If you’ve ever had a sudden invasion of aphids or some other garden pest that is decimating your hard worked garden, this might help you.
We all want wildlife in our gardens. Yes, we do.
Most people, with any interest in the environment and creating a healthy garden, have at least an idea about having a balanced ecosystem in their garden area.
We have little fantasies about beautiful little snails or a toad happily living in our veggie patch. Until one day, we realize something is amiss. Our plants look sad, with the leaves half eaten, fruit has gaping holes in it, and our further fantasies about BBQ dinner with our fresh grown produce lay in dust. We can’t convince any toads to hang around, ants are farming aphids all over the pepper plants and generally this is the point where one considers throwing in the towel where gardening is concerned.
Further investigation reveals any one or number of issues. Everything from tomato hornworms, aphids, to cutworms can reduce a good gardener to tears for a while.
So how to prevent or deal with these? Because in my experience, being prepared ahead of time can save on 90% of most issues.
Here are a few tips I have for being able to handle many of these before they get out of hand, without ruining your ecosystem by killing off everything living for years. And trust me, when you find your entire tomato crop laid to waste in 48 hours from a sudden explosion of tomato hornworms, the thought will cross your mind to buy out the 7Dust at the nursery, however briefly.
Healthy Plants and Soil
It is completely true that healthy plants in healthy, biologically active soil will fight off pests and diseases much better than those without those benefits.
However, even then, the odd circumstance thrown at us by mother nature can throw things completely off the rails. I had this happen several springs ago in the greenhouse. The weather changed from unseasonably cold right into May, and in 48 hours heated up to full summer. Mid 30’s Celcius. Everyone was in shock. No one had their summer gear out, plants had not adapted to a more gradual increase in temperatures and sun, and with all the rain up to that point it created a perfect storm. Within three to four days the greenhouse was infested with aphids. Ants were busy farming them, and it was insane how quickly everything went downhill.
Despite our quick efforts of washing everything down with Safers insecticidal soap ( organic) and then turning lady bugs loose as soon as it was safe to do so after the soap, the peppers and cucumbers never recovered.
Have a couple of shelf stable solutions on hand.
Having a couple of bottles like Safer’s organic soap handy is way preferably from finding that everyone is out and you have to wait 48 hours for Amazon delivery. A lot can happen in 48 hours.
Before going further, let me just state that I have no affiliation with Safer’s, they just have some really great products for the organic gardener.
I always have a bottle of Safer’s BTK on hand for caterpillars that take over my apple trees each spring, just after blooming. BTK is a biological insecticide, meaning its a bacteria that must be consumed by the crawling munchies (this works on everything from cabbage worms and tomato hornworms to tent caterpillars btw). It swells up their digestive tract, causing them to stop eating, and then they die. Because it is a bacteria, it disipates off the leaves within a few days from air and light, leaving no residue or harmful affects on the plants for your consumption.
Now can it still harm pollinators? Research says that it will not, as this enzyme very specifically works on caterpillars with a stomach pH of 11 and over. However, I am still very careful to use as directed. If I use it on flowering vegetables, I will cover them with a lightweight floating row cover for a couple of days until it dissipates.
Having some food grade diatomaceous earth on hand is good for dealing with ant hills and certain other pests, however, it will affect any insect, so don’t go sprinkling it on flowers and where other pollinating or other beneficial insects can go. Diatomaceous earth is tiny exoskeletons of marine life from thousands of years back. It is great for the soil and plants. However, its affect on insects is that it’s fine but sharp edged qualities cause insects to cut and dehydrate. While this is great if it’s say, aphids, no one wants this happening to beneficial insects. So think through your usage of it when you do need to pull it out.
Have a spray bottle handy that you can create your own spray with and experiment a little.
Here is a recipe that I use but am always adapting.
In a pot with a liter of water (double if your bottle is bigger) add:
- 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and smashed with the knife
- 1 hot chili pepper, or 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne powder or other types of chili powder
- Bring to a simmer, and turn off. Leave to cool with the lid on.
- Strain through a coffee strainer and put in the spray bottle.
- You can add a couple of drops of essential oil, like peppermint or tea tree oil, but don’t over do this as you don’t want your leaves coated in oil, just enough that the essential oil is effective for antibacterial or insect purposes.
Salt. This is specific to slugs.
While various kinds of slugs are vary good for different things in your garden (some eat only decaying wood, others dead vegetation and so on) the ones that destroy our veggie patches seem to get completely out of control very quickly. They are good at hiding in the soil and coming out to decimate tender leafy greens at night. Catching them is key of course, but a sprinkle of salt disolves them. It doesn’t need to be a lot.
This was mine and my brother’s job when we were kids, to find the slugs in the garden and dump a bit of salt on them. I know, I know, now I’m not sure how this would go over, but it was pretty normal when I was growing up.
I’ve had people tell me that using a lid with beer works, the slugs are attracted, they drink, and then drown. Then I’ve had others tell me it doesn’t work at all. Let me know what your experience is on this.
Floating row covers.
These are available online, at nurseries, and Walmart and Canadian tire. There are different weights, light, medium, and heavy for a variety of different uses. They are inexpensive, last for several seasons, and can be cut to size.
An entire blog post can be devoted to these, but for this article, a lightweight one works wonderfully for covering rows and garden sections to keep out cabbage moths, carrot rust flies, and other such issues. The key with these is to make sure the edges are tucked 2-3 inches down into the soil around the area you are protecting as insects are creative at getting through the smallest accesses. You can water through them, sun gets through, and they can rest on growing produce without being too heavy. You can, if you like, get a roll of heavy weight wire, cut into lengths, and stick into the ground on either side for an easy hoop solution.
Dawn dish soap and a spray bottle.
I don’t know what the ingredient is in Dawn dish soap specifically that sets it apart from others, although others will work, just not quite as well as Dawn. Add a half teaspoon of dish soap to 1 litre of water in a spray bottle gently stir, and spray down your plants to treat aphids and other problem insects.
These are some of the handiest things I have around that work well.
Let me know below in the comments what your go-to home made, organic pest recipe is! Or other solutions you use to help keep your ecosystem in balance. This will help other gardeners here that are looking for solutions too.