Last updated on August 19th, 2019
Are you having a hard time dealing with pests? Are you wondering how you will control this menace brought about by these small bugs? Well, this article offers ecological pest control solutions to help you to manage them in a safe and eco-friendly manner.
A Guide to Ecological Pest Control, Including Ways to Manage Pests
Pest control is an activity that has been there for a long time, and that is not ending any time soon. Human beings will always need to manage and control pests that in most instances, threaten their livelihood.
There are various measures of dealing with pests, but an ecological pest control one will ensure that nature is also put in mind when doing so.
Depending on the severity of the damage caused by the pests, as human beings, we tend to adapt to different tactics to handle these little bugs. Pests in agricultural areas are the insects, rodents, and other destructive animals that attack our crops, livestock, and food.
In the urban areas, pests refer to rodents, insects, birds, or any other organism that share our habitat and that feed on and destroys our possessions.
In this guide, we will explore more on the ecological pest control and how we can manage these pests in an eco-friendly way.
But before we delve into ways to manage pests, let first understand what the term “pest control” means.
What is Pest Control?
Pest control is the management of organisms called pests, which are members of the animal kingdom and which adversely impact human life. These organisms feed on plants, livestock, and other possessions that may be important to social activities and survival.
Their control is, therefore, crucial to us, to prevent destruction due to hunger or diseases.
Pest control measures range from tolerance, deterrence, and management, and attempts to the pests. All these measures have different effects on the environment and ensuring that we double check before use is pretty paramount. The pests may be controlled either by exclusion attempts, repulsion, chemical means or by physical removal.
In some instances, multiple biological control methods can also be used, such as sterilization programs. Ecological pest control methods are the most sustainable ways. But what does ecological pest control mean?
Ecological Pest Control Definition
This is a green approach used to help increase the strengths of the natural systems to support the natural processes in regulating pest and enhancing agricultural production. The eco-friendly pest control method tries to ensure that the number of pests remains at manageable levels. It helps to create a balance between controlling the pests and preserving the environment.
Also referred to as ecological pest management, the exercise can also be defined as the process of using various tactics in a well-suited manner, to help maintain the population of pest below a certain threshold. The process seeks to reduce the pest levels while still protecting the environment and its inhabitants.
Pest control measures, in large scale, may be undertaken as part of IPM (integrated pest management) strategy. IPM is a pest management practice that is ecologically-based and that uses cultural and natural methods such as biological control and host resistance to manage pests.
Integrated Pest Management encourages natural pest control methods that in turn, ensures the growth of healthy crops with minimal disruption of the agro-ecosystem. With ecological pest management, chemicals can only be used where the natural tactics fail to contain the pests below destructive levels.
Biological methods aim to encourage the growth of natural and sustainable predators of these pests.
When it comes to our homes and those who practice indoor farming, we can try as much as possible to use eco-friendly controls to maintain a habitable environment.
These may include high grade organic/botanic treatments that are derived from natural components such as natural oils, plant extracts, and minerals.
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Fundamentals of Ecological Pest Control
Ecological Pest Management focuses mainly on preventive measures, which seeks to enhance the natural defenses of the environment to tackle pests. The practice will try using all the natural means of pest control before resulting in the use of chemicals.
Using natural tactics guarantees safety, both for the environment and its population.
When dealing with agricultural areas and farms, there are two major strategies used which include:
- Strengthening of natural systems of the farming landscape to enhance its integral pest-fighting capability.
- Improving the efficiency of the farm, through the cycling of nutrients, enhancing the flow of energy, as well as using other resources.
The above two broad strategies, combined with the subsequent individual practices, will result in agricultural systems that are:
- Self-regulating and capable of maintaining the pest populations within tolerable boundaries
- Self-sufficient and which requires minimal “reactive” interventions
- Resistant to various stresses, including pest invasions, soil compaction, and drought, among others.
- Resilient – meaning that they can bounce back from significant stresses
The following are steps and practices used in ecological pest management.
This is an above ground tactic that focuses on habitat conservation and development of biodiversity within as well as in the surrounding crop fields. Crop management, as a means of pest control, involves the use of various practices and strategies to sustain biodiversity, enhance beneficial organisms, and stress the pests. The method requires you to undertake the following steps:
- Select local varieties, well adapted, and pest resistant cultivators.
- Choose crops that are suitable for the climate and soil in your area.
- Manage field boundaries as well as in-field habitats to help attract beneficial organisms and trap insect pests.
- Consider agroforestry and intercropping.
- Undertake legume-based crop rotations and alternating botanically distinct crops
- Make use of cover crops intensively.
Soil management is a below ground environment conservation and enrichment. This practice involves you building healthy soil and preserving below ground biodiversity.
It helps to enhance beneficial insects, and stress the pests, as well as offer the best possible physical, biological, and chemical, soil habitat for your crops. Soil management requires you to:
- Build and retain soil organic matter using crop residues, composts, and manure
- Reduce tillage
- Ensure the soil is covered with either live plants or crop residue
- Practice long term crop rotations which help to improve soil microbial populations, as well as break weed, disease, and insect cycles
- Ensure that you maintain proper nutrients levels that support the plants and which does not make the plant vulnerable to diseases and insects.
- Maintain appropriate soil PH level
- Control nutrient losses through soil erosion
- Avoid any practice that may cause soil compaction
Planned supplementary pest management practices
These practices are encouraged when research or farmer experience shows that, despite exhaustive use of the above preventive management practices, more should be done.
The method requires the farmer to:
- Introduce beneficial insects in your farm or apply biopesticides with least harmful effects on the environment
- Reduce or prevent fungal infections by pruning the canopy
Planned supplemental soil practices
These practices help to reduce stress on crops to optimize crop yield and quality. The practice requires you to:
- Maintain proper and adequate water in the soil
- Mow instead of incorporating orchard cover crops to leave a mulch cover
- Under-sow legumes in cereals
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Reactive Efforts for Pest Management
If despite following all the above measures, the pest population is still above the tolerable threshold levels, and the beneficial insect levels are low, you can increase the beneficial insects or use environmentally-friendly biopesticides.
Reactive Inputs Curb plant stress
Here, you can make use of chisel plow and subsoiler to ease soil compaction. It is also prudent in this stage to introduce more nutrients to the soil or foliage, to respond to and solve the deficiency symptoms in plants.
How to Manage Pests in an Environmentally Friendly Way
As discussed above, ecological pest control aims at protecting both the environment and its inhabitants. There are various methods you can use to deal with the pests that disturb or endanger your living, and some of them may adversely harm the environment.
For this reason, there is a need to encourage and educate people on the available eco-friendly means of pest control. In addition to the above preventive and natural methods, there are more environmentally friendly practices that you can use to control pests.
Use of Microbial Insecticides
Numerous microbial insecticides are very useful in pest control and that do not cause harmful effects to the environment. These insecticides cause the target pests to get sick without causing any harm to beneficial insects or being toxic to pets and other mammals.
An excellent example of such pesticide is the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).
Bt is a Gram-positive, soil-dwelling bacterium, and that helps in pest control. It produces spores and crystal-like insecticidal proteins that have been in use as a biological pesticide since the 1920s. Bt can tackle various pests, including cutworms, cabbage loopers, Hornworms larvae, and more.
Microbial insecticides are specific, targeting certain pests and therefore do not harm the environment, or the beneficial insects.
It is an effective way of maintaining the desired pest population level without harming what surrounds us.
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These soaps comprise fatty acids and salts within them, which mainly target pests with soft bodies such as whiteflies, aphids, earwigs, mealybugs, as well as the initial stages of scales. The soap penetrates the outer shell of the pests, destroying their cell membranes.
When the layer is damaged, it results in dehydration and starvation, and the pest dies.
The soaps may cause minimal harm or emit toxins either to mammals and humans. Although they are eco-friendly, some are phytotoxic to individual plants and its wise to test on a small area before using them on a large scale. Another disadvantage of the soaps is that unlike the microbial insecticides, they are not selective and therefore can harm even the beneficial insects.
The good thing with the soaps is that you can even make your own at home. By mixing one teaspoon of dish soap with a teaspoon of cooking oil, and adding it to a quart spray bottle, you have your insecticidal soap.
Use of Insecticidal Oils
In the case of insecticidal oils, the oils can suffocate and kill the pest. When you spray the pests with the oils, the oil covers the pests with a horticultural grade, petroleum-based liquid which blocks their oxygen supply. The method mainly helps destroy the eggs, as well as early stages of insects.
Also, these insecticidal oils are beneficial as they quickly break down and spreads so well. You can use them to manage pests like aphids, spider mites, scales, psylla, and, among other types of insects.
One disadvantage of the oils is that they affect beneficial insects, although not much toxic. It is also advisable to read the directions before applying as the oils can also harm the leaves of your plants.
Additionally, you should avoid spraying the oils on hot days, and always do a test on a small area first.
This is a soft, naturally occurring, siliceous sedimentary rock which can easily be crushed into a fine white powder. The product consists of the fossilized shells of diatoms (single-celled algae). Although very small, these shells contain sharp projections that can cut and pierce the cuticle of the insect. The result is the loss of vital body fluids from the body of the insect leading to certain death.
Diatomaceous earth is beneficial on insects with soft bodies including snails, slugs, root maggots thrips, and more. The product is not poisonous, and therefore, it is harmless to the environment at large. The only disadvantage is that it is not selective, and therefore, it can kill beneficial insects.
Apply the product early in the morning or after a rain as it works well in wet foliage. You can apply it on the soil for insects living in the land and on foliage for those living there. Also, ensure that you ware a dust mask when applying.
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Using traps or handpicking
Although not as effective as the other methods, putting traps for pests such as slugs, rodents, and others can help reduce their population.
Also, you can handpick the ones you can. These methods require no chemicals and will not harm the environment.
Conclusion on Ecological Pest Control
Pests can be a nuisance to anyone. That’s why we all we want is to get rid of them no matter the cost. Sometimes we even don’t think of the dangers that the methods we use to tackle them expose us to.
This comprehensive ecological pest control guide will help you choose an eco-friendly approach to control the pests while still preserving the environment.
What pest control method have you been using? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.