A Pest Free Veggie Patch

Reader Contribution by Kath Irvine

Got ya there! Nope, won’t ever happen. As long as we garden (i.e. manipulate the environment)—even in a kind and gentle way—we’ll have pests. For a peaceful life it helps if you adjust your mind to this fact. We can however, minimize pest numbers. Here’s my tried and true pest prevention plan.

Beneficial Insect Power

Beneficial insects are your go to smart solution.  There’s an army of insects on your side – parasitic wasps, hoverflies, ladybirds, praying mantis, spiders, dragonflies, assassin bugs, lacewings, various beetles, frogs and earwigs. They’ll manage pests, pollination and recycling of debris in return for a spray free home and a years’ supply of food. Fill your garden with a year round supply of nectar- and pollen-rich flowers, provide a simple source of water, an undisturbed ‘wild area’ for habitat and the beneficial insects will move in.

Be Strong

What a difference to our pest levels when we garden in a steady, robust, natural way.

  • Look after your garden well by watering and feeding properly. Artificial fertilizer, too much manure and overwatering creates sweet, soft, sappy growths that sucking pests adore.
  • Meet all the needs of your plants. Plant with the seasons—heat lovers when its hot and those that prefer cool when its cool. Don’t fertilize legumes and do fertilize heavy feeders. Happy plants (like happy people), have a heap less problems.
  • Keep your soil covered with mulch or crops.
  • Grow resistant varieties. Talk to gardeners in your area. Experiment with varieties until you find ones that the pests don’t bother.
  • Save seeds of crops that perform well at your place.

Be Cunning

Pests hunt by either smell or shape, so get cunning with a bit of disguise, camouflage and distraction!

  • Disguise vulnerable plants by growing among different shapes and smells. Eg: carrots with spring onions and calendula or tomatoes with nasturtium, marigolds and parsley.
  • Distract pests away from your veggies with plants they prefer close by. This is called catch cropping. Eg: Seduce shield bugs away from beans with mustard or cabbage whites with nasturtium.
  • Regular seaweed or fish foliar sprays not only boost your plants, but disguise scent.

Spray Free Solutions

Halt pests at the earliest point. A couple is easy, an epidemic is not. A daily walk about is one of my top pest strategies.

  • Use your fingers. Pests like snails, aphids and shield bugs are easily managed by picking off and squashing.
  • Cover vulnerable crops with fine insect mesh. I use this to prevent psyllids in potatoes, cabbage whites in brassicas and carrot fly in carrots.
  • Make traps. Yogurt traps for slaters, beer traps for snails and yellow sticky traps for whitefly.

Unsafe Spray

  • Be careful of natural sprays which knock everything both good and bad – dead. Beware Pyrethrum, Rhubarb, Garlic and Derris Dust (which is by the way a neurotoxin).
  • Don’t use chemical sprays. Even in the driveway. Spray drifts, going far further than you think. I was pretty bummed last week judging school gardens to see herbicide damage on vegetables in children’s gardens.

Safe Spray

When all else fails and a pest is getting the upper hand I reach for one of two sprays—Neem for all sucking/ chewing insects, or a spray with the active ingredient Bacillus Thuringiensis for caterpillars. Neither of these are contact killers. They must be ingested to work, making them safe as houses for bees and beneficial insects.

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