Recently,I began my Pennsylvania Pesticide Applicator Certification training. I was pleasantly surprised that the manual covers more than just the chemical controls approach when it comes to pest management. It is evident that there has been a shift towards an Integrated Pest Management(IPM) strategy and away from strictly using pesticides. I will share some of the knowledge I have gained so you can set up your own Integrated Pest Management Program and enjoy an organic garden, less dependence on chemicals in your landscape, and a healthier ecosystem.
The Integrated Pest Management system utilizes several methods and tactics to combat pest problems. Their goal is to prevent pest populations from reaching their economic threshold. This threshold establishes when control measures should be taken based on the pest's population density. If the number of pests per unit of area is small, their presence will not affect the quality and quantity of an agricultural crop. Only when the pest population reaches its economic threshold are control measures justified. If nothing is done, the pest will reach an economic injury level, where the losses sustained from pest damage will equal the cost of control measures.
Similarly, your garden or landscape should have thresholds. Since economic thresholds are involved in production, a more appropriate plan would be to establish action thresholds. This threshold is predetermined by you based on what you deem is acceptable. Once pest levels reach that point, a pest management control method must be taken.
There are four categories of pests:
- Weeds (undesirable plants)
- Invertebrates (insects, mites, ticks, spiders, snails and slugs)
- Disease Agents or Pathogens (bacteria, fungi, nematodes, viruses)
- Vertebrates (birds, reptiles, fish, rodents)
There are seven Pest Management Methods:
Since we're talking about organic gardening, we will exclude the chemical method which utilizes herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, repellents, among others, to control pest populations. The regulatory method is also non-applicable to our topic. Regulatory pest control is usually conducted by the government when pests seriously endanger public health or are likely to cause widespread damage to crops, animals, and forests. That leaves us with five methods of control.
1. GENETIC OR HOST RESISTANCE CONTROL
The best way to avoid using chemicals is to create a healthy ecosystem. Therefore, start with soil rich in organic matter. Grass clippings, vegetable scraps, leaves, pine needles and bark can be added to the garden area each year to maintain a steady supply of natural minerals and nutrients. The next step is to choose an appropriate plant for the climate and condition.
Certain plants have been genetically modified to increase their hardiness. Some are resistant to insects, others to pathogens or nematodes, and others might be drought resistant. For this reason it is important to assess your landscape and the location of the plants. You will need to determine several things to choose the right plant: the plants hardiness zone, the acidity of the soil, the soil moisture, size, and any natural pests. This will ensure your plant will thrive without any chemical additives and any chemical applications won't be necessary because the plant is either resistant to the pest or the native pests are not its food source.
Since most pests have natural enemies, some situations will allow you to suppress the pest using their natural enemy. For example; Predatory mites are used to control plant-feeding spider mites. Lady beetles, lacewings, and aphid midges should be encouraged in your garden to prevent numerous aphid species from feeding on your plants sap. Certain fungi and nematodes are being studied as weed control agents.
However, the process of biological control can be complicated as the selection of the right natural enemy is crucial. Locating the origin of the pest is the most important aspect of the process. Once that is determined, finding its natural enemy will be much easier. It must also be determined that the natural enemy won't become a pest themselves. By practicing biological pest control, your landscape or garden will become a healthy self sustainable ecosystem.
3. CULTURAL CONTROLS
Cultural controls disrupt the relationship between the host plant and the pest, reducing the chance that the pest will grow and reproduce. By utilizing cultural controls, we modify the host plant or site and alter the behavior of the pest to prevent infestation. Cultural practices and sanitation are the most widely used cultural controls.
Our society employs several common cultural practices to reduce pest populations. In turf management, mowing, fertilizing, aeration and irrigation significantly decrease weed build up by promoting a healthy lawn. Mulching not only retains water for your plants and protects the roots from extreme cold or heat, it also minimizes the amount of sunlight weed seeds are exposed to, reducing their growth. In crop production, timing of planting and harvesting, crop rotation, irrigation management and the selection of plants helps suppress pest populations.
Sanitation, also referred to as source reduction, eliminates the pests sources of survival such as water, food, and shelter. Draining standing water eliminates a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Frequent garbage pick and general maintenance of building grounds eliminates food sources for flies, cockroaches, and rodents as well as prevents fungal and termite rot damage to the building structure. In agriculture, animal manure application reduces fly problems in poultry and livestock operations.
4. MECHANICAL CONTROLS
Employing mechanical controls involves the use of machines, devices, and other contraptions to control pests. Plows, traps, screens, fences, nets, and sealants are some of the devices we use to control pest activity in a specific area. Plows are used to cultivate the land, controlling the build up of weeds and soil-inhibiting insects. Window screens are used to keep out flying insects such as flies and mosquitoes. Erecting a fence prevents many vertebrate pests from making lunch out of your garden. Trapping a pest consists of using a mechanical device or sticky surface and relocating or destroying the pest after it has been caught.
5. PHYSICAL/ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROLS
Humans have been modifying the physical conditions of the environment since we started living in villages and planting selected crops. Although some of the more traditional methods are still being utilized to control the environment, we are now able to alter our environment by controlling the temperature, water content, air movement, and the humidity of an area. We also use things like refrigerators to protect our food from spoiling, we install bright lights in the attic to deter bats from roosting, and we lower the humidity of stored grains to increase the protection from mold and some insects.
These five pest management methods preserve the delicate balance of the ecosystem and ensure your garden produces nutrient rich vegetables and fruit. Not only will your organic gardening and landscaping methods make a difference in your home and garden, they will contribute to the overall health of the planet. Before rushing to the store to buy a pesticide, consider these methods, your garden and body will thank you.