How to Outsmart Pests

on Thursday, September 25, 2008

The solution is inside the problem itself...

I learned from an entomologist [a bug expert] and a research chemist that pests find our tasty vegetables by smell! This gives you solutions—knowing your enemy helps. The reason that marigolds, basil, onions and chives all work as “natural pesticides,” is because they confuse the pest’s sense of smell. Garlic spray works for the same reason.

The way you plant also affects your garden’s vulnerability to pests. Planting in rows actually helps pests as they easily chomp along a row, one victim after another lined up for their dining pleasure. But it really confuses pests when, for example, you plant an eggplant next to a lettuce plant, instead of another lettuce plant. The extra time they spend looking for that second lettuce plant makes them more vulnerable to predators. Confusing pests is the main reason to mix plantings, but not the only reason, as I will discuss in another column…

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

A government official once interviewed the famous rice grower because he had the best rice production in Japan. The official said, “Mr. Fukuoka, I see that the spiders are managing your pests.” Fukoka replied, ”Oh, so it’s the spiders this year? Last year it was the frogs.”

A frog will eat its own weight in garden pests every night. That’s a lot if you consider the size of our bufos! A small shallow pond or a wet shady spot will attract them. But they are very sensitive to , and will die or leave if you use them.

If you encourage birds by giving them a safe place to drink, they will eat lots of bugs. Chickens will eat fallen fruit that can breed fruit flies. The praying mantis is also a welcome ally, and can manage pests in my garden.

Integrated pest management

Organic gardeners and farmers speak of management, not eradication. Even farmers who use pesticides expect to lose 7 percent of their crop to pests. But if your plants are seriously infested and you are losing too much food, you need to identify what kind of pest is doing the damage. Turn over leaves and look for eggs, nests of mites or fat caterpillars. Wash off the eggs and mites, and pick off the caterpillars. I feed them to the fish in my small garden pond.

You should also grab a flashlight and collect up whatever is eating your veggies at night. You will, no doubt, find snails and slugs. These pests don’t like to make contact with gravel or broken eggshell, so making a barrier out of this type of material is effective. And barriers work for some pests. Our big local snails can even be fenced out with chicken wire.

But the most difficult pests to manage are those that fly. Chinese beetles and fruit flies are two common culprits. I control fruit flies with ducks, which eat fallen fruit. And if my tomatoes are getting stung, I pick them early and let them ripen indoors. You must carefully dispose of any fruits that have maggots.

You can also put paper bags over melons and cucumbers to keep fruit flies away after the fruit has formed. Many fruiting veggies need pollination, so you can grow them under a net instead of bagging them.

Chinese beetles can be controlled with tobacco. A few cigarette butts in the soil around their target will lower their numbers next year.

By understanding pests, you can devise ways to outwit these competitors for your veggies.

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