Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Natural, Organic Pest Control

There are tons of ideas and recipes out in cyberspace regarding organic pest control, but which ones work and which should you use? Understanding what you are battling and knowing some guidelines will help make the most of your time, energy, and money.

Edward Smith gives his three U's as guidelines in  The Vegetable Gardener's Bible which are very helpful. 

1. Make the habitat unacceptable.
2. Make the habitat unavailable.
3. Make the habitat unsurvivable.

I would never have thought about my fertilizer attracting bugs, but it can. Smith says that fertilizers rich in nitrogen attract aphids, mites, and whiteflies, while soils rich in phosphorus and potassium reduce wireworms. However, if you use kelp or seaweed extracts in your beds, it can actually help reduce the negative effects of your fertilizer in regards to pests.

Other tips for making the environment unacceptable to pests include keeping the pH of the soil balanced to the needs of the plant, practicing companion planting where you plant something the pest doesn't like next to a plant it does like, or planting herbs that act as scent repellents. Smith's book gives you all the details on these methods.

Personally, the big pests are an issue at my homestead. I'm talking about those darling rabbits, deer, and small rodents that are only cute when in a Beatrix Potter storybook if you are a gardener. I like to use Liquid Fence or Repels-All. These products contain all natural ingredients that really smell and make the area undesirable for vermin. Be sure to spray standing up-wind!

Did you know that timing when you plant your seeds or seedlings can protect them from pests, not just weather? Think about it. In the early spring, many insects such as cabbage worms aren't an issue a little later. 

Another great tip Smith includes is to avoid planting all of the same vegetable right together. Spread them into patches throughout your garden. That way, you stand a better chance of keeping a pest or disease from spreading to all your onion crop, for example, if it is broken up into areas. Certain bugs tend to have favorites and they might not eat the tomatoes next door much less cross three other varieties just to get to more onions. This also works by creating an intermingling of odors that make it difficult for pests to find certain plants. You'll at least have a chance at having some onions this way.

Crop rotation is very under-rated. While farmers practice this religiously, home gardeners seem to totally ignore this practice, but the benefits are tremendous. And in regards to pest control, those insects that attack in the soil will find their favorite fare has been replaced the following season.

Keeping weeds down, mulching, proper watering, and compost helps plants and soil stay healthy as opposed to a garden that is not well tended and an open invitation for uninvited critters. Fences are great for keeping larger animals out and row covers work well for keeping smaller critters out. Just be careful not to let your plants get too warm and check them regularly. 

Finally, all those years we've planted and spaced everything so that it had plenty of room... well, turns out that it gave bugs easy access to the plants. Closer plantings can keep pests at bay. 

This doesn't need to mean poison. It just needs to be something that the bugs can't survive, such as soap. Buy some cheap dish soap and keep it out in the garden by the hose along with a can and mix a batch every couple of days. Dropping caterpillars into this soapy bath will cause them to sink and drown. 

Pick off egg clusters from leaves before they hatch, introduce "good" bugs that eat "bad" bugs, and utilize various bacterium that are safe for humans, but not pests. But a word of caution, these bacterium can hurt the "good" bugs, too.

Rather than list all the natural recipes for pest control in this post (there's so many!), I plan to include a few over the next few weeks. Most of us are just beginning our summer battle against these intruders that love our veggies as much as we do! Let me encourage you not to give up! You may loose some of your produce, but if you keep at it, you'll gain experience and eventually, success. It will be all that much sweeter when you bite into that ear of homegrown corn!


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