If you’ve got vegetables, then probably you have pesky bugs who want to beat you to a great harvest! Help is on the way, however! IPM, Integrated Pest Management, is an Earth-Kind® response to whatever is bugging you. The goal of IPM is not to eradicate pests, but to strengthen plants to the point that the environment is not favorable to the pests. Prevention, rather than treatment, is a cornerstone of IPM. To reach this pest-free nirvana, IPM uses a combination of practices to prevent or avoid pest problems. By reducing the use of chemicals on your vegetables (you do plan to eat them after all!), you also reduce the rate of pests becoming resistant to those chemicals.
So, what do you do first? Preventive cultural practices! Select varieties of your favorite veggies that are best for your area. Texas A&M has lists of varieties suitable for each region of Texas or ask at your local nursery. Buy healthy, pest-free plants. Remember to look under the leaves also – those little buggers like to hide. Keep your planting beds as clean as possible, removing diseased or pest-infested plants quickly and completely. Don’t compost them either!
Regular observation is another cornerstone of IPM. Inspect your plants regularly, top to bottom. Accurately identifying any pests you find is critical to success. It is a good idea to add information on the pests you find, when, and where you find them in your garden journal – good time to start one if you haven’t already. TAMU help for pest identification in their IPM section, categorized by insect and by vegetable.
Now that you have found and identified the bad critters, employ mechanical controls. Squish them, vacuum them, trap them, or physically remove them from the plants. Natural biological controls have low impacts on the environment and often don’t cost much. Promote beneficial insects that eat the pests or use biological insecticides made from naturally occurring microorganisms, like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), entomopathogenic fungi, and entomopathogenic nematodes, among others.
If you choose to use a synthetic pesticide, please use it in a responsible and legal way. Follow the directions on the label, to the letter! You have legal responsibilities when using these pesticides, so keep careful control of where, when, and how you use them. Some target a specific phase in a pest’s life cycle and are ineffective at other times. Never spray or dust on windy days to avoid spreading the pesticide into unwanted areas. Remember, pesticides can kill beneficial insects as well as the ones causing you problems. Many newer pesticides are made from plants or naturally occurring substances, such as pyrethrum or nicotine, but still should be used with thought and caution, and be properly applied. Always choose the least toxic method to get rid of the pests in your garden.
With proper plant selection, close monitoring, emphasis on mechanical, cultural, and biological controls you can reduce the amount and toxicity of the pesticides needed to bring in a healthy harvest. Happy squishing!!