Grow Hack: Predatory Mites on the Attack!

When most cannabis growers hear the word mites, they cringe at the thought of the notorious spider mite munching away on their beloved plants. Many people deal with spider mite infestations by spraying them with repeated applications of some pesticide (whether organic or not), but as the industry matures, growers are likely going to have to start fighting fire with fire.

Yes, that’s right! Mites that kill mites.

Increased regulations, concerns for safety and downright effectiveness are going to be the driving forces behind this change. Predatory mites have been used in conventional agricultural for ages, and it’s about time that the cannabis industry catches up.

First, what are predatory mites?

They’re exactly what they sound like, a type of mite that eats other mites. Where spider mites are herbivores, feasting on your hard work, predatory mites are strictly carnivorous and will only eat other bugs. Think of them as an organic army of spider mite assassins.

Persimilis and californicus are some of the more common predatory mites, but there are several other types of mites that are suited for different climates, pests and growing conditions. With an arsenal of mites at your disposal, you can fend off spider mites, thrips, broad mites, whiteflies, fungus gnats and more—whether you’re growing indoors, outdoors or greenhouse—predator mites have your back and will help your buds pass state-mandated pesticide tests.

Andrew Maltby of Biotactics places predatory mites on flowering cannabis plants at Safe Harbor Patients’ Collective.
Andrew Maltby of Biotactics places predatory mites on flowering cannabis plants at Safe Harbor Patients’ Collective. (Photo Courtesy of Rowlbertos Media)

Regulation of the cannabis industry is going to force a switch to more organic and sustainable pest management, like predatory mites. With AB 266 and Prop 64 coming soon to California’s legal marijuana industry, growers there don’t need to look far to see the implications of tighter testing standards.

Their neighbor to the north, Oregon has a huge backlog at their state-approved cannabis testing labs and has issued two recalls for pesticide-tainted marijuana. One state further north, Washington, has also issued recalls on product due to pesticide concerns. Not to mention, the recall in the birthplace of regulated cannabis, Colorado.

Or how about in Massachusetts, where the state set the testing standards so high that the labs didn’t even have equipment able to detect such a minute amount of residual pesticide? Labs in Nevada have faced similar problems. Canada’s federal medical marijuana program has similarly exacting standards, which has already led some of the licensed producers there toward using predatory mites.

These regulations could lead to a rude awakening for many growers not currently forced to test their wares, but the concerns for safety are appropriate and seem to have the consumer’s best interest at heart.

Considering some of the numbers recently released, consumers might actually become bigger advocates for predatory mites than industry professionals.

Steep Hill Labs recently reported that over 84 percent of cannabis samples submitted to them test positive for residual pesticides. More than 65 percent tested positive for myclobutanil, a common pesticide ingredient that turns into hydrogen cyanide (a poison) when heated (like when smoking or dabbing). This should be a great concern for all cannabis smokers, considering California supplies a large amount of the cannabis throughout the nation.

Maltby explains to Jim, a volunteer at Safe Harbor, about the benefits and uses of predatory mites.
Maltby explains to Jim, a volunteer at Safe Harbor, about the benefits and uses of predatory mites. (Photo Courtesy of Rowlbertos Media)

Not only is the health of the consumer at risk, the health of workers at these facilities can also be impacted by increased pesticide intake. Workers at conventional farms can be exposed to pesticides at a rate of 100s of times more than the typical consumer. Now imagine what the workers might be exposed to at an unregulated cannabis farm.

Many times, I personally, have witnessed the well-being of cannabis industry employees being compromised for the sake of putting out the next crop. After learning more about predatory mites, Jim, a grower for Safe Harbor Patients Collective in Van Nuys, put it this way, “to pursue methods that don’t employ petrochemicals, that’s exciting to me.”

Chemical free cannabis production should be everyone’s goal—not just for the consumer or the employees but also for the earth.

A study suggests that cannabis farms can use chemicals in such quantities that they cause damage to local watersheds and pose “significant risk” to the food chain. Predator mites can help decrease our planet’s exposure to pesticides over time, and as Jim said, “it’s a step away from using harsh chemicals in the garden… and they’re organic. Who doesn’t like organic?”

As the shepherds of a new regulated industry, we must take into consideration all aspects of safety, including the planet’s.

Now all of this increased safety and compliance with strict regulation that comes with using predatory mites would be a moot point if they weren’t effective as a pest control. Predator mites have been used in traditional farming for a long time and have proven especially useful for berry and grape farmers.

To help answer the question of effectiveness, I talked to Dave Peck, a berry farmer in Central California. He has been using predatory mites to control pests on his strawberry fields for over 30 years. Strawberry farmers and cannabis farmers have two common enemies: powdery mildew and spider mites, unfortunately predator mites do not eat mildew.

But back in the 1980s, Peck was having issues with spider mites on his strawberry farms because they had become resistant to many of the available chemical pesticides. Because of the potential for resistance, he found that the predatory mites persimilis and fallacis, “can be more effective than chemicals.”

In a testament to their potency, Dave said he has used, “predatory mites on the conventional and organic strawberries since I’ve been farming.” He has been farming since 1984 and currently has 300 acres of conventional strawberry fields and 120 acres of organic strawberries. The fact that he chooses mites over chemicals on his non-organic fields should hint at something.

Dave Peck and Maltby apply predatory mites to strawberry fields in Santa Maria, CA.
Dave Peck and Maltby apply predatory mites to strawberry fields in Santa Maria, CA. (Photo Courtesy of Rowlbertos Media)

One of the reasons for the predator mites’ effectiveness, besides the inability for spider mites to build a resistance to them, is that predators also eat the spider mite eggs. Many traditional and organic pesticides only attack the bugs that have hatched. According to Andrew Maltby, president of Biotactics, mites (both good and bad) breathe through tiny pores on their legs. Miticides and oil based pesticides, generally work by blocking those pores and essentially suffocating the mites, yet they do nothing to the eggs.

In general, after applying traditional pesticides, two to three days later, all of the eggs from the first generation will hatch, and you will have a second wave of the infestation to deal with—meaning you will need to spray again.

Predator mites, on the other hand, love to eat eggs. Maltby explained that the eggs are actually more nutritious than the spider mite itself, not to mention that the eggs are stationary and make an easy target. So not only will the predatory mites decimate the current generation of spider mite,s but they will also devour the entire generation of unborn spider mite babies—negating the need for multiple applications of pesticides.

Assuming that you have chosen the correct predator mite for your environmental conditions—a task that Maltby is more than happy to assist you with—your predators will even start laying eggs of their own. This perpetual cycle of predators will continue until there is no more food for them, which means your pests are all gone! At this point, the predators will leave the plants in search of more food, leaving your cannabis clean, bug-free and safe to enjoy by the end-user.

It is a bit counter-intuitive to put bugs on your weed in order to rid your ganja of a different bug, but it works.

It is safe and effective. If you want to play within the world of regulated cannabis, predator mites are soon likely to become your new ally in the constant war on spider mites. Even if you do not have to abide by testing standards, you should consider the health and safety benefits of predators, not only for yourself and your employees, but especially for your customers and your planet.

Related: Ladybugs Vs. Spider Mites

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