No matter how much time we spend in the garden doing battle with unwanted pests, we will never win the war. There is no such thing as a perfect pest free garden. What we all have to do is learn the best way for pest management through the use of natural insect repellents and organic methods of pest control.
The first thing to do is learn to distinguish between beneficial insects and those that do damage. Here is a basic list of “good guys” that we like to see in the garden:
Ladybugs: Attack any number of slow moving, soft shelled pests.
Fly Predators: Parasitic wasps that kill flies in their immature stage.
Green Lacewing: Their larva do the real work, killing hundreds of pests per week.
Praying Mantis: A ferocious killer that will attack any insect.
Whitefly Parasite: Excellent for killing white flies common in greenhouses.
Mealybug Destroyer: If you have a mealybug problem, the Destroyer is a very effective organic solution.
Predatory Mites: Great for attacking pest mites found on the underside of plant leaves.
Hover Flies: These look like bees, but they are really flies whose larvae feast on aphids.
Here is a partial list of the most common garden pests that we need to manage:
Aphids: Soft bodied insects that infest peas, beans and others.
Spider Mites: These look like tiny 8 legged spiders that dwell on the undersides of leaves and extract the sap from your garden plants.
Mexican Bean Beetle: Hard bodies insects, yellow/brown with 16 black spots. They remove leaf tissues between the veins giving your plants a skeleton like appearance.
Seedcorn Maggots: These maggots emerge as brownish colored flies in the spring and can damage seeds and seedlings, especially in moist environments.
Leaf Miners: These are flies whose larvae (maggots) can do serious damage to tomatoes, cucumbers, peas and beans.
Whiteflies: Piercing/sucking mouthparts will remove plant sap and leave honeydew behind which can transmit diseases.
Colorado Potato Beetles: A round black and tan beetle with black stripes, this beetle attacks potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.
Cutworms: These are caterpillar pests that will cut the stem of tender young seedlings.
There are many more garden pests out there so do your own research for your particular area and learn which pests must go and which are beneficial.
There are many good organic pesticides on the market today, but make sure you target the pests you are going after. Most pesticides will kill both beneficial as well as harmful insects, so don’t randomly spray entire plants without carefully observing who is living on the undersides of your leaves. It would be a shame to destroy a bunch of ladybugs when all you may have on your plants is a couple of potato beetles.
Many diy pest control remedies make very effective organic pesticides. Here are a couple of proven winners.
1/2 cup chopped hot peppers
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons of bleach free dish soap.
Puree all the ingredients and let sit for 24 hours. Pour into a spray bottle and apply to infected plants.
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of dish soap (no bleach)
2 tablespoons of baking soda
2 quarts of water
Combine all these ingredients and pour into a spray bottle and apply as needed.
A simple cure for slugs is to set out a shallow container filled with beer and the slimy critters will just crawl in and drown.
Also, here are seven links to homemade natural pesticide recipes. They all contain the basic ingredients of water, soap (with no bleach), repellent additives like garlic, peppers, onions, etc. As with any new pesticide, it is always a good idea to try them out on small section of your garden or even on an individual plant in order to observe the results.
Of course one of the best methods of garden pest control is to eliminate the pests by hand. Most pests are nocturnal, so killing them at night is your best option. Take a flashlight out in the dark and carefully check your plants, especially under the leaves where most pests live and work. Pick off and destroy the culprits and it won’t take long to rid your garden of most of the damaging insects.
Lastly, think about the health of your soil. Good soil produces strong plants which thrive on proper ratios of various nutrients. Poor soil produces undernourished plants and thus too many carbohydrates, which pests thrive on. The practice of organic gardening will also help with your battle against pests. Natural biological control of your garden is good for the environment and confusing to pests. Keep good garden records about what plants grow well for you and which ones don’t, which pesticides work best against which insects, and trust your own experiences (not necessarily relying on the advice of others).
We’ll never get rid of all the pests in our gardens, but we can certainly manage them better with a little diligence, research and commonsense applications.