Before the use of man-made chemicals to attack all the various pests farms, experienced homesteaders relied on natural techniques to keep their crops healthy and productive. These control systems are not always as effective as chemicals. Nevertheless, as the popularity of organic or chemical-free food production has proven, there is a large and growing market for organic food. The following is a brief and hardly a complete list of alternatives to spraying chemicals to control your pests.
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a method of controlling pests by evaluating the overall pest and crop situation before acting. They commonly involve the use of environmentally safe and natural techniques before any chemical is used. The homesteader will need to be more aware of crop/pest interaction and the life cycles of the plants/insects involved. Techniques such as crop rotations, planting pest-resistant crops and mechanical control are used depending on the circumstance.
Introducing a crop rotation is often one of the easiest means of controlling a pest. Monoculture, the planting of one crop repeatedly, results in a buildup of certain pests and a gradual decline in the productivity of a field. Often a pest will grow well with one crop but falter with another.
Tillage serves not only to prepare the soil for planting but can also be used for pest control. Deep plowing or tillage at certain times of the year can place a pest at a disadvantage during a critical time in its development. We cultivate or hoe many row crops during early development to keep weeds under control.
Keeping a clean field or garden is another important way of eliminating pest problems. Collecting infected plants and crops for destruction or feeding to livestock can reduce future outbreaks. Remove debris that is likely to allow the overwintering of a pest. We should prune infected areas of trees and shrubs, then dispose of the debris in a way to prevent further spread of problems.
Careful selection of seed and plant stock is another important consideration for pest control. Seed and plants should be disease- and insect-free when planted. The timing of planting and harvesting can also affect your pest problem. Early planting of some crops can allow them to become established before pests overwhelm them. Harvesting before pest damage becomes a problem is another consideration.
Most problem insects have a predator or parasite. It is therefore to your advantage to use these creatures to help control your pest problem. The lady beetle, praying mantis and spiders can all help control insect problems. Encouraging birds will also help. Many local species of birds love to eat insects.
Physical and Mechanical Control
Many blueberry and raspberry growers near my homestead use screens and nets to protect their crops. These barriers have been successfully used to keep predators from a variety of valuable crops.
An assortment of insect traps is available. A few examples are light, bait and color traps. The use of pheromones (chemicals that the insect finds appealing) to attract the insect helps the device become more pest-specific.
Protective barriers can also be used. Burlap, metal and sticky substances can all act as impregnable barriers to keep insects out. There are many means of controlling pests around the homestead. Pesticides are one option, but I think I have shown that they are not the only choice. Alternatives to pesticides will require more effort and planning on your part. Next time you see a problem on your plants maybe try one of the methods above. It may take a little more time but I think the effort is worth it.