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Ecological Pest Management

By Nick Wittkofski

A common problem among farmers and gardeners is pests. Anyone who has ever tried growing anything has probably experienced their desired vegetation chomped down to nothing, or maybe nibbled just enough to ruin a crop. A conventional solution has been simply spraying with pesiticides, but who really wants to eat crops that have been covered in what is essentially poison? What the world’s farmers and gardeners should be doing is fostering a diverse ecosystem that can manage pests in a way that prevents crops from being completely devoured.

Last week we had the pleasure of having AMI Senior Fellow Nick Faircloth lead a workshop explaining the benefits of farmscaping and ecological pest management. Essentially, farmscaping is the ecological design of farms to increase and encourage biodiversity, specifically beneficial organism populations. It is important to note that it takes time, but it is truly a worthwhile investment!

AMI Senior Fellow Nick Faircloth checking out one of our many farmscape beds.

To start you need to provide food for all types of bugs and insects, and it is best to provide a variety of plants. The more types of food or food plants you have, the more types of beneficial insects you’ll have, these could be plants with easily accessible nectar in their flowers (such as umbels, asters and mints) or plants with extrafloral nectaries (such as buckwheat, bean plants, peonies and peaches), and other insects as prey…it is a food web after all!

It is also important to understand that our beneficials need shelter just like we do. Beneficial insects live in a variety of places, such as in our soil, mulch layers, plant stalks, trees, etc. Knowing this, we should make an effort to not disturb our soil where so many beneficial insects live at least part of their lives. We need to utilize vertical and horizontal space so that we increase the opportunities for habitats.

Another strategy is integrating the use of trap crops. These are essentially sacrificial plants that pests prefer to your crops, or in some cases they may be a crop that is being devoured by pests that you choose to leave in so that they will ignore the rest of that same crop.

As stated before, farmscaping takes time, so don’t get impatient and spray pesticides! Even organic pesticides should be avoided if possible, for example Pyrethrin has negative affects to arthropod populations. It’s possible to nip a pest infestation in the bud if you hand pick them off your crops as soon as you see them there. But once the system is established your natural predators will help you out immensely!

If we can work with nature, and maybe get nature to do some work for us, while also getting amazing fresh natural and clean produce, then everybody wins!

Thank you, Nick Faircloth!

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