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Sharon Kitchens

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse. In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more. Sharon can be contacted at or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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The Root with Sharon Kitchens
Posted: April 25, 2013

The Employment of Pesticides: Management and Application

Big box store pesticides aisle (photo by Sharon Kitchens).

Nothing about pesticides is easy. Between the drug corporations that produce pesticides, the regulators, scientists, and environmental groups there is a lot of information out there about pesticides, and not all of it is credible. This doesn’t even touch on the extensive amount of information people pass on to each other without any direct experience or real knowledge. Then there is the intimidation factor. Whether synthetic, non-synthetic, or organic pesticides can be pretty intimidating. I don’t know about you, but when I have to don protective gear to apply something and there is a label with a skull and crossbones warning about what levels are safe…well that’s all a bit disconcerting to me. Today’s Root post is going to dig into important information intended to help you safely manage in as eco/human friendly way as possible pesticides. I will not be addressing specific products, their efficacy, or application requirements. I will not be weighing in on synthetic vs. organic. At the end of this post I provide a Resources section with a list of persons/agencies qualified to answer many of the questions you might have about specific pests and pesticides. Okay, let’s dig in.

Before using a pesticide: evaluate the situation, know the pest, take measurements (how much area needs treatment), choose products wisely, read the entire label before purchasing, follow instructions (i.e. do you need to wear/use personal protective equipment), look for sensitive sites (pet bowls, laundry), watch the wind and temperature. (Tips provided by University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program.)

In addition to the above, check out these tips provided by the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC is a cooperative agreement between Oregon State University and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

Strategy Number One: Correctly Identify Your Problem (Disease, Pest) Start here (especially if you are in Maine) at the Got pests? site.

“Pests can be insects, weeds, fungi, mice and other animals, or microorganisms, like bacteria and viruses. Before you swat, stamp, or spray, know your enemy and, most importantly, know that it is an enemy, and not a beneficial or harmless plant or animal.” – Got Pests? site.

The goal of Got Pests? is to provide a way for homeowners to quickly identify pest problems and obtain information on least-risk management options. The site also provides a detailed list of experts who can be contacted for assistance. Maine Board of Pesticides Control, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Pest Management Office, Maine Department of Agriculture, Maine Forest Service, and Maine Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Council collaborated to produce the site.

The University of Maine’s Insect and Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab (IPDDL) operates year-round and offers diagnostic services to the public. The clinic’s services include plant disease identification, insect and insect injury identification, and nutritional and cultural problem assessment. Inquiries arrive in the form of walk-ins, phone calls, e-mails (especially now that smartphones have cameras w/ good photo quality), and regular mail. Plant diagnostics submission forms can be found here.

Additional sources for disease identification (these are ones I checked out, there are likely many more).

James Dill, a Pest Management specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said due to climate change, Maine is warming up and he is seeing an increase of new pests in Maine (as well as a migration of pests from southern to northern Maine). Examples of new pests in Maine include the (dreaded!!) Spotted Wing Drosophila (info here and here).

Other insects, including the Asian Longhorned Beetle, are practically knocking on Maine’s door. For a list and illustrations of invasive threats to Maine’s forests and trees (including those in your backyard) visit here.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM): Think First- Spray Last

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. In practicing IPM, growers who are aware of the potential for pest infestation follow a four-tiered approach: Set Action Thresholds, Monitor and Identify Pests, Prevention, and Control. Here is a link to Maine’s Integrated Pest Management Programs for apples, blueberries, cranberries, home & garden, potatoes, strawberries, and sweet corn. The Home & Garden IPM from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension is here.

Clay Kirby, an entomologist with University of Maine Extension, advises considering pesticides as a last resort after exhausting non-pesticide options. He also suggests contacting pesticide toxicologist, Lebelle Hicks (287-2731), Maine Board of Pesticides Control, to help you in your pesticide risk assessment.

This article “Think First…Spray Last” by Gary Fish, Environmental Specialist Maine Board of Pesticides Control provides a checklist of considerations before using a pesticide.

Henry Jennings, the Director of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, encourages finding our more about the lowest risk strategy by using the best available science. “The simple answer is to rely on university research, because universities aren’t out to make money through their recommendations,” said Jennings. “Since conditions and pests vary by climate and geography, look for university recommendations from your geographical area. For instance, there are a series of university developed New England Pest Management Guides, and these will almost always contain the most relevant information.”

“Certain universities tend to specialize in different areas,” said Jennings. “Purdue is known for structural pests (e.g. pests in and around your home). Cornell has a renowned agricultural program, U Mass has the best turf program in New England, and the Maine Forest Service does a nice job with pests of trees. “

For additional information on turf management, Jennings sent me this paper on “Management of Turf Using ‘Low-Impact’ Pesticides” from Rutgers Center for Turfgrass Science, so that could be another academic resource.

Strategy Number Three: Read the Label

Before you purchase a pesticide, and absolutely before you use it, read the label and follow the directions. Did you know pesticide labels are legal documents? Check out these helpful tips provided by the NPIC on reading pesticide labels.

Pesticides have signal words printed on the packaging. Every pesticide product label contains a signal word – CAUTION, WARNING, or DANGER, depending upon its toxicological classification, describing the short-term toxicity of the product. Products with the DANGER signal word are the most toxic. Products with the signal word CAUTION are lower in toxicity. WARNING indicates the pesticide product is moderately toxic if eaten, absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or it causes moderate eye or skin irritation. This NPIC fact sheet on understanding pesticide label signal words answers general questions about pesticides.

According to James Dill, some products do not use a signal word anymore, i.e.  Dupont ACELEPRYN®and Scotts® GrubEx®1 (both commonly used for white grub control on lawns and turf). The active ingredient: chlorantraniliprole, is a new class of chemistry, anthranilic diamide. Clay Kirby said to his knowledge for the EPA not to assign a signal word for the mentioned products is unprecedented. Chlorantraniliprole, according to Kirby, has the potential to accumulate in soil and groundwater (therefore, New York has some restrictions on these products) and is also toxic to aquatic invertebrates, oysters and shrimp.“Because chlorantraniliprole is so highly effective against white grubs (and other pests), its use is increasing around the country,” said Kirby. “I make it a point to tell people, who are considering products for use directly on turf, to be aware of groundwater vulnerability and surface water runoff patterns that may lead to streams, ponds, and estuaries.”  

Dill explained pesticides are registered annually. He estimated about 10,000 were registered in Maine between January, 2013 and March, 2013. A big percentage of these are re-registrations from the previous year. Many seem identical at first glance various, i.e. there might be 15 containers of Raid ( home, garden, ant & roach, spider, etc.), but you have to read the label…and when you do you’ll find there are different active ingredients.

“Even though it is somewhat of a marketing ploy, they may have slightly different percentages of the same pesticide,” Dill said. “Therefore, although the active ingredients may be the same, one label may be 5% and other label 6%, etc. So they are slightly different formulations and labeled for specific sites. So, you can’t legally use the garden spray in the house and vice versa, or you’d be in violation of the label (which is a legal document).“

At some big box stores, you may find a posted flyer offering free expert advice with contact information for the Maine Board of Pesticides Control and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Insects Pests & Plant Diseases.

Types of Pesticides

According to the EPA, Pesticides are often referred to according to the type of pest they control. Chemical Pesticides, Biopesticides (certain types of pesticides derived from such natural materials as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals. For example, canola oil and baking soda have pesticidal applications and are considered biopesticides). Pest Types include: Disinfectants and Sanitizers, Fungicides, Fumigants, Herbicides, Insecticides, Miticides, Pheromones (disrupt mating behaviour), Repellents…(Mothballs are insecticides used to kill fabric pests by fumigation in sealed containers), and Defoliants. Pest Control Devices are intended for trapping, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest (a mousetrap is an example of a device).

“First of all, under both state and federal law, the definition of a “pesticide” is very broad,” said Henry Jennings, Director of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control. “It’s essentially any substance that’s used for the purpose of controlling or mitigating any pest problem. It doesn’t matter whether the product is synthetic or non-synthetic, natural, organic, food-grade substances or homemade…”

Jennings explained non-synthetic, organic and low-impact pesticides are different ways of looking at pesticides that are perceived to have lower risks than the synthetic ones. “The reality is that some synthetic products are low risk, some organic ones are low risk, and all the “low impact” ones presumably are – in general terms – low risk if applied as intended,” said Jennings.

Following Jennings definitions of different categories of (or ways of looking at) pesticides:

Synthetic: produced by way of chemical synthesis or chemical reaction. Some of these are approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) for use in organic farming, but most are not.

Non-synthetic: produced in a way that does not involve chemical synthesis. Some of these are extracted from plants, some of them are micro-organisms (Bt) and some are extracted from other sources that “naturally” occur on the planet, but no chemical synthesis is required in the production.

Organic: Approved for use in certified organic farms by OMRI. Most of these are non-synthetic, but some are not. I don’t fully understand how OMRI decides when to approve synthetic pesticides or other materials for that matter, but presumably there is an evaluation of the health and environmental risks behind it all. A review board, made up of folks with an organic background, makes these determinations. This is a research project unto itself.

Low Impact Pesticides: This is a category specific to the New Jersey School IPM law and is defined by the State of New Jersey.

For information on pesticides qualifying as “Minimum Risk Pesticides” by the Environmental Protection Agency, visit this site and then check the list of the allowed active ingredients. According to Jennings, this group of products has exploded because there are no testing requirements and they cost nothing on the research and development side. He said, states are generally upset with this exemption for a number of reasons, including:

  • The lack of scientific data on the effects
  • The claims that manufacturers are making
  • And the fact that EPA essentially failed to anticipate the ways in which these products might be used. For examples, essential oils may be relatively low risk for some uses, but aerosolizing them in large volumes appears to potentially create inhalation risks that EPA never considered. Moreover, since many of these food grade products, intuitively these appear rather harmless, until you start distributing enormous volumes of them (which is often necessary to have any effect) across the surface of the planet. The first rule toxicology is that any substance can be toxic at a certain dose, and these products need to be applied at very high doses in general.

Organic Doesn’t Always Mean Safe

Organic and “all natural” pesticides may be as toxic or more toxic to the applicator that synthetic pesticides. This fact sheet from The Xerces Society “Organic-Approved Pesticides Minimizing Risks to Pollinators” states “even pesticides approved for organic agriculture can cause significant harm to bees.”

If you want to try and avoid using chemicals (non-synthetic, low-impact, or organic), a great source of information is going to be the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). Dr. Eric Sideman, Director of Technical Services for MOFGA, is available to farmers and gardeners by phone and email. The pest reports he produces regularly during the growing season, let people know what to look for when and how to control those pests. They can be found on MOFGA’s site here. MOFGA certified farmers, and other growers may also request updates be emailed to them. Each report is on a specific pest, which plants are affected and how, and recommendations for combating the pest. Though he will recommend crop rotation, sanitation, avoiding planting in fields with lots of decaying vegetation…I did find mention of use of pesticides…

Sideman also co-authored the newly revised Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management.

Mother Earth News published this article on organic pesticides and organic gardening in 1994. It has a combination of homemade remedies and natural insecticides.

Here is a link to the USDA’s National Organic Program’s national list of allowed and prohibited substances for organic crop and livestock production.

Using Pesticides Properly

After you have confirmed the pest and the site of application, you will need to figure out how to choose the right pesticide (i.e. dry or liquid) and then how much to apply and how frequently. Effective pest control is based on pest identification, biology, and occurrence; the host organism; and timing. Purdue University’s Cooperative Extension Service produced this document “Pesticide Safety and Calibration Math for the Homeowner” to help you calculate the area to be treated.

Both state and federal pesticide statutes prohibit the application of pesticides inconsistent with the product label. (See 8 F) Maine’s statutes allow for a penalty of up to $1,500 per offense for a first offense.

Pesticide Etiquette

Clay Kirby, an entomologist with University of Maine Extension, recommends a person applying a pesticide be knowledgeable about vulnerable/sensitive areas (i.e. groundwater, surface water, abutting schools and day cares, food crops, areas that attract bees), be considerate of neighbors (especially those who are chemically sensitive, keep bees, and have strong convictions against pesticides), and mindful of the pets and farm animals.


For pesticide disposal check out this brochure.

Homemade Solutions/Home Remedies

A common question the Maine Board of Pesticides Control receives, according to Henry Jennings, involves homemade pesticides.. “Homemade pesticides are legal only for personal use, which means they must be applied by the person making the concoction, and only on that person’s property,” said Jennings. “So home gardeners are generally legally okay using homemade pesticides. It’s a little trickier with commercial farming, because once food enters into commerce, the presence of any “deleterious substance” has the potential to render the food as “adulterated” under state and federal food laws. Moreover, with the increase in food allergies, we caution growers about the potential for causing adverse reactions and the liability associated with that prospect.”

Per Bruce Watt, Plant Disease Diagnostician with University of Maine Extension, some biocontrol agents, which are most effective as preventatives, can be found in this publication. He also found this reference to use of baking soda, and this one for cow’s milk for powdery mildew control.

AppleScab (photo provided by Bruce A. Watt)

Resources (used for this article)

Henry Jennings, Director of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (public resources links)

James Dill, a Pest Management Specialist with University of Maine Extension

Clay Kirby, Associate Scientist/Entomologist with University of Maine Extension

Bruce Watt, Plant Disease Diagnostician with University of Maine Extension

(additional resources pests and pest management)

Maine State Beekeepers Association 

Northeastern IPM Center 

For more information on fruit diseases visit Penn State Extension

Power point presentations from Cornell’s 26th Annual Tomato Disease Workshop can be found here 

The 2012-2013 New England Small Fruit Pest Management Guide will be available later this spring, and usually costs around $6.00. The 2010-2011 New England Small Fruit Pest Management Guide  can be downloaded free of charge at the UMass Amherst Extension website.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Maine Vegetable & Small Fruit Growers Association will hold a Spray Calibration Clinic and Twilight Meeting for commercial growers at David Pike’s farm (Farm to You 115 Mountain View Rd., Farmington) in the afternoon and evening of May 21st.

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