Farmscaping workshop zeroes in on pest control

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Thirty-eight people from New Mexico and Colorado converged on Socorro County to look at bugs.

Nolina Bryant’s two-acre organic farm east of Escondida Lake was the site for an Organic Integrated Pest Management Farm Walk sponsored by New Mexico State University’s Department of Agriculture on Aug. 30.

With organic IPM, also known as farmscaping, farmers manipulate the habitat in and around the farm to increase the number of beneficial organisms, according NMSU’s 2012 Organic Farm Walk brochure.

Participants from around the state and even southern Colorado visited Nolina’s Heavenly Organics Farm to explore alternatives to conventional pest control methods. NMSU faculty and staff provided expert commentary.

Bryant’s farm was certified organic in 2005. She wholesales produce to Albuquerque restaurants and grocery stores, including Whole Foods and La Montanita Co-op.

Bryant uses a variety of approved organic farming techniques to keep her vegetables and flowers healthy and reduce pest damage.

“We have alkaline soil here, so we have bought truckloads of compost and bags of bone meal and blood meal to amend the soil,” she said.

Healthy soil is good for earthworms, but not for pests.

Good soil promotes garden plants’ chemical defenses, said Tessa Grasswitz, Ph.D., Urban and Small Farms integrated pest management specialist at NMSU.

Diversity is another important tool for organic gardeners, she said.

Habitat diversity means cultivating many different kinds of flowers and vegetable varieties at the same time to encourage beneficial insects and animals and to minimize damage from pests and diseases. Grasswitz approved of the cosmos, red amaranth, painted Indian blanket and sunflowers Bryant grows among her vegetables.

Planting garlic and marigolds in the garden does help keep out pests, but not because they smell bad, Grasswitz said.

“Diversity rather than the specific species is what’s important,” she said. “Odiferous flowering plants are not necessarily more effective than variety.”

Insectary plants are those that attract and harbor beneficial insects that will prey on pests.

“Basil and dill flowers attract many beneficial insects,” she said.

Research is ongoing on three species of parasitic wasps Grasswitz and her colleagues discovered in New Mexico. These wasps attack squash bugs, and overwinter in clover clumps that can be planted near the garden. Red clover also shelters crab spiders that are another squash bug predator.

Planting different types of each vegetable also increases your chances of a good harvest.

“Grow many different varieties of tomatoes. They will differ in their resistance to diseases like curly top,” she said.

Bryant grows at least eight different varieties of tomatoes, and most of them have survived infection.

Grasswitz reminded attendees to remove infected plants immediately, since the curly-top virus is transmitted by leaf hoppers that feed on a diseased plant and then move on to infect a nearby healthy plant.

The same technique will help control squash plant collapse, which is actually the result of a disease spread by squash bugs, not the bugs themselves, she said.

“Any virus-infected plant is a source of infection,” she said. “Pull it up and bag it immediately.”

Since organic gardeners have so few pest control agents they can apply to their crops, preventing pests from becoming resistant to these agents is important, and diversity again is the key, said Joanie Quinn, N. M. Department of Agriculture organic Commodity advisor.

Organic gardeners should vary the agents they use on their plants, trying Neem oil followed by insecticide soap, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) — a naturally occurring bacteria — and then pyrethrins, she said.

Gardeners should not overlook the value of birds and bats in their pest control plan, Grasswitz said.

“Kestrels feed grasshoppers to their young, so placing Kestrel nesting boxes can reduce grasshopper damage,” she said.

Other flying vertebrates that prey on insect pests are bats and bluebirds. Building bat and bluebird boxes will also reduce insect pests, she said.

For more information about using IPM in your garden or farm, visit the U. S. Dept. of Agriculture’s sustainable agriculture website www.attra.org or email Quinn at jquinn@nmda.nmsu.edu.