Author: Marco Brink @ Dank Panda With the summer grow season upon us, there is plenty of excitement to go around! At Dank Panda Farm, we are looking forward to planting some of the new genetics we have managed to get our hands on from some very talented South African breeders. More on that another time. We are also eagerly waiting to begin planting in some new areas we have been preparing since deep in the winter. There is a lot of optimism in the air, and we are determined to make this our greatest summer grow EVER!
However, it is important to remember that the warmer summer months bring their fair share of difficulties. I'm referring to the war we will all have to wage against the numerous pests and diseases we'll have to deal with in our growing environments. Dank Panda Farm is located in a summer rainfall area, so I will share our unique challenges. No two environments are the same, but by sharing our personal experiences with each other, we can all learn from one another and adapt the information to suit our own methods.
At Dank Panda, we pride ourselves on being fully organic cultivators. There are a host of reasons why we chose this approach, and I hope to delve into these choices with all of you at a later stage. However, regardless of your cultivating style, it is critical to have a solid IPM strategy. It can be the difference between a disastrous season or an excellent bumper crop.

What is IPM
IPM, or Integrated Pest Management, is self-explanatory. It is the principle that there is no one "silver bullet" miracle cure-all that will ensure the health of your crop. Instead, it is a strategic grouping of principles; if followed consistently and with routine, it will help you fight against pests and diseases. The rules of IPM are:

Scouting or observing our plants is a daily occurrence, and I spend most of my day working with my plants, either with defoliation work, watering, training, etc. You really get to know your plants intimately, and this is the best opportunity to get to see your plants. Knowing your girls when they are healthy will help you immediately recognise when they are under insect attack and/or stress.
When working with your crop, try to get in really close. Inspect the tops and bottoms of the leaves. Pay close attention to any visible damage to the leaves. Different insects damage leaves in different ways. A caterpillar will eat the leaf, leaving visible bite/tear marks in a leaf, whilst a thrips beetle leaves small silver sting marks on the leaf. Most often, you will see the damage an insect makes before you see the insect itself. Most insects are active in the cooler night-time temperatures and go into hiding during the day. Try inspecting the underside of the leaves to find sneaky hiding places.

By scouting your garden at least once a week, you will have a better chance of catching a problem before it becomes a crisis. It can also be beneficial to use sticky pheromone traps. These are yellow or blue sticky pieces of cardboard that you can hang in your environment. It is purely used for scouting and will help you trap and identify the pest.

Be proactive
As part of a solid IPM strategy, developing a plan for pesticide and fungicide applications is vital. One that works well for Dank Panda is:

  1. Maintenance – Think of this as giving your plants vitamins to maintain their health. Insects will rarely attack a plant that is in good health. I mix a solution of indigenous micro-organisms with a wetter/sticker, and I apply this to my crops every Monday and Thursday evening. Not only is this a tremendous foliar feed for my crop, but the addition of the wetter/sticker makes the plant undesirable to the insect. Introducing the micro-organism to the plant also helps minimise risks of various mildews and Botrytis, aka bud rot. (A wetter is the liquid we mix the micro-organisms into, and the sticker is the product that ensures that the product sticks to the plants and is not washed off)
  2. Infestation – It is inevitable. Especially after a few wet rainy days. This creates the perfect environment for insects and disease pressures to overwhelm your crop. This is when you need a more robust approach. A once-off spray with a scouting session a few days later will often be enough to get your garden back under control.
  3. Emergency – If the situation doesn't improve, a higher dose of the last application is usually needed. But caution should be practised, as this concentration will put the crop into shock too. But very often, they bounce back.
Companion planting
This is already a practice common to many of us. Companion plants are amazing! Some feed our crop, some repel insects, while others attract insects away from our crop. Many are really pretty and contribute to making a beautiful working environment. I recently took it one step further and have begun making foliar sprays from certain plants on my property. Rosemary boiled with chillies is an excellent pest repellant, as are the green berries from the syringa tree. Find ways to use what nature gives you to assist you in your garden.

Beneficial insects and animals
I keep certain parts of my garden filled with plants and herbs that attract predatory insects. Ladybirds and lacewings are two popular insects that are easy to host in the garden. Some garden shops have started selling predator wasps which are brutally successful against Aphids, while chickens and runner ducks are awesome in an established garden to combat slugs and snails.

A poor IPM strategy can wreck your season. After all the time, effort and money spent on your grow, can you really afford not to take the time to get this right?

Trailblazing Partners - Issue 6


Foreword - Issue 6


Issue 6 - Cover

Issue 6 - Cultivation