Buggin’ Out: How Insects Helped Me Grow Better Cannabis
Forget contaminant pesticides. Let good bugs kill the bad ones.
Published on August 28, 2016

I first discovered the concept of adding insects to my garden the same way that I expect most new growers do—by scouring the Internet in search of a solution to my pest problems. Common thought would have you believe that the solution lay in a pesticide spray or chemical additive, and while that may provide a seemingly effective and quick solution, the learned cannabis cultivator is careful to evaluate all options in pursuit of the finest flower free of any contaminants.

My first application was a healthy ladybug colony. I was not impressed with the effect and quickly found myself donning the appropriate safety equipment and spraying my plants with pesticides again (after the ladybugs had moved on). However, the lack of success was not the ladybugs’ fault, but a result of my own ignorance.

Years have passed since my first beneficial insect experiment and I now understand the intricacies of the food-soil web and the plethora of microbial life that works in concert to grow such beautiful flowers. With my continued focus on probiotic farming methods, I once again found myself evaluating the use of beneficial bugs to deal with pest issues.

I first met Shane Young, founder of the pest prevention company Natural Enemies, at The Cultivation Classic earlier this year. He was standing at his company’s booth, passionately explaining the effectiveness and benefits of beneficial insects. After checking out a few of the event speakers, I returned to pick his brain on the details of his company’s services. I asked some high-level questions, grabbed a pamphlet, and was on my way.

A few weeks later, I ran into Shane again at the CannaGrow Expo in San Diego. This time, he was hosting a session on biological pest management. Perfect! I attentively listened as he explained the variations in species and the importance of selecting one based on one’s specific environmental variables. Humidity and temperature play a particularly important role in which species will thrive. I learned about the importance of proper application numbers and timing to effectively combat issues. And most important, I realized that biological pest management was a preventative approach. It required the counterintuitive action of applying (good) bugs before you get (bad) bugs.

I was sold. After consulting with Shane regarding my environment specifics, I placed an order of Phytoseiulus Persimilis, a predatory mite, to deal with an existing spider mite infestation. They were delivered overnight direct from the insectary and came packaged with cold packs in order to ensure they arrived in a dormant state. I opened the package, exposing the containers to the ambient temperatures and acclimating them to the environment. Then came the fun part….

I watched in delight over the next week as the P. persimilis feasted on their natural prey. Interestingly, after chatting with Shane, I learned that they feed in cycles. After they had their fill, they’d take a siesta and become inactive for a day or so. The spider mites would come back to some extent before the P. persimilis woke up to eat again. This cycle continued for longer than expected, at which point we determined that we had introduced enough to manage my spider mite population, but not eradicate it. Regardless, I was impressed and ready to take a more preventative approach on my next run, when I had more control over timing, because at this point the plants were already mid-flower. Towards later flowering, I was also the victim of a fungus gnat outbreak—always quarantine your dirt!—and so I knew I had to deal with that as well.

About three weeks later, I was ready to inoculate my new round of plants in preparation for flowering. Shane and the team at Natural Enemies recommended that I introduce Dalotia (Atheta) Coriaria, a flying, soil-dwelling beetle, to deal with my fungus gnats, and Amblyseius Andersoni, a predatory mite that attacks a variety of spider and russet mites (also Thrips).

I am currently starting day 31 of flower and I am happy to report that I have not seen a single gnat nor spider mite web. I have not used any sprays or other additives to deal with my issues. I have an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) foliar regimen that I typically follow, but I also decided to halt those applications in order to observe how the beneficials work on their own. Recently, I noticed light spotting on some upper leaves, which may indicate a minor spider mite population, but nothing like my prior problems—and I was using pesticide sprays then!

Also, it's important to note that I only applied beneficials ONCE during transplant into flower. It is typically recommended that predatory mites be re-applied every two weeks until flower formation begins. Based on my findings, I have no doubt as to the efficacy of biological pest management. Not to mention, it's considerably safer and less labor intensive than traditional pesticide treatment methods.

With the influx of pesticide based recalls and the constantly changing regulatory guidelines/testing requirements, beneficial insects will become a critical part of any cultivator’s operation. As a commercial operator, the labor, safety, and overall product quality benefits of a biological pest management regimen make it a no-brainer. I look forward to it becoming standard practice and the eventual elimination of pesticide and fungicide use during the cultivation of amazing medicine.

Drew Harding
Cannabis enthusiast, writer, and cultivator.
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