First off, let me start with a shout out to the University of California Statewide IPM Program and their outstanding website! They have been working on Integrated Pest Management for decades and have put together some amazing resources for farmers and gardeners. Most of this post is derived from their work, I am just trying to repackage it in a way that makes sense for growing cannabis indoors. I have learned so much from poking around their website and I encourage you to go check it out too!
What is Integrated Pest Management?
IPM is a set of broad strategies for managing pests and pathogens that can cause damage to your plants. Practicing IPM means having strategies for dealing with pests in place BEFORE you run into a pest problem, not just treating problems you already have. With IPM you are looking at the big picture of whats going on in your grow and taking steps to prevent problems before they start. IPM is a system wide, scientific approach to managing pests and preventing or limiting their damage to your plants, while using the least harmful methods available.
Here is a scientist from the UC Statewide IPM Program explaining it way better than me:
Thank you Dr. Goodell and well said sir!
The Right Mindset
When applying IPM practices to your garden, you should try to think of your grow like a complete ecosystem. When growing indoors, you are setting up a complicated living system from scratch, and that system needs someone to monitor it and manage whats going on. This doesn’t just mean making sure the lights come on and the plants are watered, it means looking at your setup from top to bottom and and taking steps to prevent and manage pest problems everywhere you can.
A big part of IPM is observing and monitoring. The only way to stay ahead of a potential pest problem is to be aware of whats going on in your grow. This means using things like sticky traps and magnifying glasses to monitor insect populations but also means inspecting your plants and environment regularly.
Another key aspect of IPM is knowledge. In order to avoid problems, you need to understand their causes. In order to prevent pest issues in your grow, you need to understand how those pests behave and what conditions can contribute to the problem. The UC IPM Program website has lots of great pest specific info and is a great place to research and learn.
The better you understand pest problems and their causes, the easier it will be for you to avoid them. This takes time and experience, but the sooner you start practicing the sooner you will become an expert!
Implementing IPM in Your Garden
An IPM program is much more than just spraying your plants with stuff (although that can be a small part of it). A well thought out IPM program involves using several pest management strategies in combination.
You can categorize these strategies into 4 types: Biological Controls, Cultural Controls, Mechanical Controls, and Chemical Controls.
-Biological Controls: Using natural predators, parasites, pathogens, and competitors.
For us this means using things like predator mites, beneficial nematodes, and microbes like bacillus thuringiensis. In the wild, natural predators will usually show up where ever food is available, but in an indoor garden, its up to the grower to manage not just the populations of pests, but the populations of beneficial creatures as well.
-Cultural Controls: Adjusting your garden practices to create an environment that will discourage pest and pathogen problems.
For example, over watering can encourage fungus gnats, so adjusting your watering practices can help discourage them or slow their reproduction. Another good example is changing your clothes and showering before entering your indoor grow, especially after being outside or working in your yard. This helps prevent introducing pests to your indoor environment.
-Mechanical Controls: Creating barriers to make the environment unsuitable for pests or to keep them out all together.
In our indoor gardens, this means taking steps like putting screens or filters on your intakes to block pests or pathogens and sealing up gaps and cracks where pests could find their way in.
-Chemical Controls- The use of pesticides and preventative sprays.
With IPM, pesticides are only used when needed and only in combination with other methods as part of a long term control program. When using chemical controls in IPM, its important to chose the right products and to use them in a way that will minimize harm to beneficial organisms and the environment.
An effective IPM program will utilize all 4 of these approaches in combination!
Hopefully this intro will get you started thinking about IPM practices and how you can put them into use in your own grow. I plan to write more about IPM in the future and to discuss some of the practices I’ve been using in my own grow.
For now, I leave you with one final terrifying thought:
Pests and pathogens are EVERYWHERE. Powdery mildew spores are quite literally EVERYWHERE. Mites and aphids are shockingly common and dangerously sneaky. Every bag of soil or compost is potentially crawling with fungus gnats. If you aren’t actively taking steps to prevent them from establishing themselves in your grow, its only a matter of time before you run into a problem.
In other words,
Have an integrated pest management plan, or plan on having pest problems!
Hemp Russets Mites @ 150x. TERRIFYING!
Thanks for reading and look for more IPM articles coming in the weeks ahead!