I don’t know about you, but there is no way in hell we are using any type of chemical pesticides on our market farm.

In fact, the main reason we are starting our market garden is to get away from pesticides and grow healthy, delicious, nutritious veggies that do not contain chemicals.

We are going to learn from our friend and author of Sustainable Market Farming, Pam Dawling all about Biointensive Integrated Pest Management (IPM) so that we can develop our skills and NEVER have to resort to using chemical pesticides.

Biointensive Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

IPM is a systematic approach to pest management that tailors strategies for each situation.

The goal is to reduce pest damage of crops to an economically viable level while minimizing the risks associated with chemical pesticides.

This approach considers the effects of pesticides in not just the crops and workers but also the water environment. 

Organic and sustainable farmers who use biointensive IPM go further in avoiding the use of all synthetic pesticides. 

They focus on restoring and enhancing natural balance and resilience in agriculture to create healthy plants and soil that are better able to withstand attacks.

Biointensive IPM includes controlling pests by physical and mechanical means (preventing the pest from reaching the crop, or removing the pest from the crop), and incorporates environmental quality and food safety as both ecological and economic factors in farming decisions.

Four Steps of IPM

There are four steps to IPM, which is the mnemonic PAMS:

Prevention, Avoidance, Monitoring, and Suppression.

Each pest is different, prevention alone, or prevention and avoidance may be enough action.

If the trouble is likely to be worse, monitoring is used to assess if and when the action level has been reached and suppression is needed.

Certified Organic producers are required by the National Organic Program (NOP) regulation to use multiple prevention and avoidance strategies before using any suppression strategy (and then to only use approved inputs).


Start with your yearly plan to focus on preventative strategies and minimize opportunities for pests to get out of control. 

Preventative actions are also known as cultural controls.

They include:

  • Caring for the soil, in order to grow strong plants better able to fend off an attack.
  • Regularly add organic matter of different types to enhance the biological, physical, and chemical properties of the soil.
  • Use a diversity of cover crops, keeping the soil covered with growing plants or crop residues whenever possible.
  • Minimize soil compaction and hardpan layers.
  • Adjust soil pH to suit the crops being grown.
  • Planting resistant, pest tolerant, regionally adapted varieties when possible.
  • Growing strong plants by careful spacing, planting at the right time, providing optimum water and nutrients, managing weeds to reduce competition for nutrients, and improving airflow.
  • Maintaining good sanitation of equipment and clothing.
  • Promptly removing and destroying pest infected plants.
  • Ensuring that transplants are pest-free before planting out.


After growing the healthiest plants possible, the next stage is taking action to reduce the chances of a specific pest taking over. 

These actions are also known as physical controls.

All these methods reduce problems without adding any new compounds into the soil: 

  • Use good crop rotations so that it’s hard for pests in the soil to find a new host crop.
  • Plant successions of the same crop at a distance from each other, and harvest the newer crop before the older one to minimize transfer of pests to the new plantings.
  • Remove pest habitat, by mowing, pruning, clearing debris, grazing with livestock, hand weeding, or flaming.
  • Use organic mulches.
  • Reflective plastic mulch can be used or those of a certain colour to deter other pests.
  • Use deterrents such as garlic spray or hot pepper spray against rabbits; soap bars against deer.
  • Grow transplants in a protected greenhouse and plant out once the starts are large enough to withstand most pests.
  • Use row covers to physically exclude pests.
  • Polyethylene sheeting can be used as well.
  • Use netting.
  • Collars around each transplant to repel cutworms and cabbage root flies can be used.
  • Practice mixed plantings to maximize the diversity of insects and other beneficial organisms.
  • Use hedgerows, field borders, and sections of planting beds for farmscaping to attract beneficial insects.
  • Provide habitat for bats, insectivorous birds, spiders, birds of prey, and rodent eating ground predators, for example, snakes and bobcats.
  • Plant perimeter trap crops to lure pests from the food crop. Destroying the trap crop in a timely way, before the pests move on to the food crop, is an essential part of this strategy.
  • Physically remove pests, by hand-picking, spraying with a strong water spray, flaming, vacuuming, or by using a leaf blower to blow bugs into a collecting scoop.
  • Solarize soil in the summer to kill soil-dwelling past, as well as diseases. Cover cultivated damp soil with clear plastic for 4 to 8 weeks in high summer, during which time the area is out of production.


Just because a pest appears does not mean that you have to kill it. 

The ‘action level’ (or economic threshold) will be the point at which the losses from the pest warrant the time, money, and ecological disruption needed to apply control measures.

The following monitoring practices are crucial in determining your action level:

  • Make a habit of walking the fields regularly (daily or weekly) to scout for trouble as well as for natural enemies of pests.
  • Learn to recognize kinds of all bugs and understand their life cycles and enemies.
  • Record what you find where and when. Take a hand lens. Use a red LED lamp for night time scouting. Monitor the results of any measures previously taken.
  • Scout vulnerable crops frequently at critical times.
  • Take a picture or capture insects you are unsure about and identify them from websites or books such as Whitney Cranshaw’s Garden Insects of North America.
  • Use phenology to predict the likely arrival of key pests. Phenology is the study of seasonal and yearly variations in climate by recording regular plant and animal life cycle events each year. A visible change can be used as an indicator that another species is also likely to be changing.
  • Consult weather forecasting as it helps determine when pest outbreaks are more likely.
  • Set traps and lures, for example, sticky traps and pheromone traps. Usually, these will not significantly reduce the pest population but are useful for indicating whether or not a certain pest is on your farm so that other measures can begin as early as possible.
  • Practice good record-keeping. Record the pest name and population, date, which field, which input (if any), the relative success of the action, date repeated, equipment used, clean up method, comparison with methods used previously, and overall evaluation.
  • Keep learning, and applying what you learn.

“Never make the same mistake two years in a row.”

bat house


When the established action level for a particular pest has been reached, and prevention and avoidance strategies have been exhausted, biological, microbial, botanical, and mineral control measures can be used to reduce or eliminate that pest or its impact while minimizing environmental risks.

There are five types of control measures to choose from:

1. Biological Controls: This involves either introducing beneficial predators or parasites of the pest species or working to boost populations of existing resident predators and parasites.

2. Microbial Controls: Microbial controls refer to the use of fungi, bacteria, and viruses to kill pests.

3. Botanical Controls: These involve using plant-based products for pest control. For example neem oil, which degrades in UV light in 4 to 8 days and must be reapplied if the organisms are still around. 

4. Inorganic (mineral) Controls: Inorganic controls are also known as biorational disease controls, and make use of oils and soaps.

It’s important to note that many of these controls are not approved for organic use so do your research before using them.

5. Synthetic/Chemical Controls: These are not allowed on USDA certified organic,  transitioning to organic, or Certified Naturally Grown farms and cannot be used on biointensive or sustainable farms.  Pesticides are used as an absolute last resort for farmers when all else fails and they’re trying to recover some crops so they can survive.

Non-insect Pests

Let’s not forget vertebrate pests.

Vertebrate pests include mammals such as deer, rabbits, groundhogs, armadillos, and voles, as well as birds such as pheasants, pigeons, and crows.

Physical barriers, strong deterrents such as vigilant dogs or cats, and hunting are the three main options for dealing with vertebrate pests. 

Bottom Line

Try not to get overwhelmed with all of this information, especially if you are a new market farmer (like us!) and you are trying to be as informed as possible when the growing season starts. 

What I have learned from doing all this research is that planning, good record-keeping, and vigilance are key factors to a successful growing season. 

Being as informed as possible and planning as much as you can will help you avoid the use of chemical pesticides on your market farm.

Of course, mistakes will be made and things will be missed. Accept the fact that it’s going to happen! All we can do is rectify our mistakes as quickly as possible and do better the next year.

Do you have any pest-deterrent tips you would like to share? Please leave your comments down below.

Stay Local,

Kathy & Jon

your friendly neighbourhood growers



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