It’s that time of year in the mid-Atlantic, eastern region of the United States — gardening time! While recent years have become increasingly challenging for us Pennsylvania gardeners (Can you say, “Snow, in May?”) I still eagerly await planting season every spring. If this year’s garden will be your first attempt at homegrown food, I welcome you to the gardening community! Check out these tips to help keep your endeavors as economically feasible as possible! If you haven’t heard of integrated pest management, you’ll want to read on, especially if you want to keep toxic chemicals out of your garden!
I not only love the idea of integrated pest management for my garden, I love the bigger idea of an integrated lifestyle that brings benefits into the home as well as the garden. (More on that, later.) For now, let’s get to the basics of IPM so you can learn more about how to work WITH nature and not against when you’re growing vegetables and other crops.
What is Integrated Pest Management?
IPM uses common sense and easy-to-implement practices that co-operate with the natural life cycle of pests in correlation with their interactions in the environment. In this case, the environment we are focusing on most is the vegetable garden. If your goal is to avoid toxins in your garden, it pays to study the pest and weed environment in and around your crops.
Integrated pest management enables you to encourage “good” pest populations and plants that will help keep the “bad” pests under control. There are many class action lawsuits pending regarding terminal cancers caused by use of Roundup and other pesticides. Many stores have removed these products from their shelves. If you want to grow healthy food, IPM can lower your risk from toxins and contamination through your co-operation with nature.
Integrated pest management uses good vs bad
If you offer my kids hand sanitizer, they’ll tell you that their mom doesn’t like them to use it. This is because such products are known to kill all the good bacteria (Yes, there is such a thing!) on your hands as well as the bad. A similar thing happens in the garden when you blaze through, killing every weed, bug and insect in sight! Some of them are beneficial to you!
If you want to use an integrated pest management system of gardening, you need to learn how to identify the pests and weeds in order to tell the good from the bad. With IPM, the good pests are your little hero workers, because they will help you keep the bad pests under control! For instance, I know you probably don’t like spiders, but when you see a big old wolf spider in your garden, let it be! Spiders help you control the pest population in the soil and on plant foliage! Think about it: Spray a chemical pesticide that contains carcinogens on your plants or simply allow a spider to live in your garden? (Remember, IPM uses common sense!)
Good health is always the goal with IPM
I really enjoyed this article by another Hot Mess Press writer, who explained why gardening is so good for the soul. Homegrown food helps build strong immune systems. Good health includes optimum care of mind, body and soul. If you’re smart about the way you garden, it can help you attain all three!
Bring on the flowers and herbs
Earthworms and bees are also superheroes of the garden! The more, the merrier! (If you’re cringing because you happen to be one of those people who swats bees dead and shrieks at the sight of a worm, you need to just stop it. LOL Seriously, these are your garden friends!) Earthworms are natural tillers, and growing flowers and herbs in or near your garden is a critical part of integrated pest management.
When you have a lot of flowers, the bees and butterflies will come and help you pollinate your crops! There are many types of flowers and herbs (like marigolds and lemon balm) that are natural “bad pest” deterrents. They also add beauty to your surroundings!
Make sure your ladybugs are actual ladybugs!
Maximizing your potential for integrated pest management in your vegetable garden takes time. I mentioned earlier about the importance of learning to properly identify pests and weeds. (Many weeds help deter bad pests, and some are healthy for you to eat!) One of the most commonly mistaken pests in a vegetable garden is the Asian Lady Beetle. Many people think these nasty pests are Ladybugs!
Ladybugs are good friends to gardeners. They feast on aphids (ENEMY OF GARDEN) and other bad pests, as well as on pollen. Integrated pest management involves attracting ladybugs and other good pests to “dine” on the bad pests. Use this handy graphic to learn to identify true Ladybugs from the destructive Asian Lady Beetles.
A word on integrated living
Once you begin to get used to managing pests and weeds in your garden in a natural, healthy and productive way, you may want to use other integrated forms of living to take it a step further. For instance, building a compost pile is an inexpensive way to nurture your garden soil in between seasons and also helps the environment by cutting down waste. Raising chickens is another wonderful form of integrated living. You get healthy, (hopefully, free-range) eggs and can use hen droppings and old bedding as fertilizer in your garden! (Just make sure to age it first, so it doesn’t burn your plants.)
If you know nothing about raising chickens but are interested in learning, there’s an article here, just for you! You can also do a search on our site for posts about foraging — using wild crops to build health and immunity is another benefit of an integrated lifestyle! Life is a blessing and incorporating integrated living and pest management brings an abundance of joy and good health!