Pests and Pesticides

Can fruit crops be grown in the home garden without pesticides? The answer is yes, but fruit quantity and quality may decrease, especially in years when environmental conditions encourage disease and/or insect proliferation.

Quality fruit, similar to what is available in the supermarket, cannot easily be grown without pesticides. If you do not wish to use pesticides, you can employ many other tactics to reduce pest numbers in your fruit plantings. These are discussed in detail in the following sections. You should be aware, however, of the possibility that you will lose a significant portion of your crop to insects and disease.

A pest is any organism that compromises the production and/or quality of the crop being grown. For the purpose of this manual, we are referring to organisms that harm fruit crops by directly injuring either the fruit or the leaves. Pests might not seem to cause appreciable damage to plants, but they might weaken the plant and reduce its ability to survive. Many backyard fruit producers have lost fruit trees to "winter injury," when in fact the real cause was the general weakening of the plant from pest assault. Pests generally are classified as either insects, diseases, weeds, nematodes, or vertebrates (rodents or deer, for example), and will be discussed in this manual. For example, Controlling Wildlife Damage in the Home Fruit Garden deals specifically with controlling fruit damage caused by wildlife.

The first step in managing pests is careful observation. Develop a habit of observing your plants regularly, and daily if possible. Look at the blossoms, fruit, upper and lower surfaces of the leaves, new shoot growth, and general color and angle of the leaves. Also be aware that if you see changes in the plant, they may not be due to pests. The plant's nutrition can cause poor leaf color or unusual growth patterns, and humans can also cause damage to plants. Careful observation of the biological system that surrounds your crop plants is one of the most educational and challenging aspects of fruit production.

The conditions for insect and disease development vary from year to year and among crops. In some years, a no-pesticide strategy may work well to control pests, and there will be very little loss of yield or fruit quality. In other years, the entire harvest might be unusable due to pest damage. The following sections will explain the circumstances required for insect outbreaks and disease epidemics, as well as ways to limit their impact on harvestable fruit through both no-pesticide and pesticide control strategies.

The modern approach to managing pests is referred to as integrated pest management (IPM).

Weeds, or "plants out of place," compete with fruit crops for nutrients and water, provide a moist environment for disease organisms, and often harbor insects and small animals such as rabbits and mice.

Nematodes undoubtedly are the most numerous multicellular animals in the world. You can pick up a handful of soil almost anywhere and extract nematodes from it.

Many species of insects and mites attack various fruit crops. Fortunately, only a few are considered serious enough to prevent a good yield and high fruit quality.

Many plant diseases and insect pests survive the winter on woody plant parts, in the soil, or on weed hosts. They can live in a dormant state in dead wood, infected buds, limbs, trunks, bark on twigs, mummified fruit, decaying plant parts, leaf litter, and plant debris.

In some cases, pesticides are the only alternative in controlling pests. The pesticides cited here have moderately low mammalian toxicity and degrade soon after application.

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Pests and Pesticides

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