Ask The BiopestMan archives
a column for the Maryland Pesticide Network

Welcome folks to my first monthly column!

I aim to answer your questions aboutdestructive and useful insectsand look forward to your input. The relevance of my 'professional wisdom' will be determined by your sending me your questions. I also plan to includeother ecological items in my column that I think may be of help to you.

But before I get to this month's questions, first a little background information about me.

My name is Alan Cohen. I am a licensed commercial pest control applicator in Maryland and DC, and the president of Bio-Logical Pest Management, Inc. I also serve as the Integrated Pest Management advisor to the Maryland Pesticide Network, and have been a board member of Beyond Pesticides for six years. My philosophy, which serves as the foundation of this column and my work, is that pestmanagement is about 'getting rid of bugs without bugging people with hazardous chemicals'. A Chicago boy, I earned a BS in Agricultural Communications from the University of Illinois in Urbana. (Most of my fellow graduates from my small program work for Monsanto, Dow, or ad agencies which promote agrichemicals.) I did graduate work in soils and environmental toxicology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

I have worked for the US EPA in the Farmworker Safety Office in Washington DC and for Beyond Pesticides, also in DC After answering inquiries from DC and the Maryland suburbs about less toxic methods, I decided to take the Maryland Pesticide Applicator's exam and start my own businessin 1996. I founded Bio-Logical Pest Managementbecause ofthe need in the community for an ecologicalapproach to pest management.

Enough about me. The following questions (and answers) are seasonally relevant and I hope will get the ball rolling for us. Please send me you questions- I really want them-otherwise I will have to come up with them myself! Just e-mail me at

Q: Biopestman, how do I choose plants this spring that don't need pesticides or fertilizers?

A: This is a great question.

"Native plants have evolved in our region and have adapted to local conditions, including local insect infestations. They do not need pesticides, fertilizers or much watering. They have developed their own survival strategies or they would no longer be around. Beware of anyone who tries to sell you bug sprays or fertilizer for a native plant. They don't need 'em."

-from Pomegranate Seeds No.9, 2005, which includes the following resource list for native plants:

Q: Biopestman, what are the small bees making little holes in the soil?

A: They are solitary ground bees, which are not aggressive and will disappear in a few weeks.A reputable pest control firm would not spray for them, as they are good pollinators, and self-limiting. I have not heard of any stinging from ground bees. However, ground nesting yellow jackets, which appear later in the summer, often sting bare feet that step on them. These bees of May are hairy, the yellow jacks of July-September are hairless. More on them in another column.

Q. Yikes! I live on top of an anthill! What can I do about invading ants?

A. Ants are the #1 call for the Biopestman. The most common this year are odorous house ants -- crush them and they smell like rancid butter. Try to remove wood, rocks, stones, and compost piles from around the foundation. These ants and others like to nest there. And caulk gaps in siding or brick where ants are entering the house. Good door strips are critical to keep all crawling insects out.

If exclusion and habitat modification (above) does not solve the ant invasion, they can be baited. These ants are difficult to bait successfully. We use a 1% boric acid liquid bait outside (or inside) in tamper-resistant containers, and also a 5% granular boric acid bait outside or inside. There are commercial liquid baits available, but they have no bait containers and must be used carefully out of the reach of toddlers or pets (like the back of the kitchen counter, not the counter's edge or the floor).

If baiting does not give good control, we use DE or diatomaceous earth too, a mineral, which scratches and dehydrates crawling insects. DE must be used with a dust mask, as it is a respiratory irritant. Available at good garden centers (not at Home Depot). By the way, check out about a national effort to get Lowes and Home Depot to stop selling "weed and feed" lawn products with herbicides and fertilizers.