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Biocontrol Reference Center

HOWARD GARRETT'S BASIC ORGANIC PROGRAM

USING BENEFICIAL INSECTS

Insects and other pest infestations are only a symptom of more serious problems. Aphids, for example, are an important tool in the survival of the fittest. They attack plants that are in stress from cultural problems of the soil or from stress caused by poor plant selection. In doing so they help to eliminate unfit plants.

Heavy infestations of the allegedly harmful insects can be controlled with organic techniques and products. The so-called bad bugs include aphids, ants, bagworms, beetles, borers, caterpillars, crickets, chiggers, chinch bugs, fleas, grasshoppers, grub worms, lacebugs, leaf hoppers, leaf miners, mealybugs, mosquitoes, nematodes, pill bugs, spider mites, roaches, scale, squash bugs, slugs, thrips and whiteflies. These "bad guys" only account for about 1%-2% of the insect population. They can be controlled by using much safer products than human synthetic chemical poisons. However, most pesticides, organic or inorganic, kill more beneficial insects than pests.

The good insects that comprise at least 98% of the population should be protected and when needed added to the landscape, garden or farm. They include ladybugs, green lacewings, ground beetles, predatory stink bugs, praying mantids, minute pirate bugs, dragonflies, damselflies, fireflies, assassin bugs, spiders, wasps and predatory mites. Here's some more information on the good bugs so you can become familiar with and use these friends.

Malcolm Beck, a friend and organic expert in San Antonio, told me about this learning experience with insects. Thirty years ago Malcolm had a new vegetable farm and in an attempt to stay up on all the latest techniques was reading an agricultural magazine about the Colorado potato beetle invading farm crops. He looked at his potato plants and sure enough there were bugs all over the place. He quickly loaded up his sprayer with poison and blasted the critters. A friend advised him too late that unfortunately the bugs weren't potato beetles but instead ladybugs. With the ladybugs gone, the aphids invaded, began to devour his plants so he had to load up the sprayer again to kill the damaging bugs. The vicious cycle had started. Malcolm was lucky, also very smart, because this early experience showed him that disturbing the balance off nature is a big mistake. Malcolm at this point became a 100% organic farmer and proved to himself and to many others that the secret is to work with nature not try to control it.

Working within nature's laws and systems includes choosing the right plants, fertilizing with organic fertilizer and avoiding products that kill life in the garden. With that approach, the natural beneficial insects will reestablish on their own. That will however take some time. How long depends on how out of balance the site is when the organic program starts. The process can be sped up by doing certain things like adding lots of high quality compost and releasing beneficial insects.

Here's some information on the selection, purchase and release of the good bugs.

Springtime is the key time to release beneficial insects. Soft, succulent new growth on plants attracts aphids and other critters, especially if you are still using high-nitrogen fertilizers and encouraging unhealthy fast growth. Releasing beneficial insects on a regular schedule and fertilizing with soil improving materials will provide excellent long-term control.

The best bugs to buy and release are ladybugs, green lacewings, and trichogramma wasps, Keep them cool and watered before release and don't spray anything that will kill them, including organic insecticides. Their favorite food is juicy bad bugs. If you don't have bad bugs, there's no reason to buy and release good bugs.

Aphids are the most common insect pest during the cool spring weather. Ladybugs can be purchased in mesh bags or in small box containers which contain from 1,500 bugs in a pint up to 70,000 bugs in gallon containers. For aphid control, spray the foliage with water and release the bugs directly on the infested plants. Do it at dusk or early in the morning.

Green lacewings are even better beneficial insects because they control so many different kinds of pests such as aphids, spider mites, thrips, caterpillars and others. Release them also in the cooler parts of the day. The adult is about a hal inch long and feeds on honeydew and nectar, The ferocious larvae actually do the insect control. It's a good idea to release green lacewings throughout the spring and summer in a series of releases until natural populations are established.

Trichogramma wasps should be released from small containers or cards attached to plants that are having trouble with pecan casebearer, cabbage worms, tomato hornworms, corn earworms and other orchard pests. These beneficial insects are tiny gnat-like parasitic wasps. A succession of releases allows second generations of wasps to establish.

To provide a proper habitat for beneficial insects, simply go organic. If you stop spraying poisons and limit other toxic materials, even the organic sprays, and allow nature's systems to function, the helpful insects will stay around and help you enjoy your gardens.

Here's a schedule for insect release. This is a suggested starting point and should be adjusted to fit each specific site. Your garden or farm may need more or less insects. The exact program should be based on the existing populations of insects.

BENEFICIAL INSECT RELEASE SCHEDULE
(Per acre or per residential lot)

April - May: Release trichogramma wasps @ 10,000 to 20,000 eggs weekly for four to six weeks. Release green lacewings @ 4,000 eggs weekly for four weeks.

May - September: Release ladybugs as needed on aphid infested plants. Release green lacewings @ 2,000 eggs every two weeks as needed.


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