An Introduction to IPM - Part 1

The Integrated Pest Management Advantage

Here at Dark Heart Nursery, we’ve been using integrated pest management (IPM) for several years now as part of our mission to provide you with quality clones that will outgrow your expectations. Our IPM program allows us to prevent, detect, and resolve any potential problems very early on–typically well before it’s even a problem. From sterilizing footwear to monitoring sticky traps to tracking garden data, our IPM program has helped us reduce overhead costs, eliminate worker exposure to chemicals, and improve the quality of our product.

We have created this IPM  blog series to share our knowledge around IPM with you and how it can be used in your garden. By learning about the IPM philosophy, its methods, and tools, you’ll discover safer and more cost-effective ways of maintaining a healthy and productive garden. Read on to learn more about IPM, as well as some of the key insights that we’ve picked up over the years here at Dark Heart Nursery!


What Is IPM?

To start with, IPM is NOT a computer company (IBM, anybody? Ha ha…) Rather, IPM is a broad approach to controlling pests and disease through the use of tools, biocontrols, and cultural practices. The philosophy behind IPM is “to emphasize the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourage natural pest control mechanisms” (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization).


How Is IPM Different From Traditional Pest Control?

In a nutshell, IPM focuses on control while traditional methods focus on eradication. IPM holds that eradicating an entire pest population is not possible because there will always be a potential for new pests to enter the grow area. This is especially true for outdoor gardens and indoor gardens that have frequent visitors and foot traffic.

In the old days, whenever a mite, mold spore, or other pest or problem was found, the “nuclear option” was deployed–loads of toxic chemicals for a swift and merciless eradication. Bug bombs, sprays, fogs, traps, insecticides, fungicides, neurotoxins–whatever the problem is, the traditional method was to blast it out of existence, with little consideration given to the health of the gardeners, the plants, or the environment. Another disadvantage of eradication methods is that it creates populations of resistant pests. 

Because no method is 100% effective, any surviving pests will continue to multiply and pass on their pesticide-resistant genes.

Fortunately, the thinking around this topic in the cannabis industry is evolving. Instead of irresponsibly overusing toxic chemicals–and exposing yourself, your plants, and others (especially outdoors) in the process–why not simply control the problem?

The idea of controlling pests and disease to minimal or undetectable levels is the principle behind IPM. IPM is taking root across the cannabis industry as more growers embrace the benefits of IPM and its tools. IPM is especially popular with those who demand a product that is organic or free of chemical and pesticide residue.

Now to be clear, this isn’t to say that there is never a time and place for traditional pest control methods (there are), but rather that eradication 

is simply a tool–one of many that the well-informed grower has in their arsenal. After all, why use a bazooka if a squirt gun will achieve the same result?


IPM Sounds Great But I’m Still Not Sure What It Actually Looks Like

Let’s take a common pest, spider mites (Tetranychus urticae, the two-spotted spider mite) and see how IPM vs traditional methods could play out in a hypothetical scenario.

It’s another beautiful day in paradise–your garden, of course–and you’re doing your regular watering routine. Your crop looks incredible–massive sticky colas of potent Pineapple Upside Down Cake (Humboldt Seed Company) and Purple Punch flowers packed with insane terpenes. Everything is bulking up nicely and it’s sure to be your best harvest yet.  

You notice that a cola in the corner has a strange sheen about it, like some kind of weird looking trichomes, so you get closer to take a look. Your eyes widen as you realize that what you’re looking at is actually a severe spider mite infestation, and it’s really bad. It’s too late into the flower cycle to spray or apply anything, or if you do, your product may not pass compliance. The sticky trichomes of your flowers make manually removing thousands of mites and webs all but impossible. You’re now faced with a difficult decision–do you scrap these plants, or put more time, money, and energy into a subpar product that may not pass quality standards? This is a very real scenario for growers that rely on reactionary traditional pest control methods where no action is taken until there is clearly a problem, and even then it may be too late.


IPM In Action

Now let’s take the above scenario but go back a few weeks in time. It’s a beautiful day in your garden and you’re watering your plants. You notice a few white spots on a fan leaf tucked away in a corner. Upon closer inspection, you find several spider mites hiding on the underside of the leaf. No problem–there are no other webs or other damaged leaves that you can see. And because you caught this potential problem early on, you have options. You can just crush them right there with your finger, or you can try raising the relative humidity for a bit to disrupt the mite life cycle, or you can release a voracious natural predator of spider mites like Neoseiulus californicus that will destroy your problem for you.

This is the what IPM looks like in action. Not only are you controlling mites and other pests before they become problematic, you’re taking preventative steps to reduce the chance of it happening again. First, you check the garden log to see if there were any visitors in the past week or two that might’ve brought them in. Then, check all of your filters and intake covers. You’ll remove the weeds growing near the front door which may be harboring other pests. Finally, you make a note of the date and the weather conditions in order to be vigilant around the same time next year. All these steps are part of a robust IPM program.

As you can see illustrated above, traditional pest control is reactionary–you notice a problem and you react by simply trying to eradicate the problem. IPM relies much more on the grower being aware and in tune with their garden, as well as putting effort into preventative measures (more on this in the next blog post about prevention!). In the above example, the IPM grower detected the problem early on and was, therefore, able to use a variety of safe, low-impact methods that are cheap and maintain top shelf-quality of the product.


Wow, IPM Sounds Great! How Can I Get Started Using It In My Garden?

The first step to any IPM program is awareness and education and we have more information coming soon on this topic, as we hope to be your information hub for all things cannabis cultivation.

Now that you have a introductory understanding of IPM, you can begin to explore the tools and methods and begin planning your custom IPM plan for your garden. In our next IPM blog post, we’ll go over the first step of any IPM plan–sealing, sterilizing, and containing your grow area. Till then, happy gardening!

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