4 Tips for Using Biocontrols in Your Cannabis Grow

Departments - Upfront | Quick Tips

From predatory insects to microbial sprays, biocontrols can help prevent problems in your cultivation facility.

September 2, 2022

Bald Peak Farm, Chalice Brands' 10,000-square-foot cultivation facility, is located in Oregon's Willamette Valley and includes three greenhouses.
Photos courtesy of Chalice Brands

Bald Peak Farm, Chalice Brands’ cultivation facility, is located 1,600 feet above sea level on the highest point of the Chehalem Mountain Range in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The 10,000-square-foot grow facility includes three greenhouses that house hundreds of plants, secluded from urban areas and farmland. At Bald Peak Farm, we use biocontrols on a regular basis, from predatory insects to microbial sprays, to prevent problems in our garden.

Here are four tips to incorporate biocontrols into your integrated pest management system.

1. Know your pest.

When using biocontrols like predatory insects, it’s important to know the pest you are trying to target and the life cycle of the pest. There are many different predatory insects available, but knowing exactly what you are dealing with will help you pick a predatory insect that is best suited for your garden.

To select the best predatory insects for your grow, it’s important to be observant in all areas of the garden—from propagation to flower—so that you can successfully determine which pests you’re dealing with. Having employees trained to spot pest damage early will save you time and money.

Sticky traps are another method we use to identify potential pests. We scout for pests daily, from the clone room to the vegetation and flower houses, to make sure we are properly managing anything that could be concerning. I like to use both yellow and blue sticky indicator cards in our grow rooms—there are certain pests that seem to be more attracted to the blue than the yellow traps, which helps when trying to manage certain insect populations.

2. Partner with knowledgeable suppliers and distributors.

A local distributor can provide specialized knowledge on what predatory insects may be most problematic during different seasons of the year in your area. Predatory insects can die during transport, so having a distributor with the knowledge of the local climate and best practices for shipping predatory insects can prevent this.

Chalice Brands uses biological or microbial-based products in its integrated pest management plan, which can stop the growth of certain molds and fungi.

3. Evaluate the level of pest pressure before selecting treatment.

Biocontrols, such as predatory insects, will not cure an infestation of insects. It’s important for cultivators to know their level of pest pressure before taking this route. If a garden has high pest pressure, then predatory insects will be outnumbered and won’t have time to fix the problem—there are simply too many insects for the predators to eat. Using predatory insects is most effective at preventing an infestation, not curing it.

The most common mistake that I have seen is growers using predatory insects trying to stop a large infestation. These work best when applied early or as a preventative before an infestation exists. By the time a garden has serious problems with pests, the predatory insects will not be able to manage the situation.

Integrated pest management doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. Protocols can vary heavily between climates and facilities. The best bet for cultivation is using predatory insects early in the process and having a well-trained grower who can spot issues before problems arise. Microbial sprays, as well as organic oils, can also be crucial in a farm's integrated pest management program depending on what the farm is dealing with.

4. Consider biological and microbial products.

Other biocontrols include the use of biological or microbial-based products, such as those that have been deemed safe for use when applied to cannabis; these can stop the growth of certain molds, fungi and insect outbreaks.

At Bald Peak Farm, we’ve used a product that contains a strain of Bacillus subtilis to prevent powdery mildew and botrytis. We’ve also used a product that combines different types of beneficial plant bacteria to eliminate the growth of mold and fungal spores.

When using a biological or microbial-based product, it is important to check your state’s regulatory guidelines, usually managed by the state’s department of agriculture, to confirm what is approved for use within that state’s program, as they vary.

Each state can have different regulations on what products can be applied to cannabis and hemp, as well. In Oregon, we abide by the approved products list set forth by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). This list changes on a regular basis and it is important to keep up with these updates. For example, starting in March 2023, Oregon will be adopting new testing requirements that include certain microbiologicals in harvested cannabis. It’s important to stay educated with any changing regulations in your state.

Derek Rayhorn is the director of cultivation for Portland, Ore.-based Chalice Brands.