In part 1(1) of this article, we looked at the history of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and the spectrum of IPM techniques. In this part we will explore some specific ways to apply IPM with your own ecosystem, whatever the scale is of your growing, and whether you are growing annuals or perennials.
Start With The First Principle
In beginning our application of IPM techniques, it is helpful to first consider the environment within which your plants are growing, and the other creatures who already inhabit or are likely to inhabit it along with your crops. In doing this, we can follow the first permaculture principle and ‘Observe and Interact’(2) with the already-existing ecosystem.
For example, on a piece of land in which you intend to plant a garden, you can ask yourself, ‘Who is already living on this land? Who is likely to arrive with the species of plants which I am including in my design? Which of the existing or potential inhabitants could be a threat to my crops?’
In an ideal situation, I would engage in this first stage before embarking on any planting. Observation of the environment can happen by sitting quietly in the space. After you have observed and noted what you perceive, you could augment the observation by researching online; for example, if you note the presence of butterflies you could try to identify the species and look up what they eat (during all of their life stages) to check if they could be a potential ‘pest’. To help you, you could use an insect identification website such as Insect Identification(3) or Pest World(4) (though these both focus on North America) or try searching for ‘insect identification’ in your area on Facebook(5).
This stage of the IPM process is known as ‘prevention’; as we can read from Deep Green Permaculture, “by understanding the environmental factors that affect the pest and its ability to thrive, we can create conditions that are unfavourable for the pest. This is the complete opposite of reactive nature of conventional chemical pest control, which is predicated on eliminating visible pests right now.”(6)
Prevention – Soil Care
As you have probably already come across in your permaculture explorations, one of the keys to holistic cultivation is to encourage healthy soil. As Satish Kumar points out, our words humus and human come from the same root(7); even in our language we recognise that we grow as part of the earth. “The soil is a metaphor for the entire natural system. If we take care of the soil, the soil will take care of us all.”(8)
If you can prepare the soil before you plant in a way which encourages microbial activity, through sheet mulching(9), composting(10 & 11), application of specific nutritional elements(12), etc, then whatever you grow in the soil, as well as benefiting from the nutrients present in the soil, will probably also be more equipped to resist pests than if you do not prepare the soil beforehand in this way. This is not only because the plants will probably be healthy and strong and therefore resilient even if they are attacked, but also because of the function of the microbes in creating a balanced ecosystem which means that so-called pests (especially those present in the soil itself) would naturally be kept at a balanced level, so would not become numerous enough to cause significant damage(13). As we can read in Biodiversity and Pest Management in Ecosystems,
“Soils with high organic matter and active biological activity generally exhibit good soil fertility, as well as complex food webs and beneficial organisms that prevent infection.” (13)
Prevention – Companion Planting
As I mentioned in part 1(1), companion planting can be a very effective way to attract natural predators of pests. In permaculture design, companion planting is often part of making ‘guilds’(14). When planting perennial crops such as any kind of tree, the companions of the crop from which you hope to ‘Obtain a Yield’(15) can probably be planted at the same time as the main crop. For example, if you are making a banana (Musa spp) or papaya (Carica papaya) circle (in the tropics)(16), planting of the original plants the companion plants such as cassava (Manihot esculenta), taro (Colocasia esculenta) lemongrass (Cymbopogon spp) and sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) can take place all at the same time(16 & 17). In this example guild, the most important species for IPM would probably be the lemongrass, which can deter mosquitoes, flies, ticks, ants and gnats (18).
However, if you wish to attract beneficial insects which can help to protect annual crops, the plants which will attract such friendly predators would need to be already in place and thriving before the annuals reach maturity, since if you plant them at the same time then the companion plants’ insect-attracting properties would probably not be realised before the pests arrive(19). So if you are including in your design annual crops or crops which are cultivated as annuals such as Crucifers (broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, pak choi, cauliflower and other varieties of Brassica Oleracea), Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, chili peppers and others from the Solanaceae family) or annual legumes (peanuts, broad beans, peas and others in the Fabaceae family) then to effectively use companion plants as part of your IPM you would need to consider this.
Observation During The Process
It is often the case that when cultivating plants, we are not always in the position to begin with long and thoughtful preparations. Perhaps you decide to plant a particular crop whose ideal sowing period is drawing close to its end; perhaps you have taken over an existing garden; or even if you did carefully prepare the soil and observe the environmental factors present before you planted particular crops, an unforeseen visitor has arrived and is threatening said crops. In such cases you would need to observe the would-be pests themselves.
Even if your plants are already showing signs of ravaging, it is important to spend some time observing the pests’ activity before moving onto the next stages of IPM. In this way you can establish the exact nature of the pests, and also the extent of the damage. Even a couple of days of watching and noting the pests can help significantly in choosing the most effective course of action to take with them; if any. This stage of IPM is known as ‘monitoring’ and includes correct identification “to determine whether the pest is a problem, and what the best management strategy is.”(6)
To help you with your identification, the University of Georgia has quite an extensive list of ‘pests’ for specific species, (or as they call the plants, “commodities”)(20) which attack different kinds of crops, including those which are found on Cruciferous crops(21) and Solanaceous crops(22).
Having observed the environmental factors and identified the type of pest and how much damage it is causing, you can then move on to taking measure to control the behaviour of the pest.
If the pest is attacking some of your annual crops then using companion planting to attract beneficial insects can help to attract predators. Fred Hoffman, writing on this website is 2014, has offered an excellent guide to some common helpful predatory insects and the plant species which attract them(19). However, as I have mentioned, in order to attract the predatory insects the plants need to be somewhat mature already (Hoffman recommends that they are “at least 4′ by 4′ (1.2m x 1.2m)”(19). To attract predators of pests that are already in your garden, then, it would probably not be energy efficient to grow such companion plants from seed. Even if you can obtain mature plants to place in your garden, it would still take some time for their attraction-properties to take effect, and during this time the pests may be continuing to destroy your crops.
Other Ways To Encourage Pests To Leave
So, perhaps a quicker way to encourage the ‘pests’ to leave your crops alone could be to use a natural insect repellent spray. These types of sprays work by using a strong-smelling substance, such as garlic or eucalyptus oil, to deter insects from the crops themselves as they will no longer smell tasty(23). In this way, such sprays can be seen as unobtrusive as they do not usually kill the pests (depending on the strength of the spray!), but just stop them from being attracted to your crops.
You can just use pure garlic, the ratio depends on how concentrated you wish the spray to be. It may be best to start with roughly 6 cloves of garlic per 4 litres of water. You can simply “Crush your garlic and put it into a bowl. Pour boiling water over it, cover it and let it steep overnight. Strain it before you put it into a spray bottle so that garlic pieces won’t clog the nozzle.”(23)
Your Effect On Natural Cycles
It’s up to you to consider what effect your actions are having on the ecosystem around you, and what measures you wish to take which can be as beneficial as possible to the other creatures and plants in the web of life within which we are all a part, while still allowing you to ‘Obtain a Yield’. In some cases, you may decide that, if you have annual crops and are planning to also grow annual crops next year or next season, that you can plant companion plants now in the knowledge that they will probably not help with IPM of this particular yield but are creating a long-term solution.
If you are growing annuals and are not sure if you will continue to use the same piece of land or growing zone in coming seasons or years, you may prefer a more short-term option. These options would tend to be towards the high end of the ‘IPM spectrum’ I introduced in part 1(1), and so should be used with due caution. Anytime we implement an action which can have far-reaching effects in order to obtain a short-term benefit there is the potential for imbalance to be created.
Some of these methods include the use of toxic substances in natural insect repellent spray, hand-picking the pests off, or using natural insecticide. For example, the article where I got the garlic spray recipe from recommends adding a few drops of liquid soap or washing up liquid to the spray. The effect of this is not just to deter insects but to attack them; the soap “coats larvae or eggs and smothers them” 23).
If you have enough time to do so, you may wish to consider hand-picking the pests from your crops. Again, this method would probably involve the death of the pests and resultant potential for imbalance further down the line (although if the pests are in a human habitation and do not have a natural predator or food source in there then you probably don’t need to worry too much about creating imbalance).
The same goes for actively attempting to kill the pests using insecticides. There are a number of so-called natural insecticides available which are considered safer for humans and the environment than those made with chemicals. One of the most common of these is the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis which is toxic to larvae but not adult creatures(24). This bacteria is available commercially, usually as ‘Bt spray’. Other natural insecticides include Neem oil (from the tree Azadirachta indica), Pyrethrum (derived from Osteospermum species of daisy) and Sulphur(25). These final three are toxic to many species, so if you use them you would need to consider their effect on the non-pest creatures present in your garden as well.
We Are All Responsible
I hope this article series helps in your quest to use IPM in your life. As I hope I have made clear, anytime we attempt to change the environment it has an effect on all inhabitants and it is important to be considerate of this. No matter how small your particular piece of land is, by choosing to use IPM as part of a natural, peaceful gardening method, you are encouraging regeneration instead of destruction. Every action, no matter how small, can make a difference to the regeneration of the world.
- Ashwanden, C, 2020. ‘Integrated Pest Management (IPM), part 1: What is it and how can we do it as part of a balanced system?’ Permaculture News, 22/6/20. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2020/06/22/integrated-pest-management-part-1/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Permaculture Principles, 2020. ‘1 – Observe and Interact’. https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/_1/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Insect Identification, 2020. ‘Bug Finder’. https://www.insectidentification.org/bugfinder-start.asp
- Pest World, 2020. ‘Pest Guide’. https://www.pestworld.org/pest-guide/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Example Facebook search with keywords ‘Insect Identification’ in ‘Groups’ : https://www.facebook.com/search/groups/?q=insect%20identification&epa=SERP_TAB – retrieved 3/7/20
- Deep Green Permaculture, 19/11/19. ‘What is IPM?’ https://deepgreenpermaculture.com/2019/11/19/what-is-integrated-pest-management-ipm/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Kumar, S, 2012. ‘Soil, Soul and Society’. The Ecologist, 7/12/12. https://theecologist.org/2012/dec/07/soil-soul-and-society – retrieved 3/7/20
- Kumar, S, 2013. Soil Soul Society: A New Trinity for Our Time. Leaping Hare Press: Brighton, UK.
- Ashwanden, C, 2014. ‘Building Up Soil For a Nutrient-Rich Raised Bed’. Permaculture News, 21/5/14. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2014/05/21/building-soil-nutrient-rich-raised-bed/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Ashwanden, C, 2015. ‘Some Tips on Making Compost’. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2015/09/15/some-tips-on-making-compost/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Hemenway, 2009. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. Chelsea green: New York
- Ashwanden, C, 2017. ‘Soil Mineralisation part 1: What Do We Need to Add to Our Soils and Why?’ Permaculture News, 11/8/17. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2017/08/11/soil-mineralisation-part-1-need-add-soils/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Altieri, MA; Nicholls, CI, 2004. Biodiversity and Pest Management in Agroecosystems. The Haworth Press: New York City )USA; London; Oxford (UK).
- Never Ending Food, 2020. ‘Permaculture Guilds’. http://www.neverendingfood.org/b-what-is-permaculture/permaculture-guilds/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Permaculture Principles, 2020. ‘3 – Obtain a Yield’. https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/_3/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Ashwanden, C, 2017. ‘Why Are Banana Circles Important? What Are the Benefits?’ Permaculture News, 2/3/17. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2017/03/02/banana-circles-important-benefits/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Crouch, D, 2017. ‘A Permaculture Design Course Handbook: Banana Circles’. Treeyo Permaculture, 2017. https://treeyopermacultureedu.wordpress.com/chapter-10-the-humid-tropics/banana-circle/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Alford Wildlife and Pest Management, 20/9/16. ‘Natural Pest Management: Does Lemongrass Help Deter Pests and Wildlife?’ https://www.alfordwildlife.com/2016/09/20/natural-pest-management-lemongrass-help-deter-pests-nuisance-wildlife/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- Hoffman, F, 2014. ‘Plants That Attract Beneficial Insects’. Permaculture News, 4/10/14. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2014/10/04/plants-attract-beneficial-insects/ – retrieved 3/7/20
- University of Georgia Extension, 2020. ‘Integrated Pest Management – Commodities’. https://extension.uga.edu/programs-services/integrated-pest-management.html – retrieved 3/7/20
- University of Georgia Extension, 2020. ‘Integrated Pest Management – Cabbage and Cole Crops’. https://extension.uga.edu/programs-services/integrated-pest-management/commodities/vegetables/cabbage-and-cole-crops.html – retrieved 3/7/20
- University of Georgia Extension, 2020. ‘Integrated Pest Management – Solanaceous Crops’.https://extension.uga.edu/programs-services/integrated-pest-management/commodities/vegetables/solanaceous-crops.html – retrieved 3/7/20
- Wright, M, 2018. ‘A Garlic Spray for Garden Pests’. SF Gate, 28/11/18. https://homeguides.sfgate.com/garlic-spray-garden-pests-22908.html – retrieved 3/7/20
- NPIC, 2020. ‘Bacillus Thurigiensis (Bt) General Fact Sheet’. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/btgen.html – retrieved 3/7/20
- Howe, M, 2017. ‘Vegan Pest Control’. Fantastic Farms, 7/6/17. https://small-farm-permaculture-and-sustainable-living.com/vegan_pest_control – retrieved 3/7/20