Indoor Growing and the Fight Against Pests
As growers start to focus on controlled environments and move many of their crops indoors, so too will the pests that harass them and their plants. This can present numerous issues for growers looking to maintain their trade during the winter months, but there are ways to address these pests and have a successful winter. Integrated pest management (IPM) will help to keep your greenhouse or growing space thriving during the cold, winter months, and by keeping your indoor growing environment clean and well kept, frequently scouting and identifying any pests and addressing any existing pest issues, it can be relatively easy to eliminate pest problems.
Clean environments reduce pest populations
First things first: your indoor growing space needs to be kept clean. This should be pretty obvious, because just like leaving dishes on the counter will eventually lead to ants, leaving greenhouses and growing spaces dirty will eventually lead to pests. Clean, well-kept greenhouses have fewer places for insects to thrive in. Get rid of any excess weeds and plant debris, as these commonly house insects and pests. Be sure to check under any benches, as weeds are frequently left here, creating an incredible breeding ground for pests. You’ll also want to eliminate any standing water and ensure that the growing space is entirely enclosed. Any standing water will give insects the opportunity to breed, so drain any buckets, unused NFT channels or anything else that holds water. It doesn’t take much to let pests into a growing space, so use screens to cover any open spaces and fill any cracks.
Scout and Identify Pests
Now your growing space is at least prepared to deal with any potential pest issues, and it’s time to start practicing some IPM techniques. Scouting and identifying pests – and insects in general – regularly is essential. It will let you know if a pest issue is present, and identifying what insects are in your growing space will help you properly address any future pest problems.
To scout, you’ll want to check plants and sticky cards, which we’ll get into, once a week. You don’t have to check every single plant, but you’ll want to make sure to screen a number of plants from every crop you’re growing. Thoroughly check all parts of the plants. Examine the leaves, especially the undersides, and look for discoloration, honeydew, mold, leafminer tunnels and, obviously, insects. Pests often hide in open flowers, but be sure inspect the stems for scales and other insects as well. The roots can also be home to pests, so gently check roots for bugs, larvae and fungi.
Using sticky cards is the perfect way to monitor fluctuations and identify pests. There should be one sticky card for every 500 to 1000 square feet. Sticky cards should sit just above the canopy, and to attract a wide variety of insects, you’ll want to use yellow cards. Some growers will also put sticky cards on the rim of potted plants to monitor and catch pests as they emerge from the soil. When reviewing the cards take the time to count the insects and indentify their species using a hand lens. If you come across an insect or pest that you aren’t familiar with, a search on the Internet should quickly yield an answer. Feel free to reuse cards. You’ll simply have to circle already counted insects, so they aren’t counted twice.
When using sticky cards it is important to note that there are plenty of pests that can’t be caught, and these include: a number of mites, non-winged aphids, eggs, as well as the larvae and pupa stages of a number of insects.
Using controls to address pest problems
So if you’ve noticed damaged plants and a change in the amount of insects and identified the pests, it’s time to address the problem. To fight pests you can make changes to the environment, use chemical pest control or implement biological pest control.
One of the easier ways to fight the proliferation of pests is by changing the environment. Similar to keeping a clean growing space, changing the environment can further help to destroy the pests’ habitat. Keeping the space properly ventilated will limit pests by reducing moisture and, in turn, also limit mold and fungus. After harvesting crops, you may also want to try increasing the temperature. This method will let the pests mature in between harvest and planting, and this will leave them with nothing to feed on.
For more immediate and direct results, growers also utilize chemical pest control. This requires the use of pesticides, which can be used to prevent or eliminate pests. When using pesticides it is imperative to read the labels and directions, because improper use of pesticides can lead to dangerous environments for humans and damage plants. Some common pesticides include paraffinic oil, neem oil, metaldehyde and insecticidal soap.
For growers that don’t like to use pesticides, FarmTek offers Nuke em®. Nuke em is environmentally friendly and is made using only food-grade ingredients. It has been registered organic through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Organic Materials Review Institute, and despite its lack of traditional pesticide ingredients, it helps to eliminate a broad spectrum of pests and fungi. Best of all, Nuke em is a great product to use in tandem with biological controls, because once it has dried, it becomes inactive.
Biological pest control helps growers to naturally fight pest problems. Biological pest control uses living organisms – usually insects – to reduce pest and mite populations. Since it depends on other organisms preying on pests, the proper identification of your pests is essential. Releasing beneficial insects that don’t prey on the pests inhabiting your growing area won’t help in any way. One of the major benefits of using biological control is that it is safe for humans and the environment, while also being extremely effective. Researchers have been able to pinpoint the species that can help with pest control and have eliminated the use of species that are ineffective or can cause damage.
It is important to use beneficial insects in a timely manner. Beneficial insects that are introduced after pests are out of control won’t be as effective, so be sure to introduce them early on. It also important to look into which beneficial insects you should use, and this depends on the pests plaguing your growing area. Some of the commonly used beneficial insects for biological pest control are lacewings, lady beetles, damsel bugs, spiders and parasitic wasps.
There are many factors to controlling pest populations indoors, and this makes it difficult to precisely tell how to address your specific pest problems. However, this article is a good starting point and will help to keep your winter pest free. If you have any specific questions, be sure to contact us.