Integrated Pest Management

When setting up a new controlled growing space there are a lot of things to consider. Many parameters will need your absolute attention on all fronts.

After setting up and starting off your grow tent, you will witness your plants taking off from the sapling stages working their way to maturity. Going through these phases at a rapid pace can make you forget or overlook probably the most important factor of all…PEST MANAGEMENT!

Let me give you an example of a commercial greenhouse, with the Integrated Pest Management’s ins and outs regarding the operation thereof.  (Below I will paint you an example picture  commercial greenhouse with the IPM in's and outs regarding the operation thereof.)

Let's start off by imagining a 550 square meter greenhouse. This is the standard size of a single multi span greenhouse structure. Let’s also envisage that Beefsteak tomatoes are cultivated in that grow space. Now considering hydroponics as the growing method, one could possibly fit 14,188 plants in there. Yikes! That is a high density of plants in very close proximity to each other. An operation like this can very possibly yield anything from 5443kg and even as high up as 7257kg per harvest.

When you specialize in controlled environment agriculture [CEA], you basically take control of your temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, nutrient density, vapour-pressure deficit [VPD] and, well, every single parameter that your plants need to thrive and feel like they are in their home environment.

However, the biggest pest that such an operation might face will be whiteflies, thrips, aphids, bacteria, fungus and anything that's also going to thrive in this environment.

There's an unlimited carrying capacity for most of these pests, so that's where Integrated Pest Management really is the cornerstone of your success.

Integrated Pest Management, in my mind, is a way in which we can combat and prevent things from happening to the plants without having to spray or add anything that will be bad for the fruit that is ultimately food for people.

When considering bacteria and fungus, it's about being very aware of your plants. You can trim the plants from the bottom up while monitoring to see if any kind of spores are present. Also carefully watch and make sure that your flowers are healthy. When flowers aren't healthy, there’s no getting any fruit!

Sanitation will help a great deal as a preventative measure and will assist in keeping pests and bacteria out. Change your shoes at the door, walk through a dip tray and-or wear booties and gloves every time you enter your grow space. Have separate work clothes that you can wear inside while you work.

While you're trimming and taking care of plants always have a bucket with sanitizer for your tools and use it in between every plant. For testing and monitoring purposes sticky traps can prove very handy. Not only will these sticky traps catch the flying adults of certain pests, but it will also give you a great indication of what pest pressures you are experiencing. These will catch all the usual suspects like thrips, whiteflies, aphids, etc.

Other than the sticky traps, using beneficial insects to combat other insects is a great natural defense. One option I really like is the use of ladybugs throughout the summer. These lovely scarabs can eat lots and lots of bad pests. Another great option to consider is to use parasitic Wasps, which are mainly used against whiteflies.

IPM covers a large range of defenses and can even include the action of putting top covers on your pots. This will prevent and deter fungus gnats from entering your growing media. This will force them out of the media and into the open spaces where they can be caught in the sticky traps.

Identifying what pests are pressurizing your grow area is of utmost importance but treating a broader spectrum of pests [with IPM practices] not even noticed yet is the ultimate goal.

If you aim to harvest the best available crop out there, chances are you will not reach your goal without an active IPM system.

About the Author

Christoff Boltman is the Seeds for Africa / H2GRO Hydroponic specialist. Christoff has been growing hydroponically for the last 15 years and welcomes the opportunity to share his experience and knowledge with our customers. Feel free to pop in at our showroom and Christoff will be delighted to show you around and advise you on what would best suit your needs.