Increasing your farm’s biodiversity through integrated management techniques can have many positive effects including providing beneficial habitats, promoting weed suppression, drawing insects away from the main cash crop, and biochemical pest suppression. The following resources can help guide you through different management decisions, majorly cultural versus chemical controls, relating to weed, pest, and disease management promoting a sustainable and diverse farm.
Understanding the different pests that could, or are, affecting your crops can help determine which type of management technique to employ. A good set of publications providing information on the most common pests found in Wisconsin is the Garden Fact Series out of the University of Wisconsin Extension. The publications individually cover the following pests in some detail, including life cycle information, as well as recommend cultural and chemical controls for said pest: vegetable aphids, caterpillar pests of cole crops, cucumber beetles, Colorado potato beetle, flea beetles, onion thrips, squash bug, and the squash vine borer.
Sustainable Pest Management: Biological and Cultural Controls
Integrated pest management is an ecological-based concept that promotes a healthy ecosystem and in turn deters establishment of harmful pests. To be successful, both the design, management, and planning of your farm ecosystem is important. The following resources are meant to provide management recommendations that employ sustainable, non-chemical alternatives to traditional mono-cropping with organically approved pesticides as a last resort. Insect Pest Management for Organic Crops, written by farm advisors and specialists from the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, is a good place to start for different sustainable pest management techniques. Specifically it discusses cultural, e.g. coordinating planting dates to avoid certain pest buildup and planting borders promoting beneficial insect habitats, biological, e.g. introduction of biocontrol organisms, mechanical, and chemical controls.
If your farm or market garden contains season extension structures such as a greenhouse or hoophouse, see the publication Sustainable Pest Management in Greenhouses and High Tunnels out of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. The publication is a compilation of results regarding biological insect control from 23 case studies at nine farm locations in New York from 2007 to 2009. More specifically the publication looks at the application of different natural enemies against the following common pests: two-spotted spider mites, thrips, aphids, and whiteflies. The natural enemies included are predatory mites, parasitic wasps and the predatory minute pirate bug.
Sustainable Weed Management
Utilizing sustainable cropping systems as a way to combat weed competition is an important component of managing your fresh market farm in both urban and peri-urban settings. Controlling weeds contributes to economic success and requires both short and long-term management strategies/planning. A good publication that provides an overview on these strategies is ATTRA’s Sustainable Weed Management for Small and Medium-Scale Farms. The publication introduces both proactive and reactive sustainable weed management strategies emphasizing managing croplands according to nature’s principles to bring about a stable, diverse community. Recommendations include mulching, competition, crop rotations, and low-toxicity control alternatives.
If you want to dig deeper into weed management strategies for organic production via peer-reviewed research, consider looking at Weed Management in Organic Vegetable Production. The intent of this publication is to provide individuals with not only key points and background information of the strategies discussed, but also the details and evaluation of options based on recent peer reviewed articles for organic production in more detail. The categories included in this publication are: managing the weed seed bank, weed suppression with mulches, cover crops and allelopathy, reduced tillage and dark cultivation, thermal weed management, alternative herbicides, crop competition, in-season cultivation, and integrated weed management.
For specific information on mulching for weed management, see the two publications out of eXtension: Organic Mulching Materials for Weed Management and Synthetic Mulching Materials for Weed Management. The former goes over organic mulching information and recommendations for hay, straw, and fresh-cut forage as well as cover cropping for annual weed prevention and soil health. The article also discusses tree leaves, chipped brush, wood shavings and bark, sawdust, compost, and manure as to why, or why not they would recommend it as a mulching material. The later discusses black plastic mulching in detail, as it is the most common form of synthetic mulching. Clear, translucent, and colored plastic films and their respective benefits are also discussed. Other techniques including woven fabric for perennial crops for season-to-season reuse and biodegradable paper mulching discussed in this publication provide more sustainable examples of synthetic mulches. For more information regarding plasticulture to extend your growing season, see the section Season Extension.
Managing your crops for pathogens e.g. various fungi, bacteria, viruses, and nematodes, requires attention as they are often difficult to identify and can change over time. Because growing crops utilizing organic methods eliminates the use of synthetic fungicides, the need for careful planning and methods of control remains a top priority.
Plant Disease Management for Organic Crops, a publication part of the Organic Vegetable Production in California Series written by farm advisors and specialists from the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, speaks to different disease control methods with an ecological basis you might consider for your operation. Specifically this publication covers crop rotations and epiphytic (plant surface dwelling) microorganisms. More specifically it recommends the use of disease-resistant plant cultivars when available, site selection prior to planting crops, and exclusionary practices such as buying seeds tested for pathogens, clean equipment and non-recycled potting mix. Different control methods, such as bicarbonate-based fungicides, and field sanitation are also discussed. If you are looking for specific information on tomato disease management for blight, septoria, or bacterial leaf spot, see the below section titled Additional Resources and Citations.
Cover crops are an important tool on your fresh market farm. Although originally designed to improve soil fertility and slow erosion, they also contribute to weed management, promoting disease and pest protection, and enhancing biodiversity. A good place to start is the article in Acres USA, by the Nordells, who own the 6-acre Beech Grove Farm in Pennsylvania, Weed the Soil, Not the Crop. This publication represents a successful example of utilizing cover crops for weed suppression over a 5-year time period. They have developed a 4-year cover crop rotation that is discussed and can be used as a model when designing your own rotational cover crop plan.
A more in-depth guide to cover crops is Cover Crops on the Intensive Market Farm by John Hendrickson of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) at the University of Wisconsin. You will find information on the advantages and disadvantages associated with cover cropping on market farms, equipment needs, till and no-till management of cover crops, and cropping sequences with a table of varieties and sequence options. The publication also recommends ways to ensure your farm is maximizing the potential benefits of cover crops involving soil fertility, and pest management. Additional resources and a management guide for specific crop species are listed at the end.
Additional Resources and Citations
Anne and Dennis from Regenerative Roots Farm. 2013. Grower Information Sheet: Living Mulch Aisles for Vegetable Fields. FairShare CSA Coalition
Carlberg, Zoe. 2014. Sustainable Weed Management for Small and Medium-Scale Farm. ATTRA
Colquhoun, Jed. 2007. Weed Management in Organic Vegetable Production. University of Wisconsin Extension
Delahaut, K.A. 1997. Colorado Potato Beetle. University of Wisconsin-Extension
Delahaut, K.A. 2001. Garden Facts: Caterpillar Pests of Cole Crops. University of Wisconsin-Extension
Delahaut, K.A. 2002. Garden Facts: Cucumber Beetles. University of Wisconsin-Extension
Delahaut, K.A. 2001. Garden Facts: Flea Beetles. University of Wisconsin-Extension
Delahaut, K.A. 2001. Garden Facts: Onion Thrips. University of Wisconsin-Extension
Delahaut, K.A. 2001. Garden Facts: Squash Bug. University of Wisconsin-Extension
Delahaut, K.A. 2001. Garden Facts: Squash Vine Borer. University of Wisconsin-Extension
Delahaut, K.A. 2001. Garden Facts: Vegetable Aphids. University of Wisconsin-Extension
Delahaut, Karen and Walt Stevenson. 2004. Tomato and Pepper Disorders: Bacterial Spot and Speck. University of Wisconsin-Extension
Delahaut, Karen, and Walt Stevenson. 2004. Tomato Disorders: Early Blight and Septoria Leaf Spot. University of Wisconsin-Extension
Delahaut, Karen, and Walt Stevenson. 2004. Tomato Disorder: Physiological Fruit Problems. University of Wisconsin-Extension
Dufour, Rex. 2001. Biointensive Integrated Pest Management. ATTRA
Fouche, Calvin, Mark Gaskell, Steven Koike, Jeff Mitchell, and Richard Smith. 2000. Insect Pest Management for Organic Crops. University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Gevens, Amanda J., Anna Seidl and Brian Hudelson. 2010. Managing Late Blight in Tomatoes. University of Wisconsin-Madison Dept. of Plant Pathology
Hendrickson, John. 2009. Cover Crops on the Intensive Market Farm. UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
Koike, Steven T., Mark Gaskell, Calvin Fouche, Richard Smith and Jeff Mitchell. 2000. Plant Disease Management for Organic Crops. University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Kuepper, George and Mardi Dodson. 2001. Companion Planting: Basic Concepts and Resources. ATTRA
Mader, Eric and Nancy Lee Adamson. 2012. Invertebrate Conservation Fact Sheet: Organic-Approved Pesticides, Minimizing Risks to Bees. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Nordell, Anne and Eric. 2009. Weed the Soil, Not the Crop. Acres USA. Vol.40(6), 6pp.
Reid, Judson Project coordinator. 2014. Sustainable Pest Management in Greenhouses and High Tunnels. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program
Schonbeck, Mark. 2012. Organic Mulching Materials for Weed Management. eXtension
Schonbeck, Mark. 2012. Synthetic Mulching Materials for Weed Management. eXtension