It is usually the first thought in most people's mind when working in their gardens. At Lil Ryley Farms we don't necessarily feel that way. A lot of insects are beneficial to the garden and to the local Eco system, in fact our chickens love to eat mosquitoes, a tasty little protein snack for them. But sometimes we get bugs in our crops that can cause significant damage.
So the first question we have is, what kind of insect is it and what damage can they cause?
The second question is, if they are damage causing insects, what level of damage is acceptable from an economic standpoint. The third question is, when we reach the threshold of economic damage, what are our options for managing them?
First thing on the list, what kind of bug? Lady bug? Potato beetle? Ants? There's many user friendly apps that can help one identify different pests, online you can find information from Alberta Agriculture and reliable sources like the team at RealAg. Once the bug has been identified we can determine if the particular insect is going to cause the plants damage. If so, we need to determine the level of infestation by using traps, manually counting, netting (depending on the type of insect). From there we can calculate an approximate level of damage that might occur. And this is where we need to get real, we need to look at our crop yield expectations, prices and expected damage then determine the physical cost of the damage.
Managing insects can be extremely time consuming, and expensive to either manually control the insects or apply a protection product that will reduce or eliminate the problem. Our options include: manual control, synthetic pesticides, organic pesticides (pyrethrin), physical controls (netting) etc. When we decide on a control method that prioritizes the plants health, we now begin to weigh the cost versus the loss. Every infestation requires a close examination of all options. Our margins are tight and unnecessary use of controls will take up valuable time and money. Leaving a heavy infestation uncontrolled can leave a crop decimated, causing us to lose all the investment of cash and labor.
We had to work through all these steps this year in dealing with our onion crop. We ended up with an infestation of onion maggots. They are the result of flies landing on the plant and laying eggs. These eggs develop and when the maggots start moving they begin to eat the onion roots and turn the onions in to mush; so gross! By the time we detected it, it was too late for any kind of controls.
Next year it will, careful crop planning and placement and putting up preventative fly traps in hopes to help reduce the problem. This will take time and money, and most importantly, planning, accurate record keeping and research. We only use products that are tested, labeled and proven to work.
Whether they are synthetic, organic, mechanical or physical. Our plant health and yours come first!