Tag Archives: Gardening

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)- Rodents


A Rat In Search of Food

Integrated Pest Management is an approach to pest management designed to manage pests and diseases with as little damage as possible to people, the environment and beneficial organisms.

Farmers aim at producing high yields and profits from their crops but their efforts are reduced by pests and disease infestations and damage.

Managing any vertebrate pest requires a preventative approach and with mice and rats, it begins prior to harvest. Even if rodent activity appears lower, preventative management still needs to be considered to prevent future damage.

The Types of Damage Caused by Rodents

  • Loss of volume or weight due to their feeding
  • Loss in quality caused by droppings, urine, and hairs
  • Damage to containers such as bags, that results in spillage
  • Health hazards to people who handle the stored products, certain species of mice and rats are carriers of diseases such as plague, weil’s disease (Leptospiral jaundice) rat-bite fever, and salmonella.

While they are different species of rodents with slightly different habitats, the management approach for all is the same. All mice and rats in storage facilities can cause a significant amount of damage.  Nearby corn or soybean fields can provide a fall food source for mice and rats that will then move into the storage facility or the barn.

Controlling vertebrate pests requires multiple approaches, which in general include exclusion, habitat modification, repellents, trapping and rodenticides. In an open and large scale commercial setting, exclusion, trapping or repellents are not effective. This leaves habitat manipulation and rodenticides, and both are needed for a successful mice and rats abatement program.

Habitat modification such as a close mowing of grass in row middles and ditches late in the fall provides a two-fold management purpose – reduce favorable habitat for mice activity and expose rodents more readily to predators that help with population management. Cleaning up fencerows to reduce habitat is also needed.

Rodenticides are another approach in management programs, as they provide the quickest and most practical means of bringing large populations of mice and rats under control. Bait should be applied when dry and fair weather is predicted for at least three days. If there is a great deal of alternate food (fallen mangoes in a block or nearby field corn), baiting might need to be done more than once to be most effective. If mice and rat populations are very high, a second rodenticide application might be needed. As with any pest management program, but especially when using rodenticides, the risks to non-target organisms needs to be taken into account and prevented.

Dry Farming


Fields in the Palouse, Washington State

Dryland farming and dry farming are agricultural techniques for non-irrigated cultivation of crops. Dryland farming is associated with drylands; dry farming is often associated with areas characterized by a cool wet season followed by a warm dry season.

Dry farming is not to be confused with rainfed agriculture. Rainfed agriculture refers to crop production that occurs during a rainy season. Dry farming, on the other hand, refers to crop production during a dry season, utilizing the residual moisture in the soil from the rainy season, usually in a region that receives 20” or more of annual rainfall. Dry farming works to conserve soil moisture during long dry periods primarily through a system of tillage, surface protection, and the use of drought-resistant varieties.

Dryland farming locations

Dryland farming is used in the Great Plains, the Palouse plateau of Eastern Washington, and other arid regions of North America such as in the South-western United States and Mexico (see Agriculture in the Southwestern United States and Agriculture in the prehistoric Southwest), the Middle East and in other grain growing regions such as the steppes of Eurasia and Argentina. Dryland farming was introduced to southern Russia and Ukraine by Slavic Mennonites under the influence of Johann Cornies, making the region the breadbasket of Europe. In Australia, it is widely practiced in all states but the Northern Territory.

Dry farmed crops

Dry farmed crops may include grapes, tomatoes, pumpkins, beans, winter wheat, corn, beans, Sunflowers or even watermelon and other summer crops. These crops grow using the winter water stored in the soil, rather than depending on rainfall during the growing season. Dry farming process

Dry farming depends on making the best use of the “bank” of soil moisture that was created by winter rainfall. Dry farming is not a yield maximization strategy; rather it allows nature to dictate the true sustainability of agricultural production in a region. Dry farming as “a soil tillage technique, is the art of working the soil; starting as early as possible when there is a lot of moisture in the soil, working the ground, creating a sponge-like environment so that the water comes from down below, up into the sponge. You press it down with a roller or some other implement to seal the top…so the water can’t evaporate and escape out.” Some dry farming practices include:

  • Wider than normal spacing, to provide a larger bank of moisture for each plant.
  • Controlled Traffic
  • No-till/zero-till or minimum till
  • Strict weed control, to ensure that weeds do not consume soil moisture needed by the cultivated plants.
  • Cultivation of soil to produce a “dust mulch”, thought to prevent the loss of water through capillary action. This practice is controversial, and is not universally advocated.
  • Selection of crops and cultivars suited for dry farming practices.

While dry farming is not for every grower or every region, it is a promising system of crop management that offers greater crop security in times of uncertain water supply and can offer a higher-quality product.

Cropping Sytems- Agroforestry


Trees being used as a Windbreak

Cropping System

A cropping system mainly refers to the way a crop is grown, arrangement in the field and frequency of production. Different cropping systems and practices are used in the production of crops depending on location, preference, skill and financial capacity.



 Agroforestry is the intentional mixing of trees and shrubs into crop and animal production systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits.

 The foundation of agroforestry is putting trees to work in conservation and production systems for farms, forests, ranches, and communities. Agroforestry begins with placing the right plant, in the right place, for the right purpose.

Agroforestry is a unique land management approach that provides opportunities to integrate productivity and profitability with environmental stewardship, resulting in healthy and sustainable agricultural systems that can be passed on to future generations.

Agroforestry technologies, when used appropriately, help attain sustainable agricultural land-use systems in many ways. Specifically, agroforestry technologies:

  • Provide protection for valuable topsoil, livestock, crops, and wildlife.
  • Increase productivity of agricultural and horticultural crops.
  • Reduce inputs of energy and chemicals.
  • Increase water use efficiency of plants and animals.
  • Improve water quality.
  • Diversify local economies.
  • Enhance biodiversity and landscape diversity.
  • Reconnect agriculture, people, and communities.

Agroforestry technologies ultimately enhance the quality of life for people. Common cropping systems used in agroforestry includes the following:

  1. Field, farmstead, and livestock windbreaks.
  2. Riparian forest buffers along waterways.
  3. Silvopasture systems with trees, livestock, and forages growing together.
  4. Alley cropping or hedge row cropping– a system where dense hedges of multipurpose (usually leguminous) trees are grown in rows between wider strips of annual crops. The hedges are prunned occasionally to provide mulch and organic matter. The main aim in alley cropping is to improve yields by adding nutrients from the organic matter and nitrogen fixation.
  5. Contour vegetation strip- This system is mainly employed on slopes where rows of trees are interspaced with wider strips of crops. The main aim in this system is to control erosion.
  6. Forest farming– where food, herbal (botanicals), and decorative products are grown under the protection of a managed forest canopy.

Disadvantages of Agroforestry

  • Needs some skill to carry out
  • Trees may harbour pests and diseases
  • Trees may compete with crops if not well spaced

There is a significant opportunity to apply agroforestry practices to address challenges such landscape-scale conservation, climate change, clean and abundant water for communities, biomass energy, and sustainable agriculture. Integrated into individual farm operations and watersheds, agroforestry practices can create and enhance certain desirable functions and outcomes essential for sustainability. The effective application of agroforestry requires leadership and teamwork and its partners in both: (1) developing agroforestry science and tools and (2) delivering agroforestry assistance to the owners/managers of working farms, woodlands, ranches, and communities. Both are essential if we are to realize the many benefits of this unique approach to land management.

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Pros and Cons of Organic Farming


Some of the Crops Grown Organically at a Farmers Market in Munich

What is Organic Farming?
Organic farming is a technique used in farming without the use of any chemicals or synthetics. Its aim is to produce crops which have the highest nutritional values with least impact on nature. Crop rotation, green manure, use of natural fertilizers and biological pest control form the crux of organic farming. It is a proactive ecology management strategy. This strategy enhances the fertility of the soil, prevents soil erosion and at the same time protects the humans and animal kingdom from the side-effects of chemicals and synthetics. Many of the farm products, like, vegetables, fruit, herbs, meat, milk, eggs, etc. are produced organically by some farmers.

“Organic” as defined by law, implies quality assurance. The words “natural” and “eco-friendly” mean that organic farming techniques might have been used, but it does not necessarily mean completely following organic techniques.

Pros and Cons of Organic Farming
Like everything else, organic farming also has its pros and cons…
The most important of the advantages of organic farming is that it maintains the life of the soil, not only for the current generation, but also for the future generations. Water pollution is reduced with organic farming. Most of the time after it rains, the water from the fields, which contains chemicals, gets drained into the rivers. This pollutes the water bodies. In organic farming, since no chemicals or synthetics are used, water pollution reduces as well.

Organic farming helps in building richer soil. Rich soil is obtained by intelligently rotating crops. The rich soil helps in plant growth. The rate of soil erosion is reduced drastically. A French study has revealed that the nutritional quality and micro-nutrients are present in higher quantities in organically produced crops. The micro-nutrients promote good health. Organically grown food tastes better too. The overall cost of cultivating the crops reduces as the farmers use green manure or worm farming to replenish the lost nutrients of the soil. The other option that the farmers use, is to grow legumes in rotation with other crops. The life of organically grown plants is longer than the plants cultivated by traditional methods. Organically grown crops are more drought tolerant. The chemical fertilizers cause the plant to ripen fast. When the crop does not get water it withers and dies, which is not the case with organic crops.

Along with the pros, there are certain cons too. The first disadvantage is low productivity. With the highly developed chemicals and machinery, the farmer is able to multiply his harvest manifold times. The organic farmers use the cultivation method as opposed to drilling method used by the traditional farmers. The cultivated soil is prone to wind and water erosion. The traditional farmers opine that direct drilling does not cause any disharmony in the soil structure. The next argument is that the organically produced food is expensive. The cost is very often 50-100 percent more than the traditional food. The other valid argument is that organic food is not always available. There is a reason behind that. The organic farmers grow crops in accordance to the season. Neither do they artificially grow any crop nor do they extend the life of the plant or use chemicals, synthetics or pesticides. Therefore, oranges will be found only in winter and mangoes only in summer. Looking at it from the health benefits point of view, there is no doubt that you will benefit if you eat a particular food item, when it is actually in season.

After weighing the pros and cons of organic farming, it is noticed that the pros outweigh the cons. It is therefore best to consume organically grown food, although it is expensive.

What Constitute a Vegetable, Herb or Fruit?

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We have all come across these terms. And frankly speaking, they can be confusing. For example, the tomato can sometimes be considered a bit of both fruit and vegetable and some books consider a banana herb and not a fruit. But is there a clear cut definition?

Botanically speaking, anything that bears a seed or is a seed is considered a fruit. There are different kinds of fruit, i.e. nuts are a kind of fruit.  Vegetables are any part of the plant that doesn’t have to do with making new plants. Lettuce is a leaf, carrot is a root, and celery is a stem.  I think I heard a story of how the legal definition of a fruit vs. veggie was established as a way of avoiding taxes or tariffs or something.

Technically, a tomato is a berry.  Just for further enjoyment, an apple is a fluid-filled hypanthium.  🙂 The particular item you are discussing will determine the specific best term to describe it. Generally you can safely call the product of fertilization a “fruit”.  (In the supermarket we routinely call the structure bearing fruits “fruit”). Generally fruits will germinate into plants which will again flower, offering another opportunity for fertilization. (Note that bananas we find in the store bear tiny almost-remnants of seeds which will not germinate…in the wild, banana “fruits” have seeds (fruits, being the products of fertilization) which are much larger which will germinate).  If one discusses a part of a plant which is not the direct product of fertilization or the structure bearing it, then one could safely call the item an herb.  For example, basil leaves are vegetative structures not specifically the result of fertilization and are most easily described as herbs. We do not have an adequate definition for ‘vegetable’, but our feeling for its routine meaning is any part of a plant consumed whether a stem (celery), a leaf (lettuce), a root or tuber (radish, or potato, respectively), and in some cases the fruit of fertilization or structures bearing them (cucumbers, yes-tomatoes).  Added to this are items such as mushrooms (basidiocarps of fungi) and you get the idea….the term vegetable has come to mean almost anything which is not animal or mineral which we find in the ‘produce’ section of the supermarket.  Thus, the term vegetable has somewhat lost a botanical usefulness in that there are more specific terms to use depending on the particular structure being discussed. Note that there are specific botanical definitions for berries which can be found in any good plant classification text; you can see this is essential, for example, in distinguishing between raspberries, blueberries, and tomatoes (also berries). We hope this shed some light on the challenge of plant classification and gives some insight as to why scientific names were established to pin down a particular organism to prevent confusion with many common names or possibly similar terms for different organisms.

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The transplanting process can be a shock to rapidly growing seedlings especially when set out into the cold windy garden in the spring. This is especially true for transplants started in the greenhouse, cold frame, hotbed or home. These young seedlings can be made somewhat resistant to heat, cold temperatures, drying and whipping winds, certain types of insect injury, injury from blowing sand and soil particles and low soil moisture by a process termed “hardening.”
The term “hardening” refers to any treatment that results in a firming or hardening of plant tissue. Such a treatment reduces the growth rate, thickens the cuticle and waxy layers, reduces the percentage of freezable water in the plant and often results in a pink color in stems, leaf veins and petioles. Such plants often have smaller and darker green leaves than non hardened plants. Hardening results in an increased level of carbohydrates in the plant permitting a more rapid root development than occurs in non hardened plants.
Cool-season flower and vegetable plants can develop hardiness allowing them to withstand subfreezing temperatures. Unhardened cabbage seedlings have been reported to be damaged by temperatures of -2 degrees C (28 degrees F) while hardened cabbage will tolerate temperatures as low as -6 degrees C (22 degrees F).
Warm-season types of plants even when hardened, will not withstand temperatures much below freezing. If transplanted to the garden or field prior to the average last killing spring frost, such plants should be provided protection by hot caps or other such devices.
Any of the following can be used to harden transplants. A combination of all these techniques at one time is more effective.
1. Gradually reduce water – water lightly at less frequent intervals but do not allow the plants to wilt severely.
2. Expose plants to lower temperature than is reported as optimal for their growth. If biennials are exposed to cold for an extended period, they may bolt in lieu of developing properly. Note: Placing the plants outside during the day to encourage hardening and then bringing the plants back into the warm house during the night often reverses the hardening process. Plants could be placed in a cold frame or other area that does not freeze during the night hours without lose of the hardening process.
3. Do not fertilize, particularly with nitrogen immediately before or during the hardening process. A starter solution or liquid fertilizer could however be applied to the hardened transplants one or two days prior to transplanting into the garden or at the time of transplanting.
4. Gradually expose the plants to more sunlight. This results in the development of a thicker cuticle layer thereby reducing water loss.
Hardening is not necessary for all transplants. We recommend that with the exception of tomatoes, plants that are susceptible to frost should not be hardened. Overly hardened plants while withstanding unfavorable outside conditions are slow to get started and may never overcome the stress placed on the plant during the hardening process. We also recommend that plants be hardened for no longer than seven to ten days before planting to the garden site.


Crop rotation is “The practice of alternating the annual crops grown in a specific field in a planned pattern or sequence so that the crops of the same species or family are not grown repeatedly without interruption on the same field”.
-US National Organic Program definition-

OR leaving soil in the best position it can be for continuing/next crops – that includes cover crops, rotations, green manures, catch crops etc.

Preventive Pest Management
Crop rotation may limit the growth of populations of agricultural pests including insects, nematodes, and diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi through regular interruption and replacing crop host species with different plant species that do not serve as hosts. The use of specific crop and cover crop rotations may also be used to control pests through allelopathy, an interference interaction in which a plant releases into the environment a compound that inhibits or stimulates the growth or development of other organisms.
Reduced Weed Competition
Carefully designed crop rotations may also serve to outcompete problematic weed species through shading, competition for nutrients and water, and/or allelopathy.
Distribution of Nutrient Demand Placed On Soil by Crops
Different crops place different nutrient demands on the soil.
Making Efficient Use of Nutrient Inputs
Cropping species that access nutrients from different depths within the soil horizon may make the most efficient use of nutrient inputs. Efficient use of agricultural nutrients may further prevent nutrient losses/leaching and associated environmental pollution.
Nitrogen Fixation
Annual cover crop rotations using nitrogen-fixing (legume) cover crops may contribute significant amounts of nitrogen to succeeding crops as well as adding organic matter to the soil.
Improving Soil Quality
Cover crop rotations allow soils to remain undisturbed for various periods of time during which the processes of soil aggregation can take place. The use of a perennial grass rotation lasting 6 months to one year or more may significantly contribute to organic matter accumulation, stimulate soil biological activity and diversity, and improve soil physical properties.
Increased Crop Yields
The rotation effect – Yield of crops grown in rotation are often higher than those grown in monocultures, even when both systems are supplied with abundant nutrients and water.
Growing a diversity of crops in a given year spreads out labour needs throughout a season. The diversity of crops reduces the economic risks caused by variations in climate and/or market conditions.
Rotate the location of annual crops each year. This is especially true for crops in the Solanaceae family (e.g., peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, etc.). Do not follow one crop with a closely related crop species, as pests and diseases are shared by closely related crops. When growing a wide diversity of crops, attempt to group crops into blocks according to the following criteria:
(1) Plant family
(2) Similar timing/maturation periods
(3) Type of crop (i.e., root vs. fruit vs. leaf crop)
(4) Crops with similar cultural requirements (e.g., irrigation, plastic mulch, dry farmed, planted to moisture crops, etc.)
(5) Follow nitrogen-fixing cover crops and/or legume forage crops (e.g., clover, alfalfa) with heavyfeeding crops (e.g., corn) to take advantage of nitrogen supply.
(6) Follow long-term crop rotations (e.g., 1-year perennial rye rotation or pasture rotations) with disease-sensitive crops (e.g., strawberries).
(7) In diverse annual production systems, heavy-feeding crops (crops with high nutrient demands) should be followed by medium-light or shallow-rooted crops, followed by deep-rooted crops.
(8) Always grow some crops that will produce and leave a large amount of residue/biomass that can be incorporated into the soil to help maintain soil organic matter levels.
(9) Grow deep-rooted crops (e.g., sunflower, fava beans, etc.) that may access nutrients from lower soil horizons, alleviate soil compaction, and fracture sub-soil, thus promoting water infiltration and subsequent root penetration.
(10) Use crop sequences known to aid in controlling weeds.
(11) Use crop sequences known to promote healthy crop growth (e.g., corn followed by onions followed by Cole/Brassicaceae crops) and avoid cropping sequences known to promote pests and diseases (e.g., monocultures in general or peas followed by potatoes specifically).
In conclusion, crop rotation is primarily about a cultural system that is based on natural principles. It is about building a fertile living soil and an environment that supports the healthy growth of plants and natural biological control—a situation where synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are unnecessary and even counterproductive.
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