Organic gardening really took off about 1940 when Lord Northbourne in England coined the term, “organic farming.” In 1939, Lady Eve Balfour launched the Haughley Experiment on farmland in England that was the very first side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional farming. A few years later she published the study in her book, The Living Soil, based on the initial findings of the Haughley Experiement. The book was popular and directly led to the formation of a key international organic advocacy group called the “Soil Association.” Even though the organic farming movement, on a large scale, had begun in the 1800s it wasn’t until Northbourne and Balfour brought it to the forefront of agriculture that it actually became popular.
Organic gardening became common for the local home gardeners in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Now gardens, to be officially called organic, must be government certified in many countries and it’s become a significant economic booster for smaller farms who are certified organic. The reason is that produce certified as organic is typically sold for 2x or 3x the amount of non-certified organic produce. In the beginning of the organic gardening movement, organic produce was 5x the cost of non-organic produce. As organic gardening becomes more commonplace, the prices of organic produce continue to drop, which helps the average family on a tight budget eat healthier food.
In recent years another aspect of organic gardening has increased in popularity; using predator insects to control garden pests. The trend for the last 50-years is to move away from chemical solutions for garden problems and there is always a new aspect popping up that relies on nature as opposed to chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.
Some sort of compost bin or compost area can be found at most home gardens as people recycle their produce discards into garden-enriching compost.
One of the more popular predator insect choices, for home and garden, are Fly Exterminators (Muscidifurax raptorellus), which is a fly parasite. The use of the tiny, almost invisible insects are USDA approved. They do not bite, sting, swarm or bother humans or animals. They are nocturnal and fly about 10” above the ground. They control flies in animal manure accumulations and other fly breeding sites. The tiny assassins are effective against houseflies, biting stable flies, Horn flies, horse and deer flies, biting stable flies, Bot flies, garbage flies and the lesser housefly. Anyone who has ever been bombarded by a swarm of houseflies as they open the screen door refuses to recognize the term “lesser.” The Lesser Housefly comprises approximately 95% of the fly population. With Muscidifurax raptorellus, the flies are attacked before they ever get off the ground and never become a nuisance. When you order the insects they are delivered in a paper bag in their larval stage. You hang the bags in locations around your house, farm or garden such as next to compost piles, stables, barns, back yards, etc., and then they hatch and go to work about 2-weeks later. Unless you are crawling around on your hands and knees in your garden at midnight, you’ll probably never see them. And you’ll have few flies bothering you during the day.
Another popular alternative to insecticides in your garden are “Beneficial Nematodes” and Hypoaspis miles. They are microscopic worms that hunt down and kill soil pests. They attack the pests in their larval and pupal stage in the soil. They have also been known to attack above-ground pests in all stages of their lives. In addition to the usual gardeners, greenhouses, hydroponics, aquaponics and other growers use them. They readily attack Fungus Gnats and Root Aphids.
There are other predator insects that are well known to gardeners, such as Ladybugs, Green Lacewings and Praying Mantises. Ladybugs and Green Lacewings attack aphids, Mealybugs, Thrip, Spider Mites, Leafhopper Nymphs, Whiteflies, moth eggs, Scale mites and a number of other soft-bodied insects. Ladybugs attack many of those same species as well as grubs, Japanese Beetles and 200+ other soil pests. The old reliable Praying Mantis destroys large numbers of crickets, grasshoppers, moths, locusts, caterpillars, flies, cockroaches and other pests but they leave Ladybugs alone. They can also help with Cucumber Beetles and Armyworms.
Another beneficial insect is less than 1/100 inch in length. Several of the adults can fit on the tip of a pencil but these insects are biteless, sting-less and go virtually unnoticed. They are called Trichogramma. They drill through moth eggs and deposit 1 to 3 of their own eggs, that in turn kill the larve within moth egg. Trichogramma kills over 200 species of Lepidopteran (caterpillars and moths) that damage and destroy vegetables and fruits.
The key to eradicating garden pests requires the same approach as taking out mesquite or prickly pear or any other nuisance; hit them while they’re young and defenseless. In the case of garden pests, that time is when they’re in the egg and larval stages of their lifecycle. Anyone has ever walking into a house with a veritable curtain of hanging glue fly strips with the buzz-buzz of the condemned that have not yet gone to that big dung pile in the sky can appreciate eradicating the pests before they ever take flight.
Many of the house and garden pests are attacked by more than one species of the prey insects, which doubles down on eradicating them from your garden and yard. But it’s not as confusing as it may seem. There is a great deal of literature available just by Googling, “Beneficial Nematodes” or “Predatory Insects.” Some companies sell several species and specify which pests each species targets. The insects, like most insects in the fall, die off or go into hibernation. Some, such as Ladybugs and Praying Mantises may return on their own. During the spring and summer, it’s recommended that you put out at least two groups of the predatory insects. Some will die off naturally and others may move off so two applications is typically what is required to keep the pests under control.
The use of predator insects is enhanced when coupled with other organic gardening practices, such as companion planting (covered in the spring insert in the newspaper). For example, planting squash and cucumbers with radishes helps deter Cucumber Beetles. Using that along with putting out some nematodes or other predator insects that target the beetles gets an increased result when it comes to protecting your garden.