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Pest & Weed Control

Part of "Growing Food"



Insects are a fact of life on any farm. Some insects are beneficial—they prey on the other bugs and provide valuable pollination. But other insects pose a threat, damaging the appearance and edibility of fruits and vegetables, with the potential for destroying a crop in a very short time. While toxic pesticides have been used frequently to eliminate pests in the past, homesteaders and home gardeners are increasingly turning to more natural approaches to reduce and control pests.  


According to The Rodale Institute, a leader in organic agriculture education, the first line of defense against non-beneficial insects is prevention. The goal is to create strong plants that are resilient to pest pressure


Farmers can encourage populations of natural predators and beneficial insects such as ladybugs. Other strategies include crop rotations and selection of pest-resistant varieties of crops. 


When pests become a more serious problem, organic farmers have used pheromones to disturb pest mating cycles, or mechanical controls like trapping. When all other methods have been exhausted and a farmer is faced with a potential significant loss, targeted sprays of organic-approved pesticides may be used. Broad sprays of non-specific pesticides are always a last resort.

Chemical pesticides pollute our air and water. They can kill good bugs and insects, too, destroying biodiversity in a way that has a ripple effect on ecosystems throughout the farm. Organic pest management is a more holistic approach. Organic farmers implement many strategies, including those mentioned above, to reduce the use and consequences of chemical pesticides and promote a farm system that works in harmony with nature. The result is reduced cost, stronger plants, healthier wildlife, and a cleaner environment for everyone.




A weed is any plant that grows where it is not wanted. A primary reason weeds are unwanted in our gardens is that they compete with our cultivated plants for water, light and nutrients. Weeds have adapted to grow in an area without our assistance and without attention. Because of this they can out-compete cultivated plants because weeds can grow more rapidly and produce a lot of seed more quickly.

However, while weeds can cause problems they can also sometimes be helpful. Weeds can protect topsoil from erosion, provide shade and protection for understory plants or young seedlings, and provide green matter and root systems that can enrich the soil. In those situations, if we don’t view the plants as weeds, and if they aren't causing major damage in the garden, then we might not have a problem. 

This segment is an introduction to integrated pest and weed management methods that encourage healthy soil and ecosystems that foster balance and minimize commercial or synthetic chemical inputs. This segment links to resources that will help you diagnose problems as well as tackle insect and weed pressure.   

Useful Links:
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Why a more organic approach to pest control is better for the soil, air and water, with links. From the Rodale Institute.

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UH Mānoa publication with photos of common weeds in Hawai‘i and 5 recommended 

organic weed management practices.

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Straightforward guide to pest identification, insect categories, pest behavior and numerous suggestions for chemical-free pest control. From UH Mānoa CTAHR.

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Pest & Disease Control in Self-Sustaining Large-Scale
Growing Systems

Most relevant for larger scale land, this publication discusses intercropping, crop rotation, mulches and more for healthy growing systems.

> Back to Course 4: Growing Food

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