If you grow it, they will come. And, by “they”, I mean pests.
Problems of all kinds can crop up in the garden. Inexperienced gardeners are often discouraged by losing a crop. It happens to everyone, sometimes more than once! Stay positive. Read on to learn some of the things you can do to ensure success, as well as reduce the likelihood of unwelcome guests appearing in your garden.
Knowledge and Experience
Knowledge and experience will help you avoid losses, but unfortunately some losses are inevitable. Organic, fresh, nutrient-dense foods often aren’t as pretty as store-bought items. That’s okay, the flavor and health in the veggies you grow yourself makes them superior!
Expect 10% losses, sometimes reaching as high as 30%. You can lose a small part of your harvest before it affects you. By using permaculture principle 1 (Observe and Interact) every day, you will know when something changes. Sometimes a seeming pest benefits the plants.
When I began my permaculture system, I was growing a lot of dill. A caterpillar began to seriously munch on the dill leaves. It turns out that it was a tiger swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. My young daughter and I enjoyed watching the caterpillars grow fat on the dill. We imagined the butterflies they would become. After the caterpillars wandered off to their cocoons, I realized that they’d pruned back the dill plants. They did this right before the strongest heat and light of the summer. All the dill plants made it through the heat waves, and there was plenty of dill for everyone!
Integrated Pest Management
When you allow natural processes to play out in your garden, your food will be healthier for you and your family. What is good for you is also good for everything else in the environment. Beneficial insects, bacteria, and fungi can find their balance in your garden. You also help reduce the buildup of pesticide resistance. If you really do have to resort to using something, it will be more effective.
When you have to intervene, experiment with what will work on that particular pest. What worked for a friend may not work for you, so be willing to try different things. Methods that might work one year might not be appropriate next.
Setting up for Success
Try planting a polyculture. Companion planting puts plants that feed on different soil nutrients or that deter pests of the neighboring plants together. Go a step further and plant a true polyculture, mixing many types of plants together. Continuously rearranging plants in the garden avoids predictable patterns and keeps pests confused. This strategy can be an effective means of keeping populations distributed, as well as creating opportunities for pest predators and beneficial organisms to find their niches.
Continuously rearranging plants in the garden avoids predictable patterns and keeps pests confused.
Polycultures resemble natural ecosystems. They contain variety, in contrast to monoculture cropping. For a potato beetle, a few rows of potato monoculture looks like a buffet. When potatoes are mixed in with perennials, flowers, veggies, and especially fragrant herbs, insects become confused. A few may find your plants, but the hordes will stay away.
You can also grow plants that attract pest predators. By encouraging a rich ecosystem, it can correct itself. Plants in the carrot family like dill, fennel, or Queen Anne’s lace attract predatory wasps. Strong-smelling herbs and flowers like marigold to confuse insects that rely on smell. Praying mantis and ladybugs showed up in our polyculture in the second season and have been increasing in number ever since. Spiders are helpful, too, although you may never see them.
If you grow in containers such as the Garden Tower your ecosystem is small, but active. Choosing your plants and arranging them with these tips in mind will help you achieve better plant health.
Space Plants for Good Air Flow
Space plants for good air flow and light penetration. In addition to insect pests, bacterial and fungal problems can affect your garden yields. Soil fertility and management allow us to pack plants in, but we want to ensure there is adequate air flow in order to discourage fungal growth. Breezes also discourage insects from settling on your plants. Good airflow spacing also allows plants receive adequate light saturation to be productive. Remove dead, dying, or infected leaves from plants.
Plant and Harvest Timing
Plant and harvest at the right time. By planting late or early and harvesting at the right time, you can avoid a wave of pests and their lifecycles. Last year, I planted winter squash around the fourth of July. By doing this I avoided the squash vine borer that can devastate a crop, but I also didn’t get much of a crop from the vigorously-growing vines. This year, I’ll plant more plants and hope to get a better yield. Last year wasn’t even a big year for vine borers.
Know Your Enemy
Know what you’re dealing with and identify the pests before you try to deal with them. If you need help, send a picture or sample to a county extension agent or directly to your state’s land grant university. The agricultural programs at these universities may have different recommendations for you about what to do, but their knowledge and experience can be very helpful.
Know what you’re dealing with and identify the pests before you try to deal with them.
Support Pest Predators
Support pest predators and let predatory wasps go after your carrots. If you have an abundance of these foods in your garden, the wasps will come to live with you. Then, they will lay their eggs on the caterpillars of pests. Plant extra things that pests love and be willing to sacrifice some of them to the pests in exchange for more of what you want. Setting up homes for frogs, lizards, and birds by making water and spaces available to them will help to promote natural balance.
These are some passive ways to organize your garden to deal with pests. Pest management techniques can also include using traps, such as a shallow pan of beer to catch slugs, and repellants of all kinds. Many of these work well and are sold commercially. Recipes for sprays are easy to find. Most of the ingredients, like cayenne pepper, are common in households.
Try some of these techniques and report back to us on how it went!