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Practical Pest Management for the True Organic Garden

Yellow aphids, grey/white cast skins from aphids molting, swollen opaque aphid mummies, wasp creating mummies and ladybugs on milkweed.
Yellow aphids, grey/white cast skins from aphids molting, aphid mummies, wasp creating mummies and ladybugs.

I was in the garden the other day looking at our kale, and I noticed that a couple of holes had been chewed through the largest plant, plus it had a couple of white spots on it that the other plants didn’t have. The weather had just changed here in SoCal from winter to summer temps overnight, and this outbreak came on fast.

Hmmm. What have we here... I thought.

As with most things in conventional or “organic” gardening, I have some issues with the IPM (integrated pest management) programs and protocols that I have read and looked at over the years. One of my biggest issues is that they all call out for using pesticides! Why?

Why do all of these programs give their blessing to using pesticides as a last resort? Why does anyone have to resort to using pesticides at all?

That is the reason that I am not calling this an IPM article, because I don’t like the fact that IPM programs give you a pass on using pesticides at the end of the day. The problem starts with the fact that the IPM programs were developed by universities, and universities have ties to Big CHEM and Big AG. Frankly, that is just the truth of the matter. University studies and programs cannot keep their purse strings separate from the task at hand, therefore, ALL research, programs, protocols and certifications that have anything to do with university research is tainted in my opinion.

Now, that is not to say that all of the information in the UC IPM program is bad. I picked the UC IPM program, because I live in California and am hopelessly in love with a woman who went through the UC accredited Master Gardener Program. She has gone well beyond the Master Gardener curricula and is today, years later, one of the top organic gardeners and consultants in the world. So, thank you UC Master Gardener program for giving her a start!

Just like the Master Gardener Program, there’s lots of really good information for gardeners to glean from the UC IPM program, but it’s just a start and unfortunately with both of these programs having university ties, there are some things about them both that just bug the heck out of me… pun intended.

Let’s take a couple of excerpts right out of the What is IPM brochure from UC:

What about pesticides?

Most pests can be managed without using pesticides.

Use pesticides only if non chemical controls are ineffective and monitoring confirms that pests are reaching intolerable or damaging levels.

If pesticides are necessary, use them in combination with the non chemical methods described above.

Choose pesticides carefully. Use the least toxic, yet effective material that targets the pests but has little impact on human health and the environment.

What the heck are they talking about? Don’t use pesticides. Okay. But, then, BOOM, use them only if non chemical controls don’t work. What? And… If you have to use pesticides, then please use them with non pesticide methods at the same time. Did an insane person write this, or is it just me! And finally, lets close with the killer, literally, if pesticides are necessary, then make sure that you choose wisely, because otherwise you might harm (kill) you, your garden and the environment!

I hope that illustrates in a nutshell why I am not a huge fan of university driven IPM programs.

Alrighty then, lets get back to what’s really important here, my garden! Remember that little issue that I was having with my kale? Well, do you know what it was? I’m sure that many of you do… I had cabbage looper worms that were starting to go to town on the kale. Those brown moths had laid their eggs as the damp spring weather started turning warmer. I had seen several eggs a few days earlier and was pretty sure that I’d removed them, rolled off of the underside of the leaves by hand and crushed them.

Cabbage looper worm on underside of kale leaf.
Cabbage Looper Worm on Kale

Apparently not! I found three cabbage looper worms that were chowing away after my morning watering with my favorite wand. I plucked those guys and we all said a prayer together as they left my garden, and this world. I would not have found these little buggers had I not been looking at the garden. To me, especially during these strange days of more time at home than ever, I believe that we should be spending a lot more time eyeballing and inspecting our gardens, than watching the Covid-19 count on CNN.

There are so many things that we can do to prevent crop loss and plant destruction if we stay on top of our pest issues right out the gate. Here are the things that I do in my garden to mitigate and minimize pests and disease:

1.) I hand water as necessary with a wand that doesn’t leak and has a nice shower effect. Hand watering is so much more beneficial to your soil and plants, and it helps eliminate getting moisture on your leaves that can create fungal disease and tissue damage.

2.) I run a daily morning and evening inspection of the garden, especially the edible raised beds and fruit trees. I look under the leaves and around areas of new growth. I look for any signs of nibbling at the new leaf growth areas. Lastly, I look for any signs of disease.

3.) I remove any of the bugs that I can by hand. Doing this daily is more manageable and prevents a huge outbreak later.

4.) I will make and use a compost tea extraction called Compost Tea for Fruits, Vegetables and Tomatoes, to disrupt the bugs’ feeding on my plants. It deters pests as many bugs do not like the smell or taste of the compost tea on the soft leaf tissue of plants. The compost tea also adds biology to the soil and feeds the biology in the soil, which ultimately gives your plants the nutrients and strength they need during times of crazy weather changes!

Two five gallon buckets filled with compost tea by Malibu Compost
Compost Tea for Fruits, Vegetables and Tomatoes extract ready to drench and spray

5.) I will also use Compost Tea for Fruits, Vegetables and Tomatoes on any disease or if I’ve seen any fungal outbreaks in the garden. It stops powdery mildew on it’s tracks.

6.) I like to use the really simple mixture of 1 tsp. of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Liquid Soap in 5 gallons of water, or 4 drops of Dr. Bronner’s in a medium spray bottle to spray on white fly and aphid outbreaks in the garden. Do this only in the early morning hours so that the sun doesn’t bake the water droplets on your leaves and burn them.

Heterorhabditis bacteriophora Nematodes
Heterorhabditis bacteriophora beneficial nematodes

7.) I make a soil drench of beneficial nematodes; Steinernema carpocapsae, Steinernema feltiaea and Heterorhabditis bacteriophora that will hunt and kill the larvae of many of the pests that hide in the soil of a garden. Applying these microscopic roundworms is one of the best lines of defense that I can recommend. Can you believe that you can stop 90% of your pest issues at the soil level?

8.) Another thing that I’ll occasionally do is release lady bugs and lacewings if I see an outbreak of aphids or whitefly. Make sure to water the garden just before you release them in the evening. They’re going to want a drink to hydrate before they go to work.

9.) The other beneficial that we use in our garden with great success to wipe out pesky pests is predator wasps. Parasitic wasps help rid your garden of aphids, beetle larvae, bagworms, cabbage worms, Colorado potato beetle, corn ear worms, cucumber beetles, cutworms, gypsy moth caterpillars, Japanese beetles, leaf-miners, mealybugs, Mexican bean beetles, moth caterpillars, sawfly larvae, scale, squash vine borers, tent caterpillars, tobacco budworm, tomato hornworm and whiteflies. I can't say enough about these wonderful beneficial insects!

Four ant bait stations and two ant bait solutions.
Four Ant Bait Stations and two Ant Bait Solutions

10.) The leads me to ants. We’ve all got ants. And we all have to deal with them. This is the one area of practical pest control that I will use a low dose, super low dose, NOP organic farming approved toxin in my yard. We put out ant bait stations that we get from Rincon Vitova - The AntPro® Ant Control System. This green, martian-looking thing kills and destroys entire ant colonies, not just individual foraging ants. It’s patented round-the-clock, feed-on-demand, liquid bait delivery capability is proven effective against carpenter ants, imported fire ants, Argentine ants, white footed ants, crazy ants, as well as, numerous other ant and insect species. The most important fact to keep in mind is that AntPro accomplishes it's task without broadcasting pesticides that sacrifice your health and our environment. Their Gourmet Liquid Bait contains 1% Disodium Octaborate Tetrahydrate as the active ingredient. This is chemically the same as borax and a salt of boric acid. The other 99% is sugar water.

Victor Rat Traps
Victor Rat Traps

11. And last but not least, RATS! I use rat traps. This is the very last thing that I do every evening in my garden at home. I know that this probably grosses some of you out, but hey, I’m growing food to feed my family, not to feed a bunch of rats! As soon as it is about to be dusk, I cut up in little cubes some raw, organic cheese from the refrigerator, and take 6 or so of the old school Victor Rat Traps out into the garden. I place this really nice cheese on the traps and then place them around the garden near the things that I know the rats will go after; tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, lettuce starts… at least their last meal is a healthy one. I have nothing against rats, or as Jimmy Cagney used to say, “You Dirty Rats!” but I don’t want them anywhere near our food. You have to be diligent. You have to set traps out every single night. Around 7:00pm to 7:30pm every night at our house, someone usually reminds me, “Isn’t it Rat Time?”

There you have it. Our Practical Pest Control regimen for the True Organic Garden. No poison, except for the ant bait station’s 1% bad solution kept inside the martian thing, and nothing that the university IPM programs consider “safe” like Bt or spinosad, which when you look at the safety data on them, always say not very toxic to mammals… If you dig a little deeper on this, you get to see the glorious history of the use of Bt with our wonderful GMO crops, as well as in the case of spinosad, you’ll see that when they fed heavy doses to rats, they died! Okay. Pass!

The True Organic Garden is a little more labor intensive than the faux organic or conventional garden, but absolutely worth it in the long run. The ROI, return on investment, of your time and energy is clear to me. Safe soil. Safe plants. Safe food. Safe environment. Safe you… and at the end of the day, what could be more practical?

© Randy Ritchie 2020


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