This is a guest post by Kelly Tooker, a Master Gardener and environmental educator. I had never heard of Integrated Pest Management before, but it addresses a lot of my concerns with both conventional and organic farming. Kel explains the principles of this system below and how to apply them. I love the way IPM uses just enough force — and the right type of it — to address pests intelligently and sustainably.
Integrated Pest Management, often just called IPM, is a pest management technique used in the garden and greenhouse to manage insects, rodents and weeds. While IPM is a highly successful pest management practice, it is unfortunately not that popular in the main stream because it does not involve the purchase of gallons of commercial pesticides and herbicides a year, and it also involves a little research and knowledge. But I think you can do this, I think you are up for the challenge.
Chemical-based pesticides emerged in the post World War II 1940s as chemical companies diversified their technology and moved away from products like mustard gas. Like much of our technology, these chemical agents were originally derived for other purposes and were hailed as the answer to increasing productivity and feeding the world. This ushered in a long era of pest control through eradication.
We now know that this approach has been harmful to a wide range of “non-target organisms,” including humans, animals, fish, birds and beneficial insects. We now recognize that gardens are complex and interdependent systems, ecosystems. When you plant your garden you need to not only plan a design that is aesthetically pleasing, but also a system that supports the health of each plant and a balanced interaction among the inhabitants. Integrated Pest Management builds upon this knowledge and chemicals are employed as a last resort.
So, how do you go about this balanced, safety-conscious approach? You learn the tenants of IPM to prevent problems from arising, and when they do arise, you integrate several techniques to reduce the chemical impact to tolerable levels.
Now I will pause here for the reader who does not think that this applies to them because they only use ORGANIC pesticides. Whether synthetic or organic, all pesticides interact with the targeted ecosystem. Many organic pesticides can be more harmful than synthetic options, especially if the user is not trained to understand proper application rates. As an agricultural teacher there were many organic options that I did not use because my classes included young females of childbearing years and teenagers with sensitive endocrine systems. A chemical is a chemical. The term organic simply means that it is or once was living. If you learn to properly use IPM you will reduce your chemical use, hopefully to none.
IPM begins with CULTURAL controls. Start by choosing good healthy plants that are native or adapted to your climate and garden. Select varieties that are resistant to disease and pests in your area. Properly care for the plants and practice good garden hygiene. Regularly monitor your garden and check trouble spots, an ounce or preventative care will minimize damages. Your goal is to create a healthy interdependent ecosystem.
Keep in mind that a truly pest free garden does not exist. You must learn to accept some damage to fruit, flower or foliage and know that sometimes it is better to remove a diseased plant. Learn to identify which insects are harmful and which are beneficial. Understand that birds eat insects and provide shelter for these willing garden helpers. This is where it takes a little bit of research and knowledge, but I have never known a gardener or passionate eco-type to shy away from knowledge. For weed control consider dense planting and ground covers.
Next, you will use PHYSICAL controls. These are nontoxic techniques such as handpicking slugs, snails, caterpillars and other pests. Soft bodied insects can be sprayed with water to knock them from plants and kill them. Prune diseased parts from a plant and properly dispose of the cuttings. Protect early season fruits and vegetables using screens, frames or row covers so that insects cannot lay eggs. Use traps such as blue and yellow sticky traps. Pheromone traps are also available. This is where we all become armchair entomologists. For weed control consider a cover or mulch vegetable beds over the winter.
BIOLOGICAL controls will be familiar to many of you. These are controls that rely on living organisms such as beneficial insects. A popular biological control is the purchase of ladybugs. However, I will encourage you to plant flowers and plants that are source foods for these insects and draw them into your habitat. If you create a balanced habitat you will find that within 3 years you will have an army of beneficial insects assisting you. Please remember that spiders and ground beetles are beneficial insects.
And finally, should you ever need to resort to this step, CHEMICAL controls. Always select the least toxic option first. Natural, or organic, pesticides are products whose ingredients originate in a plant, animal or mineral. The term natural or organic does not mean “harmless.” When using any pesticide read the label carefully. I do not use Neem oil, a popular “organic” pesticide because it is harmful to non-target insects including bees and lady beetles and is toxic to fish. It also should not be used if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
Integrated Pest Management is a BIG topic and there is a lot more to be said than can be explained in just this one short article. I invite you to follow along as I discuss these practices further, through my own trials and experiments, in Kelsgardenjournal.com.
What do you think of Integrated Pest Management? Would you (or do you already) use it in your garden?
About the Author:
Kel is a Master Gardener, Master Composter/ Recycler, and Naturally Beautiful Backyards Host Gardener. She has lived in USDA Zone 8 (Western Garden Zone 6) for most of her life and just recently relocated to Zone 5!
Kel began gardening in 2004. Her first gardening project was to establish a butterfly habitat garden and multi-use space for a young family. Her next project was the development of an urban pollinator habitat and a 10 month edible garden. Future entries will chronicle a 7,000 sq ft lot in a historical district.
Kel continues to pursue educational opportunities and holds an Organic Gardening certificate from OSU Extension. She has worked as an environmental educator in a range of positions including curriculum development and career & technical training at the high school level. She writes about a wide range of environmental topics.
Photo by Steve Wilson