Organic gardening 101: Part 3
Special to The Union
As a kid, I liked most bugs. I am not afraid of spiders or bees, I am fascinated by ants and I adore dragonflies.
Upon seeing my first tomato hornworm, I was astonished at the beauty of this creature and marveled at her camouflage. If I didn’t know that she would steal all my tomatoes, she would have enjoyed her freedom.
Moving to the country from my former urban dwellings, I was in heaven at the sights of deer, gophers, mice, hawks and other birds of prey, snakes, rabbits, foxes and coyotes.
I realized some of these critters were my friends in the garden and some were selfish, silent thieves in the night. I laugh at my naiveté when I found a mouse nest in my tomato cages.
This soft, silky, cottony ball of fluff was so intriguing. As I peeled back layers, I noticed the three blind mice. I took the little puff to show my husband and he confirmed, yes, baby mice, soon to be big tomato-eating mice. I felt happy and sad at the same time. I tried to cover the nest back up and relocate it to a place farther from the vegetable garden, hoping that Mama Mouse would find it.
Perhaps that is why I was so receptive and eager to learn about Integrated pest management, which is promoted by the University of California, Davis and other universities. Integrated pest management is a system that teaches gardeners how to cooperate with nature as much as possible and still get rid of garden pests and diseases.
Basically, you keep your garden tidy, watch to see who’s visiting, and decide if the visitor is a serious problem or just a small part of the picture. If you have to take steps to kick someone or something out of the garden, do that in the least toxic way possible.
Every gardener has to deal with pests and by following the principles of integrated pest management, you will use a combination of four different types of controls. This combination of pest control strategies that work better together than just one or two by themselves.
— Biological controls: Use a pest’s natural enemy like ladybugs for aphids or BT (bacillus thuringiensis) for mosquitoes.
— Cultural controls: Aimed at making the environment unsuitable for pests, for example don’t leave dropped apples around your trees for pests to overwinter in.
— Pesticide sprays: Natural sprays like insecticidal soap and neem oil.
— Mechanical controls: The final type and very effective. These are controls like fences for deer, copper wire for slugs and snails, and insect traps.
Using a combination of these controls at the right time is key to IPM. The acronym PAMS will help you to know what to do when.
P stands for prevention. This is your first line of defense. For example, use disease- and pest-free seed and transplants. Use an irrigation schedule that doesn’t favor pests and disease, like watering early in the morning instead of in the evening. Practice sanitation in your garden and orchards.
A stands for avoidance. If you already have pests and diseases present, these are strategies that help you avoid damage.
For example, put bird net over your cherries and berries. Plant varieties that are resistant to the diseases in your area. Practice crop rotation. For example, never grow alliums in the same place two years in a row; they should be on a three-year rotation.
M stands for monitoring. This means paying attention to what is happening in your garden. Identify and keep track of what kinds of pests and diseases you see. Hang pheromone traps to discover if a specific pest is present. Use monitoring as the basis for your avoidance measures and for the last part of PAMS;
S for suppression. Suppression techniques include cultivation for weed suppression. Using several baited pheromone lures to trap and kill insects like thrips and cucumber beetles. Releasing beneficial insects such as ladybugs or green lacewings. And of course, the one most of us are familiar with: spraying an insecticide or fungicide. Spraying should be your last resort and always try the spray with the least environmental impact first.
This might sound complicated, but don’t worry, you’re not in it alone. Your local agricultural extension offices and Master Gardeners are a wealth of IPM strategies for just about every kind of pest, tailored to your area. My “How To” videos are free to watch and can be found at https://www.groworganic.com/organic-gardening/videos on pest control include the following topics: mosquito control, fly control, beneficial insects focused on predator beneficials, beneficial insects focused on parasitic beneficials, tomato diseases, bird and gopher control, powdery mildew control, insect control, codling moth control, and dormant fruit tree spraying.
You need balance in your garden between predator and prey, plants and animals, life and death. Plants live in communities.
They interact with other plants and animals. When you provide food, water and cover in secluded sanctuaries and travel corridors for wildlife, you are helping to maintain complex food webs that have developed over eons. Attracting beneficial insects is a matter of creating and enhancing insect habitat, but only after you stop using poisons. When you use pesticides and herbicides to control pests or weeds, the first thing you kill are parasitic wasps, predators, and other beneficial garden insects that are essential to natural garden pest control. Let’s talk about how beneficial insects and how to attract them.
Predators are mainly free-living species that directly consume a large number of prey during their lifetime.
Lacewings eat aphids, caterpillars and other larvae. Ladybugs, and in particular their larvae which are active between May and July, are voracious predators of aphids, and will also consume mites, scale insects and small caterpillars.
The larvae of many hoverfly species principally feed upon greenfly, one larva devouring up to 50 a day, or 1,000 in its lifetime. They also eat fruit tree spider mites and small caterpillars. Adults feed on nectar and pollen, which they require for egg production. Polistes wasp eat caterpillars.
Dragonflies are important predators of mosquitoes, both in the water, where the dragonfly naiads eat mosquito larvae, and in the air, where adult dragonflies capture and eat adult mosquitoes.
Community-wide mosquito control programs that spray adult mosquitoes also kill dragonflies, thus reducing an important bio-control agent. There are parasitic nematodes that kill slugs, and then feeds and reproduces inside the slug. The nematode is applied by watering onto moist soil, and gives protection for up to six weeks in optimum conditions.
Other useful garden predators include pirate bugs, rove and ground beetles, aphid midge, centipedes, spiders, predatory mites, as well as larger animals such as frogs, toads, lizards, bats, slowworms and birds.
Planting the plants that attract beneficial insects and pollinators is key to enhancing your habitat. Diversity in your garden will ensure that you attract beneficial insects all year long.
Some of the plants that attract beneficial insects include: clovers and alfalfas like crimson clover, red clover, nungarin subclover, yellow sweet clover, hykon rose clover, white clover, semi and nondormant alfalfa.
Some herbs and vegetables allowed to go to seed are some other beneficial favorites. Examples are: coriander, radish, dill, carrot, caraway, celery, chervil, fennel and parsley.
Finally, the beneficial insects just can’t get enough of these from the flower garden: Calendula, California Buckwheat, Baby’s Breath, Sweet Alyssum, White Yarrow and Queen Anne’s Lace.
Another major reason not to use harsh chemical pesticides is to keep pollinators safe. Attracting pollinators to your yard will make sure your fruit trees, squashes, cucumbers and other fruits and veggies get pollinated.
Honeybees aren’t the only game in town when it comes to pollinators, but they are at risk. Gardening organically is a must if you want to do your part to help.
Flowers can be pollinated by a variety of bee species, butterflies, moths, many beetle species, hummingbirds, some fly species, and bats.
Plant smartly and you can attract all kinds of pollinators, both native and introduced. Some plants that attract pollinators include: Lupines, Baby Blue Eyes, Five Spot, Gum Plant, Chinese Houses, California Poppy, Globe Gilia, Tansy Phacelia, and California Blue Bells.
When the garden environment is healthy, Mother Nature can do her thing.
Enjoy the Garden!
Read Organic Gardening 101- Part 1, at https://www.theunion.com/entertainment/16666768-113/patricia-boudier-organic-garden-101 and Part 2 at https://www.theunion.com/entertainment/17083274-113/organic-gardening-101-weed-control
Patricia Boudier is co-owner with her husband, Eric, of Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply. Her weekly educational/“How-To” videos can be found at http://www.groworganic.com.
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