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Options for Controlling Pests Organically

By Will Chaney
Senior Research Associate 1

Posted May 1, 2017

Planting season is upon us, and it is time for growers to determine which pesticide management program best meets their needs. The trend for organic pest control has been increasing steadily over the past several years. However, the decision to use organic pest control methods versus the more traditional pesticide methods is difficult for many producers. The truth of the matter is controlling insects is complex and not all situations are the same. Some organic pest control methods can work in some situations, but it is imperative to remember those methods might not work in all situations. Ultimately, the best method to use will depend on the producer's desired outcomes. For those considering organic insect control, there are many options available.

Using Organic Pesticides to Control Insects

There are many options for organic pest control when it comes to spraying.

Horticultural Oil

If you need pest control in your fruit orchard, horticultural oil is a good organic option. Horticultural oil is usually made from a mineral oil but can also be cottonseed- and soybean-based. An emulsifying agent is added so the oil can be mixed with water. Horticultural oil has been marketed under many names and terms have shifted meanings over the years, but the two most important groupings you should know are dormant oil and all-season oil. Dormant oils are a heavier type of oil applied before the tree breaks dormancy. Use caution when applying this oil during the summer because it may cause burn damage to the tree. All-season oil is a lighter oil that can be sprayed during the hotter summer months, though caution should still be used not to damage the trees. When using any pest control, you should always refer to the label for appropriate use.

Organic Chemicals

In our vegetable organic blocks here at the Noble Research Institute, we also use chemical organic control. These pesticides are organic, developed from natural products, but are still considered a chemical spray. Separate equipment must be used for applying organic and traditional chemicals. During application, the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is required. Re-entry intervals (REI) are required for some sprays, and others are labeled as a bee hazard. It is critical to remember that organic sprays can still kill some beneficial insects such as bees. Again, always read the label and follow the directions on the label.

Cueva Liquid Copper FungicideAmy Bridges, research assistant, sprays Cueva Liquid Copper Fungicide

Organic tomato and pepper plantsAmy Bridges, research assistant, sprays Cueva Liquid Copper Fungicide on organic tomato and pepper plants.
MistblowerChris Hall, research technician, and Bridges start the mistblower and adjust the spray nozzle.

Using Animals to Control Insects

Another organic control option is the use of both wild and domesticated animals.

Wild Animals

For example, we have installed bird and bat houses around our organic block at the Noble Research Institute. Bats eat a tremendous amount of insects each night, in some cases up to 1,000 per hour. The insects eaten include mosquitoes, leafhoppers, beetles, rootworm larva, moths, grasshoppers, scorpions, centipedes, ants, flies and crickets.

We have also installed a purple martin "castle" birdhouse near the organic block. Purple martins can eat as many as 2,000 mosquitoes and/or 400 flies/leafhoppers per day. Eastern bluebird is another bird we have targeted for organic insect control.

Domesticated Animals

Using domesticated birds is another viable pest control option. Some producers choose to let birds free-range while others build runs or moats so the birds will have a protected enclosure. Weeds, rabbits, groundhogs and even deer may be barred from entry into the garden while keeping insect counts down.

When working with any pest control option, it is important to remember that results will not be seen overnight. It may take a couple of years for results to be noticed due to the natural life cycle of pests. Chemical labels should be followed according to the manufacturer's directions. If any pest control method is used near water, bees and/or livestock, extra precautions should be used.

 Controlling Insects

Attracting birds to your property is one way to help control insects. Find construction plans for the one-board bluebird nest box at Eastern Bluebird Nest Boxes.

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