Welcome to part two of Dark Heart’s IPM Advantage series! In our first post, we covered what IPM is and why it’s a safer and more sustainable approach to pest prevention and management than traditional, “nuclear war” eradication methods. In this blog, we’re going to take a look at several of the most common practices and protocols of IPM.
Much of IPM is Preventative Maintenance
As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and a large part of a successful IPM system is purely preventative. While different gardens have very different definitions of “pest prevention,” such as a sealed indoor garden vs a rugged outdoor environment, there are several IPM principles that are universal in practice.
First, keep the area clean.
Nature is by nature, uh, messy. Animals eat stuff, leaves fall off and die, lightning strikes and the wind blows. Natural processes are anything but tidy and sanitary. Nevertheless, the successful IPM grower must keep things as clean as possible.
For indoors, this means keeping floors and surfaces clean. Immediately remove any dead leaves, spilled soil or grow medium. Sweep and mop the floor at least once a week with a sterilizing agent, and wipe down all walls and surfaces too. Don’t store non-essential objects in the grow room, and don’t leave anything in there for longer than it needs to be (like a vacuum cleaner, or glassware).
For outdoor grows, cleanliness means keeping the area free of weeds, trash, and animal litter. Greenhouse growers should periodically wipe or lightly power wash the interior and exterior of grow structures in order reduce or prevent mold and mildew buildup.
The purpose of all this cleanliness is to deny bugs and pathogens a safe place to hide and develop. Keeping your grow area clean and clear of debris also promotes better air circulation, which makes for happy plants!
The second preventative step to take is to seal the area and establish protocols that will always be followed.
Make it as hard as possible for bugs and foreign agents to enter your grow space! Think about how most infestations happen. Is it likely that someday you’ll just randomly have a tiny, super-cluster of five thousand eggs get stuck to your pants which you then unknowingly bring into your garden, they all hatch, boom–you’ve got a full-blown infestation on your hands–hit the nuclear eradication button?
That’s typically not what happens. Rather, infestations typically start with just one, or maybe two or three specimens (larvae, juvenile, or adult), that somehow gained access to your garden and started breeding. Several weeks go by and the population has now exploded into an infestation.
This is why the IPM grower takes every possible precaution to prevent that very first bug, or the first breeding pair of bugs, from entering the garden.
For indoor growers, you’ll want to filter all of your intakes and exhausts, fill in cracks and crevices in walls, and seal up doors and windows as much as possible. If you’re running an HVAC system then you’ll want to utilize positive pressure to prevent any nasties from getting sucked in. Positive pressure can also help you find any leaks to be sealed up.
While it’s obvious that bugs can fly, crawl, and slither their way through windows, vents, ducting, through cracks and under doors–one way many unwanted and microscopic pests gain access to your garden is by hitching a ride on YOU (or your friends, or your dog). Thus the IPM grower establishes protocols for prevention and follows them.
Never allow dogs or pets into the grow room–their fur is a super magnet for pests. Never wear your outside shoes into your garden, or be absolutely sure to clean the soles of your shoes with a sterilizing agent. Another great and smart habit to get into is changing into a “gardening outfit” (farmer’s overalls and straw hat, anyone?) whenever you enter your grow area.
For outdoor growers who are more limited in options for securing plants against outside elements, a great start is to use fences and greenhouses to restrict wildlife and the pathogens they bring from entering the garden.
Be aware, man
Educate yourself on known pests and diseases for your area. Know what pest damage looks like. Outdoor growers should know their local weather and seasonal patterns and the pest cycles that follow, such as wet weather and powdery mildew, or hot weather and mites. Sticky traps are absolutely essential for both indoor and outdoor growers to monitor and identify potential problems.
Use nature to tip the scales in your favor
For outdoor growers especially, natural methods are essential for maintaining balance in the garden. Because the plants are outside, it’s simply impossible to completely eradicate any pest or pathogen. Therefore, IPM philosophy calls for natural checks and balances to help find an “ecological equilibrium” of sorts. Here are some common methods:
Companion planting: Plant the plants that repel pests or attract natural predators. For example, it’s not possible to eliminate aphids outside, so try planting varieties that either attract natural predators, or naturally repel insects. Some growers even cultivate crops that a certain pest is highly attracted to–even more so than to cannabis–in order to contain them and keep them under control.
Natural sprays: These are solutions made from naturally-occurring ingredients that are known to inhibit or repel insects. Many of these plants are available in essential oils such as cinnamon leaf, peppermint, geraniol, clove, garlic, onion, and more. There are many homemade recipes to be found online, just make sure to first test any new spray on a lower fan leaf and wait a few days to see if there is a reaction. After spraying, it’s usually a good idea to follow up a few hours later with some seltzer water to wash off residue–an added bonus of seltzer water is the CO2 which plants love (remember to only use sodium-free seltzer water as foliar feeding additional sodium can interfere with natural balance of your plants).
Natural predators: Also known as “beneficials,” these are, simply put, good bugs that eat bad bugs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We use beneficials extensively here at Dark Heart Nursery, and they play a significant role in how we are able to provide pest-and-disease-free clones to growers. There are many resources available on the types of beneficials available and which will work best for your situation. Beneficials are especially useful for indoor growers fighting thrips or spider mites during the flowering period, because they cannot use dips or sprays due to compromising the final product.
Finally, never stop learning
The reason IPM works so well and has made a resurgence is that it is a very open approach that blends science, education, awareness, and practicality into one philosophy. Additionally, the internet has made it incredibly easy for growers to share their tips, tricks, and recipes with others. We hope you’ve learned something from this post and encourage you to share any other knowledge or tips in the comments section or on our social media pages!