Every gardener encounters pests in their garden. It is a fact of life. However, there are ways that we can minimize and even eliminate their damage. And all this can be done organically, without a single drop of chemicals!
Overcoming Pests in the Garden Organically
Beneficial INsects and WildLIFE
The first step to overcoming pest in the garden is attracting beneficial insects and wildlife. God already created methods of keeping every spices in check. All we have to do is create an environment that mimics the natural environment for this to happen. We are seeing the results of our efforts to do this make vast improvements in the garden every year! Let's take a look at what we have done.
1. Planting multicultural borders and islands of flowers, plants, bushes and trees throughout our gardens. Beneficial insects and wildlife require certain foods, shelter, and habitats at different stages of their life. Beneficial insects lay their eggs on stems, under plant debris, and in the ground. Be sure to leave some ground exposed when mulching so they can easily reach their nesting ground, Also leave healthy plant debris to over winter in the garden. If you clean all that debris up in the fall you just might be throwing out beneficial insects.
If you build it they will come. It almost seems miraculous how it happens. Species you never seen on your property before start showing up. I'm in awe wondering how they found this habitat we made for them out in the middle of nowhere on the ND prairie. But they do friends! This has been a work in progress but every year we add a little more and every year the results get better.
You may not have enough space to have trees and bushes right in your garden. That is ok. You can still get great results with plants and flowers alone but I do recommend the most diversity as possible. If you can't plant directly in the garden see if you have room anywhere near the garden.
2. Provide water. Beneficial insects and wildlife need water just like us. Place basins of water throughout your garden and freshen as needed. Placing them where they are partially protected is helpful. Tuck them up next to a plant and maybe set a few rocks or planters around them. This will provided shelter for the visitors.
We like to find basins at the thrift store. There seems to be an endless supply of suitable vessels for watering stations. Not only do they feed our friends but they can add character to your garden.
3. Know Your Beneficial Insects. Do you squish bad bugs in your garden? Potato beetles? Cabbage worms? What if you squish something that is actually a good bug, a beneficial insect? As a gardener you need to know what good and bad bugs look like at their different stages of life and in the bad bug case, who their predators are. Identifying them helps you know when you need to take action and also eliminates the possibility of mistakingly killing a good bug. When you find a bug that you aren't familiar with take the time to find the identity of it. You can always use Mr. Google pants or you can download and print my free guide to Friends and Foes of the Garden. In it I go over 25 good and bad bugs how to attract each friends and the specific predators for each foe as well as other organic methods of eliminating them all in detail.
4. Do not use chemicals of any sort; fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, or pesticides. Nothing, notta, nope! Chemicals not only kill the pests but also the beneficial insects and wildlife. This is bad news for your garden and the world which is suffering from mass bee die offs as well as butterflies and other wild life. We need these species to pollinate our food and keep the ecosystems balanced.
Most all plants from nurseries are grown using neonicotinoids. These harm and even kill bees, beneficial insects, birds and other wildlife. Source you plants, trees and shrubs from neonicotinoid free nurseries. Ask your local nurseries if they use them and let it be know (politely of course) that you want neonicotinoid free plants in order to protect the bees and other wildlife. To learn more about neonicotinoids, including neonicotinoid free nurseries, visit my post What Every Gardener Should Know About Neonicotinoids.
5. Keep Calm. Last year there was a time when it seemed like our vineyard was going to be eaten to the ground by caterpillars. But we took a deep breath and we let nature take its course. You know what happened? The birds came in and ate all those caterpillars. It didn't take them very long to get the caterpillars under control either. We trusted the process while monitoring conditions and it worked.
In the beginning you may have to intervene while you are waiting for your beneficial insect and wildlife numbers to rise. It is important that you do not revert to using chemicals as stated in number 3. Instead follow the suggestions below.
Snakes, toads, lizards, and others are all beneficial to your garden so don't scare them away or trap them. They will devour thousands of garden pests and are part of a balanced eco-system.
Row Covers and other barriers
My first experiences with row covers were less than pleasing. I use bonded row cover fabric to try and keep out cabbage worm moth and it pretty much shredded in the wind. I was ready to give up growing brassicas. Then I tried shade cloth over low tunnels. Ding! Ding! Ding! We have winner! This stuff is effective and durable. I am using the same shade cloth going on 4 or 5 years now. The shade cloth works great for the brassicas because it does block out some sun giving the cooler environment it likes in the hotter months.
If you have smaller pests problems, like flea beetles or carrot rust fly maggots, you will need a finer mesh. I ordered some finer mesh from Greenhouse Mega store this spring to protect from flea beetles but it was expensive. After talking with a representative I thought I was getting enough for all 6 of our tunnels but it was only enough for 1. Ugh. A very expensive misunderstanding but I do think the mesh is going to work great. I am going to be trying the Agfabric Bug Net from Amazon below for my other tunnels. Whatever you do just be sure that you are purchasing netting with small enough holes to keep out the pests you want to block. It is equally important that you seal off all of the edges. We bury the sides and then place rocks are bricks on the ends. You do not want any opening where the pests can get in. That also means having the cover on before they come out otherwise you will just be trapping them in!
Another barrier I use every year by the hundreds are little rings made out of drain tile pipe. Typically it is used to drain water away from foundations and other structures. How ever it works fabulously in the garden. We cut it into about 5-6" lengths and place it around our squash, brassicas, melons and anything else that we think may be susceptible to cut worms. Wiggle it down into the soil at least an inch to stabilize it and make sure the cutworms can't crawl underneath.
Cut worms come to the surface of the soil at night and eat through seedings and leaves at ground level. They really enjoy brassicas. Placing the ring around your seedling or planted seed keeps them out. They run into the ring and can't get to your plant.
We use the same ring year after year. You can find it by the roll or buy it by the foot at your local home and garden center or lumber store. At our local home store you can buy it for about $40 for a 100ft. roll. I prefer the 4" diameter pipe. It is corrugated and comes in solid or perforated versions. Be sure to get the solid version because it also helps with watering. Filling up the rings with water to water your plants ensures the water gets right to their root zone and doesn't get wasted running of the surface of the soil. It is also helpful for my kids to know when the plants has gotten enough water. I can ask them to fill up each ring once, twice, what ever I think seems fit.
In addition, I use them to blanch my celery (picture on the below right). As the celery grows I add more rings. They work wonderfully and I will always use them in my garden.
Remove diseased Plants, trees, and Bushes
Healthy plants are better able to fend off pests. Keeping them healthy by providing rich healthy soil and watering them before they become stressed goes a long way.
If they get to the point where they are being overcome by pests or diseases, it is time to remove them from the garden, preferably burned. I state above to stay calm and let nature take its course. That is true and especially for perennials that are much harder to replace. However, if you have a tomato plant that is succumbing to blight, pull it. That weak plant is going to attract pests that will then attack your other tomato plants. You are probably going to loose that tomato plant to blight (some diseases can't be helped) anyways so why not remove it before it attracts pests as well?
This is harder with perennials. In some cases you may be able to remedy the disease but if not have them removed. Even if you need to call someone from a tree removal service, keeping unhealthy plants around is never a good idea.
I try to always have diatomaceous earth on hand. Diatomaceous earth or DE is made of the fossilized remains of diatoms. To us it fills like the softest powder but to insects, especially soft bodied insects, it is like a millions little swords. The particles puncture the insect's body leading to its death. I use it on small break outs of aphids, on brassicas to fight cut worms once the leaves are big enough to hang over the rings and lay on the ground outside the ring (you can see the white powder on the cabbage in the picture above), and also as a soil amendments for my tomatoes, and zucchini.
I add a handful of DE to every tomato and zucchini to give them calcium. This prevents end bloom rot.
It can be harmful to your lungs (we have never had any problems) if you breath a lot in because of its fine nature so it is best to where a face mask or tie a bandana around your face when applying it.
DE is inexpensive and you can easily find it on Amazon or you local home and garden center. It is OMRI listed for organic gardening.
Crop rotation is a method of rotating crop groups to eliminate pest build up and avoid depleting the soil of nutrients. Crop groups only return to the same planting area after anywhere from 4-6 years depending on the schedule you are following. I did a complete post that include a free printable guide to crop rotation. Be sure to check it out my post Simple and Effective Crop Rotation for more on the matter and to get your free printable guide.
You will have the most success when you use all of these methods in together. Year after you will have improved results and your vegetables will be more nutritious and flavorful for avoiding all those nasty chemicals!
Happy planting my friends!
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Hello, I'm Jaci. I look forward to sharing my gardening and homestead adventures to help you reach your gardening goals! If you have any questions then don't be shy, I'd love to hear from you. Send me a message and I will be glad to help!