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Has anybody tried brewing targeted mycopesticides/mycoinsecticides for particular bug/pest species?

 
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My mind was blown today.  I can't believe we Permies aren't all over this.  But we don't have a single thread on it that I can find.  (Edit: we have one; my search missed it.)

First, background.  The notion behind mycopesticides (sometimes called mycoinsecticides) is simple.  Did you ever see a bug in your garden that had been blasted by parasitic fungus, turning white and fuzzy?  Or that had the little Cordyceps fruiting bodies sticking out of them?  Apparently there are some 400 species of these bug-eating parasitic mushrooms -- and I get the notion that there are many more uncatalogued ones.  Yes, these are the "zombie-making funguses" that sometimes seem to "steer" their victims to some high place where the spores will get better distribution.  Here's some stunning video of the process:



Anyway, for twenty or more years there have been commercial products (basically a bag of Cordyceps spores) you could mix up and spray.  Supposedly it's OMRI approved for commercial organic gardening, since it's not "toxic gick" unless you are a bug.  

I've been vaguely aware that these mycopesticide products existed, but I had zero interest in them.  For one thing, they are eye-wateringly expensive! I came to organic gardening (even before I heard of permaculture) not out of fear of toxins so much, or even desire to protect my local ecology, but because toxic gick costs a ton of money.  Frugality made me an organic gardening.  (Well, being broke, even more than frugality.)  And mycopesticides cost an order of magnitude more than chemical 'cides.  

But the other problem -- as I dimly understood things -- is that a bagged mycopesticide powder you buy is a broad-spectrum bomb, not a sniper's bullet.  The brochure for the one that's easiest to buy, stuff called Botanigard, claims "broad spectrum control" of aphids, leafhoppers, mealybugs, plant bugs, psyllids, thrips, weevils and whiteflies.  That's pretty broad!  The stuff has a zillion strains in one bag, so that when you scatter it on your plants, all the bugs die.  (Except maybe it doesn't actually work that well.  Perhaps better to say, all the bugs are on the target list.)  I don't want to cause that widespread toxic effect in my garden, no matter how safe the stuff is for mammals. Not in my garden, not anywhere on my property!  For every bug that actually eats enough of my plants to bother me, there are a zillion kinds that are doing good work, or not eating enough to be a problem.  I will NOT be without my dragonfly airforce!  And my birds eat everybody; they would be sad if I killed off all their food.  I don't want a broad-spectrum product.  Do not want.  I say again, do not want.

And so I never gave that shit a third glance.  I suppose it makes might make sense for organic growing of commercial high-value crops, but not relevant to my challenges.  Bye, Felicia!

That was yesterday.  Today -- I got exposed to a new and potentially better idea.

I was listening to Jack Spirko interview Nicole Schauder on his Survival Podcast.  And, almost as an aside, she told Jack about the notion of targeted mycopesticides.  This blew my mind.

The notion is that the commercial product has a zillion strains in it.  But we don't want a zillion strains.  We might, potentially, want the one strain that attacks the specific bug that is driving us nuts in our gardens.

So, why not breed up that one strain?  Select for it?  

It's said to be as simple as collecting specimens of your pest target in a jar.  Then you grow on them the fungus strains that like to eat them, specifically.  Ideally for your starter, you'd find and make a slurry out of a natural specimen that you found "in the wild" with a bad fungus problem.  This is not as hard as you would think.  One of the grasshoppers that's been eating my kale turned up on my front porch just a few weeks ago, white and fuzzy and being eaten by ants.  I didn't recognize that carcass for the biological treasure it represented, sadly.  But if you can't find your fungus locally, you can use the commercial broad-spectrum product.  Most of the spores in there won't care about your specific bug; but by exposing your jarful of specimens to all the strains, the narrow strains that like your specimens will be selected and multiplied.  Eventually you fish out your double handful (or whatever) of white fuzzy bugs that you hate, slurry them, strain the solution, and spray it on your problem plants.  The story being told is that this way, you've just hit your target species with fuzzy death, while leaving everything else in your garden unmolested.  

I don't know if this works or is practical for home scale gardeners, but it sounds plausible and brilliant.  There are accounts of villagers in India being trained to do this with grasshopper infestations, allowing them to stop buying expensive bucketloads of chemical 'cides.


(image source)

Several sources I saw mentioned stink bugs as a target. There are photos of very defunct cordyceps-infested stink bugs out there:


(image source)



I wonder about squash bugs.  Or even squash vine borers, if you sprayed the base of all your squash vines with targeted spores.  (I have no idea if this stuff works on larval stage critters.)  There's talk of it working on various fruit and nut tree pest species, too.

This appeals to my frugality.  This appeals to my sense of proportion.  I want to think this is a safe and practical and environmentally responsible solution to the very specific insect pest challenges that make us tear out our hair -- or that make other people proclaim that they could "never do organic gardening" because of {specific pest species they hate}.

So, resources for further study.  The Spirko podcast show notes listed the following four videos.  I have only watched the first two so far.  Video and audio are terrible; don't blame me, please! But the second one goes into some detail about this method of breeding up the targeted spores for a specific insect pest.  









The legendary mycologist Paul Stametz has been working on this, owns several patents, but had not (as of the most recent 2016 update on his website released his strains to the public in a commercial product.  I mention him because I know a lot of Permies have respect for him; the fact that he's pursuing this stuff may suggest it's not a totally hairbrained idea.

So, has anybody tried the targeted breeding/selecting approach?  How did it go for you?
 
Dan Boone
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Doh!  When I said we didn't have a thread here, I missed the one Paul Wheaton started almost a decade ago, with specific reference to the work Paul Stametz is doing.  Apparently ants in particular have some defenses against Cordyceps and Stametz is working on strains that get around those defenses.
 
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My daddy's bug fighting strategy was to collect bugs you don't want. Blend them up in a blender, and spray them on the same species that's causing trouble. Hoping that the blended up bugs would infect the rest with whatever diseases they might have.

Nosema locustae is a commonly sold fungi that targets grasshoppers. I bet that once established, the fungi could be collected, and stored frozen or dehydrated.
 
Dan Boone
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:My daddy's bug fighting strategy was to collect bugs you don't want. Blend them up in a blender, and spray them on the same species that's causing trouble. Hoping that the blended up bugs would infect the rest with whatever diseases they might have.



Smart!  

While research this post, I found reference to a more involved version of this strategy.  Somebody mentioned capturing and imprisoning live bugs of the target species under difficult-for-them conditions.  The idea being that by the time they are half-dead, their diseases will be more rampant and there will be more pathogens in the mix when you blend them.  That's ... further than I am willing to go.
 
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Great info Dan!
Why are we not all over this? I guess all of us are too busy surviving and experimenting in a lot of other ways.
Anyway, the same methods are applied for slugs, instead of fungi it involves breeding nematodes.
I have no experience with this, but it sounds reasonable and simple enough. The method is described with the header "Once you have caught"

war on slugs

I like how you don't want to kill all your insects and see the bigger picture. As insect numbers have dropped 70% in a decade or so, i'd hate to see this "green" product getting picked up by the industrial agriculture. One half of them murdering and destroying the environment dumping gigatons of chemicals into the environment without any concern for what it does down the food chain, while the other half is going "green" and dumping tons and tons of mycopesticides and parasitic nematodes on the remaining insects barely surviving the chemical insect apocalypse.  
Maybe in the longer run it would be better to concentrate on growing plants that can withstand these eratic insect booms. I don't know about you, but with me one year it's slugs, the next it's drought, the next it's aphids, then it's flea beetles, then it's too wet, then a late frost destroys blossoms, but rarely at the same time, and there is always something doing great when you plant lots of proven strong varieties and work towards a strong biodiversity which keeps plagues in check. Because at the end of the day it's us the real plague.
 
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