Compost Cover Crops crop rotation Disease Control mulching (mentioned) Organic Gardening Organic Pest Control Pest control Soil Improvement and/or preparation

Organic Pest Control — Eliminate the Cause

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

Organic Pesticides

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).

For example:

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).

Final Thoughts

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.


Related Posts:

Garden Diversity Can Equal Better Organic Pest- Disease Control


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  • Thank you for all the encouragement. I think I may have introduced a few extra bugs with my chopped leaves as mulch this spring. . Or at least the plants were vulnerable due to cold. I’m planning to use composted leaves instead of fresh from now on for mulch.

    I will tell you my sensitivity to insects must be high. Our daughter visited a couple of weeks ago and exclaimed, “Mom! How is it that you have a garden with NO bugs?” Guess its all relative.

  • Thanks for sharing that comment your daughter made!
    And you’ll have less and less pest bugs all the time Gayle.


  • Theresa, I loved your comment about the homemade mixes – it would be so easy to throw things out of whack without even realizing. I also like that I can cross something else off my list of complicated messy things to prepare – and just stick to composting and mulching. Thanks for repeating this in different ways and at different times, because it is so easy to forget.

  • Sandra I appreciate this comment. I was thinking today about how I basically say the same thing over and over — BUT — I do try to say it in a different way each time. I know from experience that sometimes when I was studying something — I totally missed the point when it was said in one way — but really got it when it was said another way.

  • Polyface Farms has buying clubs that deliver their organic meats to various locations every 6 weeks. I wonder if they would sell you some manure?

  • Heather, I’m going to look into this. I have a feeling that I’m too far in the boonies and that they don’t deliver in this area. Nonetheless, I’m going to look into it.
    Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Hi Theresa,
    I just put some cow manure mixed with straw on my garden. I did not compost it first. Do you think the vegetables I plant next spring/summer would be harmful for us to eat? Or do you think it will compost enough? The manure is from my “milk” ladies cows. Grass fed, no antibiotics, hormones, or any other chemicals. I wonder if I am taking “compost right in the garden” a little to literally when using cow manure. And I didn’t question it until I read in your above post that you would compost your manure for your garden even though you don’t like to hot compost…. I hope I did not jeopordize my vegetable garden for this next season. Thank you for all of your advice.


  • Toni –
    Many farmers (and gardeners) apply manure in the fall and then incorporate it into the first 6 inches of the soil in the spring. So based on this practice — I think you are fine and have NOT jeopardized your garden for the next season.

    If the cow manure was already aged for 6 months or a year and mixed with straw — then I would not feel the need to incorporate it into the soil in the spring.

    However, fresh manure must always be used with caution because —- even though from what you said it sounds like excellent quality manure — it’ still possible for it to contain pathogenic bacteria.

    I personally prefer aging for 6 months to a year or hot composting the manure. (If you do a little more research on this you will find that this is what is usually recommended.)

    Another often repeated piece of information that you see regarding raw manure is:
    “If you use raw manure, it must be tilled in 120 days prior to harvest of a crop that comes in contact with the soil (root crops) or 90 days prior to harvest if the product does not have direct contact with the soil (above ground leaves or fruits).”

    Another thing you may want to consider is to plan a compost pile IN the garden. You would start it in a unoccupied bed and then let it “finish” for 6 months or a year. You’d distribute the compost as you needed it. In the interim you would start another compost pile on another unoccupied garden bed. And continue the process. This is a great way to enrich your garden beds over time. Also you could accommodate a LOT of manure and not have to worry about disease issues.

    You are so fortunate to have access to this great manure.

    The main thing to remember is you don’t want raw manure coming in contact with food — root crops or above ground crops.

    Glad you asked about this Toni. I’m sure other readers may have the same concern.

  • Thank you for the info Theresa. I think I made a ton of work for myself! I wonder if I can put compost on top of the uncomposted manure instead of tilling it in six inches?


  • Adding compost on top is ok, but an extreme thickness of straw on top of that might be good.
    If you do decide to incorporate instead — turning it under with a shovel may be the best and easiest way.
    Let me know what you decide.

    PS — I’m assuming the manure was fresh. Is that correct?

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