.
Shrubs, trees and perennial grasses populate the hedgerow.
For Pete, hedgerows diversify the local ecosystem and provide what he calls eco-services to the area. What he means is the hedgerow can be different things at different times of the year to insects, mammals and birds. 

“It’s really interesting to see the shift in insects,” Pete said. “There is something blooming here year round. There is always a pollinator that comes through.”

Hedgerows are more common on farms in the Sacramento Valley, Central Coast and Bay Area and rare in the Central Valley. Experts say more research is needed to prove the absolute benefits of hedgerows. 

“I am sure there is some benefit,” Frank says. 

University of California study in 2011 reported hedgerows attracted more beneficial insects than pests and suggested growers replace weedy areas at the crop field edges with planted hedgerows. The idea is to enhance natural pest management and reduce the need for pesticides.
Another benefit: Hedgerows are aesthetically pleasing.

“This will continue to be a nice place to be,” Pete says of the new hedgerow. As the vegetation matures over time, he says, it will be common for a “truck or two to stop and enjoy it.”

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