As the growing season gets into full swing most of us will sooner or later do battle with some form of garden pest — either insect or disease.
By working with nature and continuing to improve your soil every year you should have far less pests and disease problems with each passing year.
If you’re gardening in soil that has been abused and loaded with chemicals prior to your arrival — some time will be required before you attain the balanced, healthy soil you want. Patience is needed.
Pests can be your Early Warning System
Our gardens overall can “look” healthy and still have problems. An infestation of pests or disease can signal us that something is not right.
Anything (short term or long term) that causes the plants to not function properly can weaken plants and cause pests to come in. Reasons can be:
- stress from cold or drought
- addition of a fertilizer (even organic) that is not needed and throws things out of balance
- water pollution (like watering with chlorinated water)
- root disturbance (from voles or maybe even from the gardener)
- improper pruning
- lack of nutrients or nutrient imbalance
Over the years — when and if I had a problem I usually hand picked the pests. I’ve had organic pesticides on hand (and still have some) but probably could count on my hand how many times I’ve used them in 35 years. It always seems just as easy to hand pick as it does to mix up the stuff and spray.
That coincidence has worked to my garden’s advantage because for all the good some of those sprays might do — they also can harm beneficials and/or other soil life.
Bees and beneficial insects
There was an article as far back as 2007 or 8 that stated 90% of the native bees were gone. (Honey bees are not natives.) When you think of how dependent crops are on bees for pollination their demise could mean disaster for us all.
I noticed a great decline in the number of bees last year and had trouble getting squash and cucumbers because they were not being pollinated. Bottom line — at this point in time I would not want to chance killing any bees.
Keep in mind too that you want all the beneficial insects you can get to help with pest control when it happens. So be careful to provide habitat and freedom from sprays that would harm them.
Careful with everyday Home Products
Unless you really know your chemistry and know what’s in the home remedy solutions recommended by folks like Jerry Baker, I’d be hesitant to use them. Some of these home products can kill various soil life (microbes) that are important to your garden.
Some products contain various minerals or nutrients. (For example: epsom salt contains magnesium.) If you have no way of knowing what nutrients your soil needs, you may create an imbalance by adding these products.
Band-aid Solution or Cure
Although we want to do everything we can when we are in the throes of a pest invasion — we need to keep in mind that even organic pesticides and hand picking are only band-aid solutions for the problem. If we want to cure the problem we must correct the reason for the problem.
Even when dealing with a disease like early blight on tomatoes, we need to think long-term while we are dealing with the immediate crisis. In other words we need to address the cause rather than just the symptom (pests or disease).
Last year’s early blight on my tomatoes (the first time in many years) certainly woke me up to the fact that my soil might not be as healthy as I thought it was. The entire time I was dealing with the immediate problem I was planning my long term strategy to try to prevent it in future years.
I think one of my big problems was that I didn’t have enough diversity in the organic material feeding my soil. Thus, my soil didn’t have all the nutrients it needed to make my plants strong enough to fight off the blight. Hopefully, that will be corrected in part by various cover crops that I planted last year.
I’d love to be able to access some good manure from animals free of various antibiotics, etc. and that were fed nutrient rich food with no chemicals. After composting it, I feel it might supply some nutrients that would not otherwise be provided to my soil.
I don’t like to take the time for “hot” compost piles, but I’d sure do it anyway if I could access this kind of manure. I’d use the end result like gold with various vegetable plants.
Work with Nature and Create an Environment that will Help you Control Pests
Creating an environment that nature loves is one of the best things you can do to help control pests in your garden. The more you can do towards that, the more help you’ll receive from nature. Here are a few of the most important steps towards a healthier pest-free garden.
- Plant flowers to draw beneficials.
- Rotate your crops.
- Fertilize with compost rather than organic commercial fertilizers.
- Intercropping (planting one crop with another) makes it more difficult for pests to find crops.
- Underplant with cover crops like clover.
- Have natural bushes or trees surround your garden area and/or property to provide habitat for beneficial, toads, birds, insects, etc.
- Use green manures and cover crops to help maintain the biological balance in the soil.
- Keep you soil covered (mulched).
Pests are so common in the world of commercial agriculture today that folks are pretty much programmed to accept them as normal in any garden. A study of history, commercial agriculture, and biological agriculture (done in accordance with nature) reveals that infestation of pests came (and come) from working contrary to what nature does.
In a nutshell — the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers over the last 100 years and other unnatural practices have served to ruin more than 90% of our country’s soil and thus render them unable to grow healthy plants. Being weak — they attract pests.
If you continue to work with nature you’ll find your pest and/or disease problems will be less and less with each passing year.
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