The Art and Science of Pest Management
Copyright 2017 by Scot G. Patterson. All rights reserved.
Keeping pests under control without using harsh chemicals is a challenge for organic gardeners. We know that it’s possible by observing plants in natural environments. In the wilderness, for example, plants thrive and reach their full potential without human intervention. There is little evidence that healthy plants are being attacked by insects or overtaken by molds and mildew. The reason is simple – nature has created a self-regulating fully-integrated system of checks and balances that automatically adjusts the environment to ensure that living things thrive.
When we plant traditional gardens, we are creating an artificial environment in which many of these important checks and balances have been compromised or eliminated. Indoor gardens are the worst because they are disconnected from nature and provide an ideal environment for the unbridled proliferation of pests – it’s moist, nice and warm, and there are no predators. It’s Club Med for bugs and mold! At GardenCare Naturals, we think the best solutions to these problems can be found in nature.
As we search for answers, there is a fork in the road – do we use an organic approach or something else? Many amateur gardeners fail to realize that it’s one or the other. There is no middle ground on this issue. Attempting to mix the two approaches doesn’t work because synthetic pesticides and fertilizers kill soil organisms and beneficial predators that nurture and protect your plants. Of course, there are also safety issues associated with consuming these chemicals. As you may have guessed, if you haven’t made the decision to go organic, you’re probably visiting the wrong website.
Natural Pest Management
The best practices for managing pests and pathogens tend to mimic nature. The reason the forest looks lush and healthy is because there are multiple natural mechanisms in place for controlling pests. To be successful, we need to do the same thing in our gardens. An effective pest management routine uses several different modes of action to keep pests in check; for example, predatory mites, soil nematodes, bioactive products, and plant-sourced pesticides.
We started GardenCare Naturals because we couldn’t find products that solved our pest problems. We started out, like many progressive gardeners, making crude mixtures of essential plant oils such as lemon grass and rosemary. A little oil, some “spreader sticker,” a lot of water, and some vigorous shaking yielded a pesticide that worked reasonably well. Just as well, in fact, as some of the products on the shelf at grow stores. Many of these products were ineffective, left residue on the plants, or were toxic to leaf tissue. We read about spider mites developing resistance to several of the more common products because growers used them incorrectly. Insects can develop resistance to pesticides in the same way that germs develop resistance to antibiotics. If pesticides are used inconsistently, you are inadvertently selecting and breeding resistant bugs. Spider mites are perfectly suited to the task – in fact, they are used in laboratory studies because they multiply quickly and can adapt to toxins by metabolizing them. Then the surviving mites pass this trait on to their offspring. Now you are screwed, and so is everyone else who comes in contact with these super bugs.
The adaptability of garden pests is a real problem, and we need your help to solve it. Here are some recommendations:
1. Use a microscope. Seeing that you have a problem is the first step to preventing or resolving it. Using a microscope will help you identify problems before they get out of control. Prevention is easier, less time consuming, and less expensive than crisis management. It may take some time to understand what you are seeing when you look at the underside of a leaf under magnification so spend some time navigating around the leaf looking at the various structures. Pay attention to how things look when the plant is healthy. Then you will know when the plant is under attack and the collateral damage will give you valuable insights to help you diagnose the problem and choose an effective solution.
2. Don’t use the same treatment repeatedly. Rotation is the key. Don’t settle on one product, mix it up. Our goal at GardenCare Naturals is to develop a line of plant-sourced pesticides with different modes of action that can be applied in rotation. We also recommend the use of other compatible products to reduce the risk of developing a resistant strain of bugs.
3. Tune in to your plants. I find that working with plants is healing. It puts me in the moment, gives me a break from my daily struggles, and forces me to connect with the plants to address their needs instead of mine. At best, attending to your plants can be a meditative experience. It also makes you a better gardener. I have talked to many professional growers who are amazingly tuned in to their plants – they look at the leaf color, whether the leaves are curled or flat, signs of deterioration that could signal deficiencies, how difficult it is to break the leaf off the stem, distance between branch nodes (stretch), and so on. Professional gardeners know how to spot problems before most of us would see them. Keen observation and a good connection with plants is the key to success. Hopefully, I am preaching to the choir on this issue, but if you haven’t found joy in your gardening, slow down and smell the roses!
4. Educate yourself. Buy some books. Talk to other gardeners who seem successful. Realize that there is room for individuality, so don’t be afraid to develop and refine your own style. As your expertise develops, your gardening style will change but you have to start somewhere. .
5. Give yourself the freedom to make mistakes. It’s a cliché but it’s true, I learn the most from my mistakes. And, although I have made a sincere effort to educate myself, I have made all the classic mistakes. It surprises me how often I make mistakes that seem obvious in hindsight but they weren’t obvious at the time! So, cut yourself some slack, take your best guess, try it out, and learn from your mistakes.
At GardenCare Naturals we strive to improve your gardening experience by eliminating common pests and pathogens. Our products are made with natural components -- the active ingredients are essential plant oils such as peppermint and cinnamon. If used correctly and in conjunction with other products, our pesticides offer a safe and effective way to control common pests in your garden.