The Beginning: Starting Out in IPM and Biocontrol

Why Again?

Why biocontrol? Why IPM? Everything you’ve read so far should be adequate enough information for answering these two questions. But let’s recap: no REIs, no WPSs, no EPA with their sometimes stifling regulations, and organics can sell. Want more: less run off, fewer dead fish and amphibians, maybe even fewer cancers in humans. Remember, I’m not trying to sell you on biocontrol, I’m simply trying to reveal the facts so your chances of success, should you choose to try it, will be greater. Now try this one on for size: it may save you money. Biocontrol/IPM tends to be more expensive initially, but once the art is studied, practiced and learned, the fluidity of it all melds into one very effective, low-input-because-it’s-not-quite-self-sustaining, financially reasonable way to get the job done. Not sold yet? That’s fine. Like I said before, I’m not selling. I’m not scurrying for believers and converts. I do want to open your mind all the way to your heart as that is where all this is likely to find its start in your operation. Heart first, mind later.

So, your heart is in the right place and you want to try employing the science and strategies of biocontrol and integrated pest management into your operation. This can mean you want to do this in your greenhouse or farm, interiorscape or garden. Where does one start?

Starting Out

First thing’s first. The heart is in the right place — this much you now know (and I’m sorry if this sounds redundant). Or is your heart there yet? Ask yourself why you want to take this monumental step. Is it because you’re concerned about the environment? Is the potentially poisonous runoff associated with your farm or greenhouse killing off local species or just angering your neighbors? Is it the safety of yourself, your employees and customers you have in mind? If you’re a gardener, is it because your pets and children regularly romp through the ‘mater patch? Are you being pressured by your clients? If you’re an interiorscaper, does your account contact hate it when you spray because his or her employees go home with headaches and other symptoms of pesticide poisoning, bogus or otherwise? (Though this can happen even if you are misting with water-it’s been tested and proven. People sometimes just don’t want to spend the rest of their day at work and will use any lame excuse to flee.) Are you simply tired of suiting up and going through the motions? Or is it simply because the things that used to work so well for you are simply no longer effective? It does matter what your reasoning is because this will be one way you gauge your success.

On the other hand there are valid reasons for not trying out biocontrol and IPM. Don’t do it because you think it will be an easy way out — it’s not a no-brainer. Don’t do it because a biocontrol distributor talked you into it against your true desires. It probably won’t work that well for you if that’s the case as you are unlikely to properly follow-through and faithfully jump all the hurdles you should. Don’t do it to save money from the onset. Biocontrol can be every bit as expensive as conventional pest controls. It can likely be more at first, though often less later once you get it down and figure it out.

Do some soul searching before you start. It’s like getting married. There’s a real commitment going on. You shouldn’t take on a biocontrol bride or groom if you still have fantasies about sneaking away to your chemical girlfriend or boyfriend every Friday night. It’s just not the right thing to do and you’re likely to find it all coming to an abrupt end if you try.

Going For It

There. Now that that’s out of the way and you think you’re ready and have identified your reasons for making the plunge it’s time for the next step. Your heart and soul are with you, but what about your mind? Mind-set plays a very important role in biocontrol and IPM success. Biocontrol, particularly, takes a person with a preemptive mind-set — especially if you want to do it without spending a zillion dollars. Unlike you did when you sprayed, you cannot be as reactionary to pest infestations. In other words, you can’t wait till Mr. or Mrs. Customer comes up to you in your garden center, tugs your sleeve, holds up a potted plant to you and asks if the weight of all those little green bugs causing the plant to bend will be a problem. You have to know what’s going on at any given time. This is done by having an intimate knowledge of your plants. Simply put: you need to scout things out on a regular basis. Ironically, the best growers do this anyway, regardless of their pest control practices. In other words, if you’re not scouting in an organized fashion already, you’re not doing your job fully or properly.

Mind-set is a terrible thing to waste. No matter how you ultimately decide to proceed, get into it, whatever it is. Be ambitious and gung-ho about it. Keep your chin up and have a good attitude. Whether you need it or not, here’s another marriage metaphor: When getting married one isn’t compelled to think of divorce (though that may come later when you wished you had the foresight to make a prenuptial agreement). You go into a marriage thinking it is forever, undying love and all that — or it used to be, anyway (I married my wife a long time ago and things might have been different back then). That’s the way it should be with biocontrol and IPM; think forever and have an undying love — if you want it to last. Have a good mind-set-one appropriate to the situation at hand. If the situation is a new type of pest control, don’t wait for the pests to come to you, meet them half way and bomb them with your new found knowledge and the spirit behind it before they can gain a foothold and bomb you. In the immortal words of the Boy Scouts of America: “Be Prepared.” Added to that, in my own words: “smile while you’re doing it.” Now it’s time to proceed to the more technical side of making the transition.