Biological pest control has, of course, been around for millions of years, so the concept is not new. Ladybirds have always fed on aphids, frogs have always eaten slugs and birds have always devoured juicy caterpillars – the list goes on. Sadly the proliferation of chemicals used in farms and gardens in the 20th century often upset the natural balance of the ecosystem, removing micro-organisms from the soil and disrupting the food chain.
Pesticides caused collateral damage to the friendly creatures as well as the ones targeted, which also adapted to become more resistant to everything that man could throw at them, clearly an unsustainable course. When discussing biological pest control we need to consider it in two ways. Firstly, what can we do to harness the natural predators in the garden to work for our benefit, and secondly, what can we introduce to control specific pests?
It all starts with the soil. Feeding your soil with compost and organic matter will encourage the development of a healthy population of micro-organisms and bacteria, processing nutrients for plants and forming the first link of the food chain. Strong, properly nourished plants are also more likely to recover from and survive pest attacks. Providing wild patches, a pond, habitats and nesting sites for predators will all help to sustain a balanced ecosystem, with nature keeping things in check. Ladybirds, hoverflies, lacewings, beetles, frogs and toads, hedgehogs and birds are all examples of creatures that will help police our precious plants. Some slugs will eat other slugs.
Biological pest controls for gardeners have developed over the last 25 or so years as research and technological advances have enabled the controlled breeding of predatory or parasitic organisms that are specific to control various pests. The great thing about these is that the solution never becomes the problem; they will do their job but won’t persist in the garden or become an infestation in their own right.
Nematodes are the most commonly used biological control these days to control a wide range of pests. They are threadlike microscopic worms that live in the moisture surrounding soil particles. When they come into contact with their target pest they will multiply inside it, causing it to stop feeding and die. They have a finite life of a few weeks, either because they have exhausted the supply of host pests or because they themselves have become prey for native species that exist in the soil.
Nematodes arrive in a pack containing several million, which is added to water and applied using a watering can or sprayer, when the soil temperature is warm enough and when the pest is active. They are virtually invisible to the naked eye, safe on food crops and will not harm pets, children, wildlife or bees.
This was the first nematode to be available for garden use and was a true breakthrough in controlling the very destructive larvae of this difficult pest that lives mainly in pots and containers. It can be applied in spring or autumn, stopping the larvae from eating away whole root systems and killing them before they develop into adults. Nematodes can also combat carrot root fly, cabbage root fly, leatherjackets, cutworms, onion fly, ants, sciarid fly, caterpillars, gooseberry sawfly, thrips and codling moth.
If ants are a problem then this nematode species will repel them from the treated area. It does not kill them but will encourage them to seek an alternative nest site.
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