We loathe pests and insects. But we loathe chemical pesticides and fungicides with equal intensity. Through the years, we have learned a few tricks to get rid of pests the natural way. Why do pests arrive? It’s a combination of several factors. One is our climate. Another is based on the type of crops we grow. Lastly, pests depend on the type of fertilizer practice that the farm uses. When you use raw manure and urea for example, you force feed plants. They start to grow well and when they do so, the pests arrive.
Ecological pest management sees the problem of pests as a problem of ecological balance. Each element in the environment has a specific role or function, to ensure the balance of the entire system. Pests should not dominate the entire farm system. When they do so, the entire balance is lost.
Healthy plants and healthy soil: One of the easiest ways to control pests in the farm is to prevent them from coming in! We have learned that healthy plants have healthy defenses. Just like us, when we are weak, we are more prone to sickness. Weak plants are either already infected, or will attract even more predators. What we do in the farm is pull out or dispose of weak plants. Do note that your most important defense is to have a healthy soil. Healthy soils grow strong and vibrant plants. We keep our soils in tip-top shape by natural composting methods such as mulching and using compost or natural fertilizer to the soil. Ninety percent of your pest problems can actually be solved with the quality of your soil.
Crops are robust when grown in rich dark soil
Knowing the pests: We also had to identify the pests (cause) in our farm to determine it’s cure. Once we had identified what kind of pests, we had to determine it’s life cycle: how it feeds; or where or when it lays eggs.) With this knowledge, we were then able to find ways to control its population and later rid ourselves of pests. We make sure that we do not have breeding places in our area for insects. In our farm, we regularly clean our greenhouses, making sure they are free from debris and weeds, which are breeding places for insects.
Additionally, we keep the leaves of our plants dry. Insects and fungus thrive on wet leaves. Wet leaves also spread disease. In our farm, we use drip irrigation methods to water our plants. Drip irrigation delivers the water to the plant’s roots without wetting the leaves. How is this done? Tiny holes are inserted at various points in a hose, allowing small quantities of water to trickle slowly into the soil over long periods of time. Another advantage of this method is saving water. Unlike sprinkler systems, we use 30-50% less water, applying these directly to the area where the plants need it the most. Drip irrigation also prevents soil erosion and nutrient run-off.
Taking advantage of beneficial insects: Every organism that causes damage to plants have a predator or parasite. There are actually some insects or pests that are good for the farm or your garden. For example, LADYBUGS eat aphids, mites, whiteflies and scale. We make sure our farm is neighborhood friendly for beneficial insects.
The Beneficial Ladybug
Other methods: Other methods include the use of our sowing calendar (too much water or warmth in the air results in more pests), intercropping, green manuring, using natural repellants such as neem plants, and having flowering plants that attract insects in the area.
Neem Tree, Powerful for Repelling Insects
We have our very own homemade pesticide barriers and sprays. In our farm, we use recycled hard plastic containers, paint these yellow and then put sticky substances on them. We just hang these in our greenhouses and catch pesky aphids and whiteflies! We use a lot of Neem in the farm. Neem has remarkable powers for controlling insects. Its extract is used as a safe and natural pesticide. It is so unique because Neem does not immediately kill the insect. Instead, it alters an insect’s behavior or life processes in ways that can be extremely subtle. Eventually, however, the insect can no longer feed or breed or metamorphose, and cannot cause damage. Because of this subtle method, our crops, people, and animals are protected. Lastly, we have replaced chemical pesticides with mixes of our fish emulsion. What is it? Fish waste, yes you read it right, foul and messy fish entrails! We gather all fish scraps from the markets, grind them, and mix them with an enzyme. We screen out the bones and decant the oil, and what remains is fish silage. Also, enzymes already in the ground fish continued to digest and break down to amino acids. More than a pesticide, it doubles as a great fertilizer. Fish emulsions are wonderful sources of nutrients!
One Healthy Farm Ecosystem
A new study from Washington State University suggests organic growing techniques offer better pest control and larger plants (published in the respected journal Nature.) “Organic agriculture promotes more balanced communities of predators,” says David Crowder, author of the new study. [...]“Our study does not tell farmers they should shift to organic agriculture. What our study suggests is that organic agriculture is promoting these more balanced natural enemy communities and they may have better, organic pest control.” According to Nature: it is “the relative abundance of different species” rather than the number of species present on a farm that may determine success. The study found that the increased evenness of organic farms compared with that of conventional farms led to 18% lower pest densities and 35% larger plants.