Homegrown: Organic gardening, Part 2

I’m thinking I’d like to start an organic vegetable garden in my backyard. What do I need to do?

— Scott

In last week’s column I wrote about the soil needed for organic gardening and ended by listing the basic principles of Integrated Pest Management.

So now I’ll continue to answer the above question and get into a little detail about each of those basic principles:

1. Scouting — Regularly walk through the garden to see what’s going on and to catch any problems that may be developing so you can nip them in the bud.

It is much easier and cheaper to control pest problems this way.

Be observant. Look for small, subtle things. Walking through the garden every day or two will help. If you miss something today, chances are you’ll see it tomorrow or the next day.

You’ll also be better tuned into changes that are happening in the garden. Besides, it’s such a joy to spend a few minutes each day strolling through the garden.

2. Identification and Knowledge — Now that you’re keeping a good eye on things, it is absolutely crucial that you know what it is you’ve found in the garden and what can be done about it.

Is this the beginning of a plague that means the end of your garden or is it something benign or even beneficial?

There’s no substitute for experience, but having some garden books can help you to get started. You can always take a sample to a good local independent nursery or to the Colorado State University Extension office for identification and some recommendations for control, if needed.

Try to learn about the pest. Are there control measures you don’t know about? Is there something in their life cycle that can be taken advantage of? Use garden books, talk to experts, talk to fellow gardeners and use the Internet.

3. Establish a Threshold — Once you know what it is you’re dealing with, and before you jump to the next step, decide how big the problem needs to be before taking action.

There are some pest problems that require quick action. That’s why proper identification and knowledge is important before deciding this step.

Keep in mind that there can be a different threshold for different people. There is no one size that fits all. Some people are more comfortable with more bugs in the garden while others are not.

Where the plant is or how it’s going to be used will often dictate different thresholds. For example, there’s a difference between how many aphids I’ll tolerate on shrub roses blooming out in the yard and how many I’ll tolerate for cutting roses that I’m going to put on my dining room table.

4. Control — IPM is designed to minimize or even eliminate the spraying of synthetic pesticides while achieving effective pest control. There are a variety of pest control techniques besides spraying with pesticides.

The best control is achieved by using a variety of these techniques in an integrated or coordinated manner to optimize their effectiveness (hence the name, Integrated Pest Management).

IPM generally employs more benign control measures first and withholds chemical spraying as a final resort.

There are five basic types of pest control:

Natural Pest Control also is known as abiotic pest control; this is basically the weather. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of control over this. However, it is significant in controlling most pests.

An especially cold winter or a dry spring can kill off a good number of pests. Though we can’t employ this method at will, it can be helpful in predicting how big or small a particular pest problem may be later in the season so we can be ready for it when it does occur.

We also can occasionally take advantage of it by exposing pests to the full brunt of the weather to kill them off.

Biological Pest Control consists of naturally occurring life forms (other insects, mites, fungi, bacteria, etc.) that prey on or disable destructive pests.

Most of us rely on these agents naturally introducing themselves into our garden (whether we know it or not), but you can also purchase many different biological agents to artificially add them to the garden.

This really gets back to the basic principal of proper identification. I know there are people out there who want to kill anything “bug-like” in the garden that’s moving.

The truth of the matter is that a majority (usually a big majority) of the insects in our yards are beneficial or, at worst, neutral.

I’ll finish up with Cultural, Mechanical and Chemical Control next week.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)m.


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