IPM (Integrated Pest Management)

So let’s talk about pests, aka things that go “munch” in the night.

First off, bugs in your garden are usually GREAT!

They signal that your garden space is alive, a place where life can take root and undergo the processes that we all (soil included) need to make this whole survival thing happen.

That being said, sometimes, for all kinds of reasons, those bugs and other pests (like plant diseases, fungi, etc.) can get out of control and do things to our plants that make us frown…or very, very angry. The scale of work that insects can carry out can be astounding, for instance, the pollination work that bees and other small pollinators do all over the world is magnificent. The other side of that coin can be the way aphids, army worms or squash vine borers can completely destroy a crop that you have lovingly dedicated hours of soil and plant care to producing.

On that note, here are some basic strategies that should inspire you to learn more about what you are growing, its common pests and take the right kind of preventative action to avoid a salty garden of tears…I know…seriously.

  • Ask garden buddies and GOOGLE it!
    • Before or as soon as you plant something in your garden, look up common pests for that plant, specifically in your area. The sooner the better, as there may be a best time to plant something (like after a frost to kill pests) or a cultural practice that can keep your harvest safe during storage later on (like mold on garlic).
  • Look at your plants often so you know what healthy plants look like and see damage ASAP. When you find something, again, get to searching on the internet for exactly what pest fits the damage you are finding in your garden.
    • The broad categories you will see here are:
      • Physical damage
        • Chewed/eaten
        • Holes in leaves, fruit or stems of plant
        • Smashed
        • Frozen/Wilting
      • Signs of Disease Symptoms
        • Wilting
        • Yellowing
        • “Burned”/”Scorching” usually means brown or black somewhere on the plant
        • Unusually slow growth/failure to thrive/”Stunting”
  • Once you know that is causing the problem, be it disease, insect, or disease spread by insect, learn its life cycle and the time when it can be most easily controlled through:
    • Physical Practices:
      • Squishing
      • Washing off
      • Pruning off infected plant material
    • Chemical Application:
      • Spraying with organic pesticides (tobacco juice,
      • Applying deterrents (garlic, soaps, vinegars, chili concoctions, etc.)
  • Look at the whole situation, pest and desired crop included as well as weather, what you want your garden to be like, what your priorities are, etc. and choose the best plan of action for your pests.

Now you try it!

If it worked, Congratulations!

If it didn’t, go back to the drawing board as many times as you have to in order to solve the problem.

From here, you will just want to loop back through those steps, monitoring your garden for signs of diseases or pests that are unwelcome or out of balance. Monitoring gets easier when you understand that a few of something might be fine, like aphids or grasshoppers, but when they are over a certain number, or threshold, you should be ready to act immediately. Also keep in mind that unhealthy plants are often what attracts the pests in the first place, so healthy soil, regular watering and planting in the right season for each crop can be your most powerful first line of defense against sick, sad little plants.

Each garden has its own set of beautiful little challenges. You will learn to love them as part of the character and familiar feel of your garden as you both grow across the seasons. Saving tomatoes by killing caterpillars might be one of the most insightful teachers of the truths of life.

Enjoy and please comment below with questions and victories!