Sometimes people think that organic gardening means not using any kind of pest control in the vegetable garden. That’s simply not the case. Organic gardening means thinking holistically about the garden instead of just trying to control a certain pest on a certain plant. It also means using natural pest control methods for pest pressure.
Six Natural Pest Control Ideas
One thing is for sure, you don’t need to use chemical insecticides at the first sign of pest pressure – even ones certified for organic use. There are many non-chemical ways to naturally control pests in the vegetable garden to use first.
- Build healthy soil. Building healthy soil takes time but is worth it. There are many cheap and easy ways to build healthy soil such as using chicken litter, mulch, and worm castings. Building healthy soil is truly the best thing you can do for your garden. It will save you money on fertilizer and pesticides. And you’ll get a bigger harvest.
- Practice crop rotation. Don’t make it easy for the pests to find your plants by planting the same plants in the same spots year after year. Some pests will over winter in the soil and then emerge in the spring – vine borers do this, so it’s important to not plant the squash vines in the same soil year after year. Here is a simple order for rotating crops – legumes, leaf, fruit, roots. No one does this perfectly so don’t get all hung up on it, just try to not plant the same thing in the same spot year after year.
- Practice companion planting. There are some plants that pests just don’t like. Radishes will deter cucumber beetles, borage will deter tomato hornworms and cabbage moths, onions and garlic have a strong smell and can be planted throughout the garden. Some plants can be planted as a trap for pests. Sunflowers will keep aphids occupied and off other plants, hyacinth beans will do the same for leaf footed bugs. Just like crop rotation, there’s no need to get stressed out and try to companion plant perfectly. Just adding some flowers and herbs to your vegetable garden beds can really do a lot to help confuse pests.
- Attract useful insects. Not all insects and bugs you find in the garden are bad. In fact, many are useful and have a symbiotic relationship with what we call bad bugs. While most of us know that lady bugs are beneficial to the garden, but so are spiders and frogs. You can easily build simple frog habitats in several places in your garden to encourage them to take up residence. Be sure to plant flowers that attract these useful bugs and insects. Dill, tansy, coriander, Queen Anne’s lace, yarrow, buckwheat, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, lemon balm and marigolds are wonderful choices.
- Pick plant varieties that naturally discourage pests. Some varieties of the same plant will often have features that discourage common pests. For instance, if you have trouble with vine borers pick a variety of squash that has a thinner or harder stem; butternut squash, green striped cushaw, Dickenson pumpkin, tatume and summer crookneck are somewhat resistant to vine borers. To discourage earworms in corn choose tightly husked varieties such as ‘Country Gentlemen’ and ‘Victory Golden’. We’re not talking about GMO varieties, just varieties that naturally make it hard for pests to attack. MiGardener Seed company has wonderful heirloom seeds for only 99 cents a packet. You can also get a 10% discount on your entire order by using this link.
- Use physical barriers to discourage pests. Nets or row covers over cabbage will keep the moths from laying eggs on them. Crushed eggs shells can be put around the base of plants to keep slugs away. Metals cans (with both ends cut off) can be put over tender seedlings and into the soil a bit to keep cutworms at bay. To help with a pill bug infestation, put a teaspoon of yeast, a teaspoon of sugar and 1/2 cup of water into an 8 ounce jar and bury the jar up to the lip. The pill bugs are drawn to the smell and will drown. Change out the jar every couple of days. Also, look for insect eggs on the underside of leaves and squish to reduce pests in the garden.
Using Organic Insecticides
Sometimes you can do all the things listed above and it’s still quite not enough and your plants suffer from pest pressure. In that case, you need to spray or sprinkle cautiously. Most organic sprays and powders are broad spectrum and will hurt the useful insects too.
Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) is a bacteria that only targets caterpillars and worms. It comes in a powder or a spray and is very useful for things like cabbage worms and tomato hornworms. I’ve found that I usually only need to spray once or twice during the growing season and I only spray the plants that are being attacked.
DE (Diatomaceous Earth) is wonderful for insects such as aphids, ants, thrips, mites, earwigs, snails and slugs. Unfortunately, it can also be harmful to other insects such as lady bugs and bees.
Neem oil can be used as a preventative spray for pests that eat leaves like aphids, mites, squash bugs, Colorado potato beetles and Mexican bean beetles. Homemade garlic and pepper sprays can also be helpful- but they are indiscriminate and will kill beneficial insects along with pests. So be careful using these.
Wood ash can be used in the garden to deter pests and disease. You can use the ash from your fire place or outdoor fire pit, just be sure that only untreated wood was burned.
It takes more time and more thought to grow food organically and use natural pest control in the vegetable garden but it’s better for the ecosystem and your family. Over time you will figure out what works best for you and your garden. Just remember to keep notes while you’re learning.
What are some of your favorite natural pest control methods? Feel free to share in the comments so we can all learn.