Saturday, 10 June 2017

Organic Pest Control

Insect pests can be one of the most frustrating gardening issues one has to deal with.

Which is why I am often asked what I use to fight bugs. If you mean, what kind of product do I use? Then the answer for the most part is ... nothing at all.   

Why not? The problem with any kind of insecticide or pesticide, even the organic earth friendly kinds, is that they do not discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs. All forms of sprays and powders will kill the good guys, too. Therefore, I try to use no product of any kind, not even soapy water.   

So... What to do about those bugs then? 

Add organic material to build up your soil

Grow healthy plants in healthy soil. Pests prefer stressed out, unhappy plants and rarely bother happy, healthy ones.

Invest in good soil and feed that soil annually with lots of organic matter. When you add manure, compost, leaf mould, and other organic matter to your beds, you are feeding the worms and the microbial life in the soil, which in turn work hard at keeping your plants nice and healthy.

Top dress around your plants with manure or compost during the growing season, or feed with teas to keep your plants (and soil) happy and healthy.  

Planting diversity means happy, healthy, pest-free gardens. 

Create diversity in your garden and yard. Companion planting with herbs and flowers is the single most important thing that you can for your garden annually to keep it happy, healthy, thriving, and pest free.

Companion planting is cost effective, adds colour and beauty to your beds, but most importantly, fights pests organically with no great effort required on your part.

Companion plant with herbs and flowers

Herbs are very attractive to pollinators, birds, and beneficial insects alike.

Birds will eat lots and lots of garden pests, plus mosquitoes, too, so you really do want to attract them to your organic garden. Sweet little hummingbirds eat bugs, their eggs and larvae, and pollinate your flowers. They like zinnias, sage, lantana, and even marigolds! Sunflowers are a bee and bird favourite.  

Companion plants cilantro, borage, and violas, plus hyssop in the background. 

Bees, hover flies, tachinid flies, lacewings, most all predatory insects and pollinators, tend to like high pollen flowers, such as the flat umbels of dill and cilantro gone to seed.

If you plant it, they will come : ) The more variety you have in your garden, the more beneficial insects and birds you will attract. Different plants attract different beneficials. 

Perennials to add to your garden beds, or in pots around the garden... roses, lilies, lavender, cone flowers, salvia, rudbeckia, asters.   

Bulbs... gladiolas, dahlias (especially the single ones, like Bishop's Children), cannas, anemones, tulips, daffodils. 

The best annuals to incorporate into your organic veggie bed are marigolds, calendula, sweet alyssum, and zinnias. For more information on companion planting with annuals, see HERE!

Pick and squish. Gross as it is, it is still one of the most effective ways of dealing with pests of all sorts.

Spray bugs off with a strong jet of water. I blast my roses with water, my hanging baskets, my cabbages and Brussels sprouts... anything that needs to be hosed off for bugs, gets a strong jet or spray of water. This super easy step helps to eradicate the majority of soft-bodied pests, like aphids.

Do a thorough garden clean up in the fall. Remove all old leaves, weeds, and spent plants, as they offer hibernation places for pests like stink bugs, cabbage worms, and grubs.

I had an issue with stink bugs a few years back, so now make sure to never leave any debris on top of the gardens for pests to over-winter in. I found that they really like to hide in the thick foliage of strawberries, so I moved the strawberries out of the potager and into another part of the yard. If they over-winter in my strawberries now, at least they are far away from my tomatoes, raspberries, sunflowers, and corn.

My onion bed is covered with bug netting to keep out the onion maggot fly

Cover the crops that tend to be the most buggy. Always get aphids on your brassicas? Have a problem with carrot rust flies? Onion maggots? Stink Bugs? Cover those crops with hoop frames, bug netting, or white fabric.

Ladybug attracting plants. Pic from

Do I use biological controls? Not much actually.

I sometimes buy nematodes for fungus gnats, a common greenhouse issue, but do not otherwise tend to use other bio-controls. I mostly rely on companion planting to attract native beneficial insects to my garden and into the greenhouse.

I no longer buy wild ladybugs, as I think that this practise causes more harm than good, or is at best, pointless. I do, however, do my very best to attract native ladybugs to my yard.

Put out water sources for them to safely drink from, saucers or birdbaths with flat stones or pebbles to land on (this is also important for the bees). Plant flowers that they find most attractive. They like yellow and white flowers best, and prefer flowers with a landing pad, like dill or cilantro, yarrow, calendula, marigolds...  

If I really have a problem that is not solved by the above remedies, I will resort to using a Safer's Soap Spray. This usually is only used in the greenhouse, on my seedlings, to fight aphids or white fly, and so does not affect the lovely beneficial insects out in the garden.

As mentioned at the very beginning, I do not like to use even these safe and organic sprays, unless absolutely necessary. Even organic solutions do not discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs, and will kill them all.

Bee on an artichoke

I once, years ago, watched a bee land on a rose that had recently been sprayed with this soap. The soap had already dried, so I thought it was safe... however, the bee died anyways, right before my eyes. Perhaps it was in the pollen? Since that day, I decided that squishing bugs or water spray is the safest and best solution. Simply not worth it. Besides, there may have been lady bug larva on the rose, that I could not see, or some other beneficials. How many times do we kill more of the good guys by trying to get rid of a few bad guys?

Luckily, because of these measures, I rarely have any big pest problems. The ones that do pop up, like the stink bugs and onions maggot flies, I combat using the remedies mentioned.

Flowering garlic chives. Pollinator heaven. 

I try to do no harm. The reason for growing organic food and flowers is to be healthy to our world, our environment, and our selves. So please, try to do no harm. Plant companion plants, squish or spray with water, do a good clean up and feed your soil. It works, I promise you.

Happy Gardening! 

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