Having your own backyard garden is truly one of the joys of summer. I can prepare dinner with the freshest ingredients possible, without leaving the house. Juicy tomatoes, fragrant herbs, and a couple of perfectly sized zucchinis and I have the makings of a fabulous light lunch or side dish for dinner.
What can turn this idyllic scene into instant disappointment? Discovering unwanted pests have already had a meal of your vegetables !
One of the reasons I like to grow my own food is that I want to control the quality. Knowing that my ingredients are as fresh as possible and free of unnecessary chemicals is of absolute importance. I don’t want to use pesticides or herbicides in my vegetable or flower gardens. I use organic fertilizer and buy organic seeds and plants.
Walking into the garden, early in the morning, while the dew is still hanging onto the leaves and hearing the robins in the apple trees starts my day perfectly until… my eyes rest upon the tomato plants. Instead of seeing a lush plant, I am accosted by the sight of a plant stalk that had their yummy leaves completely eaten. It doesn’t even seem possible! At first, I think…maybe a rabbit or groundhog has been making a meal of my tomato plants? I look around, thinking I will see a little rabbit hiding in the grass, giggling at my misfortune. But then, I see the telltale signs. Tomato Hornworm droppings.
Tomato Hornworms are actually caterpillars of the sphinx moth. The caterpillars are huge. (If you have ever accidentally rested your hand on one as you are working in the garden, you know – it can be kind of shocking if you aren’t prepared for it.)
Witnessing the devastation that garden pests can unleash on your hard work can bring out the warrior in us. But, in the quest to keep it organic, we can turn to chemical free alternatives to combat unwanted pests. By using targeted and safe methods, we can attack the destructive visitors and protect the beneficial ones.
One of the easiest and most cost-effective pest control methods is handpicking the pests off your plants. You don’t need any special equipment or supplies. This might even be one task in the garden your kids will help with! Whether they just want to get a closer look at a really cool bug, or keep them for pets ( my kids) you can probably enlist their help. Handpicking pests is exactly what it sounds like.The only tool you will need are your hands. Look for the caterpillars underneath the leaves in the mornings while it is still cool. It is best to look for them as soon as you notice their existence. They will move from plant to plant and hide. Just pick off the pests and drop into a bucket of soapy water if you want to kill them. My kids are fascinated with the huge green worms and often keep them in a container full of tomato leaves so they can observe them. If the worms have a parasitic wasp cocoon attached to theirs back, this method is quite useful. The wasps that lay their eggs on the worms will help naturally control the worm’s population. Allowing the wasps to hatch will ensure a whole new population of natural predators to control the pests.
2.) Adding Natural Predators
If Mother Nature is working as intended, there will be a proper balance of prey and predator insects in your gardens. If pests invade your space, there should be another beneficial insect that comes along to control it. However, the balance can shift disproportionately, at times, because of external factors beyond your control. Weather patterns, precipitation , temperature and invasive species can alter the natural balance.
For example, if you are experiencing an invasion of aphids, you can introduce ladybugs to prey on the aphids. Aphids are tiny mite-like creatures. because of their size,they will go unnoticed until there are hundreds of them clustered on a leaf. The leaves will turn yellow and their will be a sticky substance. The sticky stuff is “dew” created by the aphids.
Green Lacewings are also used to naturally control aphids. Green Lacewings will also eat aphids and other small soft-bodied insects.
You can purchase lady bugs, green lacewings and other beneficial insects inexpensively through many mail order garden companies and DIY outlets. Amazon offers 1500 live ladybugs for only $12.50. The same site offers 1000 Green Lacewings eggs for $12.50. The instructions are quite simple. Most recommend dropping the purchased insects in your garden during the cool of the evening. Never drop them into your garden during the heat of a summer afternoon. Once the beneficial insects are in your garden, they will take care of the job you hired them to do. As long as there is available food in the garden, they will stick around to keep the pests away.
These are just 2 non-toxic ways to control pests in your gardens. There are other easy and inexpensive ways to control pests that I will cover in future articles.
I would love to hear about your favorite methods of non-toxic pest control.