A vegetable garden can be defined as an outdoor area that has been cultivated and planted with plants that taste far better than what typically grows in the wild. Given this definition, is it not totally natural that every herbivore in nature would want to eat the plant in your garden? Pests are a part of gardening, there’s just no getting around it. If you are lucky your pests aren’t too bad, but in some locations, or in particular years, they can be very bad. In this episode Dave and I will have a very frank discussion about pests, some solutions that are available, and what I have done over the years to deal with pests.
All years are not created equally!
Some years pests are not a problem, and some years they are. They key to dealing with pests is being observant, trying lots of different things, figuring out what works in your gardening site, and just being relentless in your efforts to deal with pests. When nature is out of balance, it’s very likely that your gardens will be out of balance. A particularly bad winter or late spring will the shift the timing of various organisms, and one or two pests might get a head start over the predatory birds/bugs/etc. that keep them in check. Keep a diary each year of everything that happens – when certain birds show up, when certain flowers bloom, when snakes and dragonflies show up – and then be aware each subsequent year and compare notes. If something is missing from the equation, you may need to find a way to balance things out – at least until the beneficial arrive.
All locations are not created equally!
In my experience, the closer that you are to the wilderness, the more potential there is for pest problems. To a certain extent, the urban or suburban gardening site is ideal for vegetable gardening, simply because the ecosystem is somewhat artificial, and largely pest-free relative to forested or farmland areas. The important thing to keep telling yourself, however, is that no matter how bad the pests are in your area, there is a solution, it’s just a matter of being persistent and trying everything you can think of to hold them in check.
Some Solutions that have worked for me, for slugs and snails (in order of effectiveness)
- Slug -B-Gone Slug bait (the slugs just overdose on iron, stop eating immediately, and then die).
- Eggs shells (slugs do not like to crawl over diatomaceous earth)
- copper wire (slugs get a mild electric jolt when they touch the copper)
Some Solutions that have worked for me, for flea beetles/cabbage worms (in order of effectiveness)
- Rotenone (a ‘relatively’ safe pesticide, that breaks down very quickly)
- Row covers (pest can’t get it – no pest problems)
- Garlic spray (most pests hate the taste of garlic)
- Neem (I’ve not used this, but it is totally natural, totally non-toxic to people, and from what I have read it repels everything).
Companion plants that trap or deter pests
- Garlic (deterrent)
- Onions (deterrent)
- Parsnip flowers (if left in the garden to go to seed, parsnips create huge high flowers, and aphids seem to love them – but for some reason they just end to stay on the flowers, and ants usually show up and take them out.
For the most part, I’ve found that the solutions above are only really necessary when my plants are young and vulnerable. When healthy plants get full sized, they seem to be able to either repel pests on their own, or at least withstand some degree of predation. Once they get large I usually back off and just observe for a bit to see if they can hold their own. A few holes in a leaf is not a big deal, just harvest, eat it, and be Zen about the whole thing. I feel a lot better about sharing my food with insects than I do about fogging my garden with toxins.
I see going completely organic is a long term goal, and I think that any gardening site can get there given enough time, effort and reflection on the part of the gardener. I set out each year to have a completely organic garden. That’s a goal – but it’s not a law. Don’t feel like you can’t bend the rules if things aren’t going your way. If you have to break out the rotenone to save your season, just forgive yourself and think about ways to avoid those problems next year. Eventually you will figure out where each plants fit into the growing season. It’s like a big puzzle, and like all puzzles, it just takes time and determination – and what a sense of accomplishment when you actually solve it!