I often get asked, when mentioning biologicals and their benefits to a farmer or gardener I meet, “What are biologicals?”. Many farmers and gardeners are not aware of biologicals it seems and even less so aware of the massive benefits we can get from a properly put together biological production programme that helps address your particular ‘pain-points’.
Put in simplest terms, biologicals are beneficial fungi, bacteria and naturally occurring plant compounds that are used in a targeted way to boost plant growth and reproductive characteristics and control pests and disease so that we can better achieve our production and market objectives whether we are gardeners, cut-flower growers, market gardeners or farmers selling for market.
Biologicals offer us so much more than conventional agrochemicals. Why? Because, if used correctly, there are so many indirect benefits bring, that is over and above their direct benefits. Such benefits include greater plant tolerance to heat and cold stress, to greater vegetative growth over certain phases of plant development and greater levels of beneficial microbial activity in our soils. One of the greatest advantages that many biologicals offer is a shortened or in most cases zero withholding period because they leave no harmful residues on the plant after treatment.
So now that I hopefully have your attention, how do you get started with biologicals?
To help guide you, I have tried my best to put into terms that are understandable and where the benefits to the user, soils and plant are clear.
Tip #1: Boost your soil health
It is important to remember that healthy plants are able to defend themselves against pests and disease. Unhealthy plants that are not thriving tend to attract insects and pests. Growing a healthy plant or crop outdoors (i.e. not in a hydroponic system) means, firstly, investing in soil health. Soils are naturally packed with microbes (bacteria and fungi) that live in symbiosis (a mutually beneficial relationship). Often when using conventional chemicals and fertilizers we can harm these soil microbe populations creating an imbalanced, unhealthy system. There are various ways to boost soil health and the final approach one takes is really dependent on the base you are starting from and the time you need to get results. To boost soil health you essentially need two main ingredients:
Good quality soil inoculants (beneficial bacteria and fungi) to promote the development of healthy root systems; and
Nutrients to support and feed the important and beneficial soil microbes and the plant. These could include things like high quality compost, humic acid (humate granules), fulvic acid, enriched organic and pure organic fertilizers.
At Vuna Agri we've found that improving soil health is by far the cheapest way to produce healthy plants that require less above-ground management and protection. Soil health is a topic that warrants further discussion and I will put together a more detailed post covering this aspect in greater detail in future.
Our products that boost soil health: have a look at our 'Inoculant' and 'Soil conditioner' range of products for a great selection of products that can really make a difference in your garden, smallholding or farm.
Tip #2: Optimize vegetative growth
Biological products applied at the right time and in the right quantities can boost the vegetative growth stage of plants dramatically. In particular, a naturally occurring plant compound called Triacontanol helps optimize the process of photosynthesis in the plant leaf to induce more rapid growth at less cost. Products that contain fish or protein hydrolysate and kelp are also well known for boosting plant growth during vegetative growth stages although they work in slightly different ways. Fish and protein hydrolysate provide the plant and also soil microbes with essential amino acids and lipids which boosts growth. Kelp contains auxins and cytokinins (phytohormones) which promote cell division in plant roots and shoots. Products that stimulate plant and crop growth are commonly referred to as 'Biostimulants'. It is worth exploring this concept in greater detail as there are times, particularly in a commercial production system when it pays to use various biostimulants to achieve desired results.
Our products that contain Triacontanol: V12 Shoot, V12 Multi
Our products that contain fish/protein hydrolysate and/or kelp: FPH 2-3-0, V12 Multi, V12 Initiate, V12 Shoot, V12 Fruit, Nature Gro, Nature Plus, Introcel range
Tip #3: Protect your plants, let nature fight nature
It goes without saying that pests and disease can be a massive problem under any type of production system, big or small. You will find that boosting soil health and using biostimulants appropriately and at the right time will help you to reduce your reliance on harmful pesticides and fungicides often more easily accessible.
Fungi like Beauvaria bassiana have been around for a while and offer excellent broad-spectrum protection against common pests like White Fly, Red Spider Mite, American Bollworm and False Codling Moth. This fungus essentially binds itself to an insects cuticle, thereafter injecting enzymes to weaken the cuticle and then feeding off the insect, eventually leading to mortality after about 36-72hrs. This product leaves no residue and is, therefore, ideal for use in an organic or export oriented production system.
Another great biological pesticide is Neem oil. Neem oil is a broad spectrum bio-insecticide pressed from seeds of the Neem tree originating in India that contains the active ingredient Azadirachtin. Azadirachtin acts a repellent, an anti-feedant and an insect growth regulator. It is an incredibly safe product to use, can be applied weekly as needed and has a 1 day withholding period.
We have found excellent pest management results using a combination of Neem and Beauvaria bassiana applied together. Get in touch with us to find out more.
I look forward to sharing more information on the topic of biologicals with you in future. Please feel free to share any comments and feedback with us.