The Importance of Bio Control and the Use of Beneficial Insects in Your Grow

contender gardens grow set up
Courtesy of Contender Gardens

Clean cannabis is essential. For growers within the industry, this can prove to come with a learning curve unique to the marijuana scene.

According to Greenhouse Grower, cannabis exists in a bit of a gray area when it comes to pest management. There's virtually no traditional labeled chemistry available, which lays outside the bounds of typical farming practices. Additionally, the regulations regarding chemical product use for pest control vary between states, with a too-short list for acceptable products. And, on top of all that, if a dispensary screens incoming product for residue, items testing positive will likely be rejected.

It makes sense, then, that cannabis growers are making a shift toward the use of bio control.

What is Bio Control?

contender gardens plants
Courtesy of Contender Gardens
Biological control, often shortened to bio control, is a method of controlling pests in the realm of growing crops. In the world of bio control, the main objective is to make sure that crop-eating or otherwise detrimental pests do not ruin the cannabis. An effective way of doing so is to release beneficial insects, which are referred to as "enemies," or more commonly, predators. You can buy these bugs, and essentially hire them to eat or drive out the pest bugs.

There are three main strategies of bio control:

Classical: Also known as importation, classical bio control introduces a natural enemy of a pest in order to achieve control.

Inductive: Otherwise referred to as augmentation, inductive bio control is when a large, seized population of natural enemies are released for a fast-acting means of pest control.

Inoculative: As a long-term method of conservation, inoculative bio control involves continuous measures to ensure regular reestablishment to maintain natural enemies.

What You Need to Know About Beneficial Insects

beneficial insects
Courtesy of Contender Gardens
Again, beneficial insects are for people who are growing cannabis and have come across a pest infestation. Instead of spraying chemicals to get rid of them, one of the best things they can do for safe, clean, healthy cannabis is introduce beneficial insects as a form of bio control.

While it might seem counterintuitive to add more insects into an environment struggling with a pest problem, the process is scientific and yields beneficial results for the entire ecosystem of the plant.

Do the Research

This is a very important step in bio control and is essential to do before pulling the trigger on introducing beneficial insects. This is a two-pronged approach.

First, identify your pest. This step determines the direction you'll go and which predators you get, just because most beneficial insects have uses for specific prey. At the bare minimum, you don't want to get a predator that doesn't eliminate the pest and creates a whole new series of issues.

As you identify your pest, be specific. There are many general types of pests, and the more precise you are, the better shape you'll be in. For example, if you have an aphid pest, explicitly identify the type of aphid. Is it a bang aphid? A foxglove aphid? A root aphid? If you don't know, find out. The type of aphid you have will determine the predator that can help you out and be most effective.

Pro-tip: This specificity and understanding of your pest is especially important when you choose to use nematodes and parasitic wasps as your beneficial insects.

Second, get to know the predators. This obviously relates strongly to the previously mentioned point; you have to know if they are able to work with the pest in question. But doing research on the beneficial predators is also important when it comes to mixing and matching. You should know beforehand which predators are safe to use together and which are not compatible. If two species of beneficial insects do not play nice when coexisting in the same environment, there will be problems.

It's also worth stating that there is a difference between indoor and outdoor species. Knowing this beforehand will help guide you to which predators to introduce to your cannabis plants and tells you how much you need to control when it comes to their environment.

For example, the aphidoletes aphidimyza beneficial insects, which are used to control aphids, are specifically intended for indoor use, or in commercial environments like zoos or greenhouses that are easily controlled. This is necessary to maintain their ideal habitual conditions, like the specific temperature range and high humidity.

Avoid the strife and headache by moving forward with due diligence. And remember that asking a professional cannot hurt.

Maintain the Environment

To make sure that the predators are able to do their job, it's important to keep them comfortable and maintain their habitat. Two important factors are temperature and humidity, which should be adjusted to overall favor the predators rather than the pests. Research on the predator species should lend more direction and give tips as to what kind of environment the predators thrive best in.

Changes to humidity and temperature are usually easily conducted. In some cases, it can be as straight forward as altering watering routines or adjusting the ventilation. If an increase in humidity is required, one easy method is adding splashes of water on the floor. In any event, temperature and humidity are correlated to the success of certain insects.

Read more about beneficial insects and their ideal environment controls here.

Prepare for the Photoperiod

Temperature is also important in regard to the photoperiod of plants, which is the physiological reaction to the lengths of day and night. It dictates when the cannabis plant will step into the flowering stage. During this time, the beneficial insects are at risk to fall into hibernation, also known as diapause.

To prevent the predators from going into diapause, controlling the temperature is huge. Since the photoperiod is critical for the cannabis plant before it begins to flower, and thus up to the point of harvest, you can't have your bio control drifting off to sleep. Manipulating the temperature and humidity is key to supporting the cannabis plant through its final journey and keeping those savior bugs awake to do so.

Understand Release Rates

Release rates are key to understanding the severity of an infestation. Beneficial insects are implemented as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program; these have four components, according to Arbico Organics:

  1. Using traps to catch pests, then monitoring them as adults
  2. Considering management and cultural techniques to improve the infestation
  3. Releasing beneficial insects to kill the plants to kill pests in their early development stages
  4. Using insecticides as a last resort if necessary

To get the most out of the beneficial insects, timing is key. They should be released when the density of the pests is low to medium, since it takes time for them to adjust and work. Understanding the release rate plays a huge role in determining how to best combat the pest problem.

Have a Reliable Supplier

Getting predators can be a tricky deal, since the beneficial insects have to be shipped and stored under optimal conditions. Otherwise, they won't be effective. To ensure that you receive high-quality predators that are ready for bio control work, be sure to find a trustworthy supplier.

This is critically important to make sure that time, resources, and money are well-spent, and not wasted on a pile of dead bugs with no use to you or your crops. And this way, you can have an open dialogue with your supplier about their recommendations, since every bio control application is different.

Good and Clean is the Way to Go

lots of plants at contender gardens grow operation
Courtesy of Contender Gardens
In the end, make sure to get your weed from a grower or dispensary that has good, clean cannabis. If you're a Washington medical patient looking to get started growing your own, head to a supplier like Contender Gardens. They're a family-owned business with extensive knowledge of growing cannabis, and they can provide you with high-quality plants and seeds to get your grow started.

Contender Gardens is a proud partner of Leafbuyer.

For the best cannabis deals, head to the Leafbuyer deals page!

Article written by Savannah Nelson