One of the main reasons I garden is to provide fresh, tasty and chemical-free food for my family. But it seems like the bugs and pests are determined to thwart me at every turn. When you see your broccoli covered in green worms or cabbage moths have destroyed your cabbage, it’s enough to make you want to go all nuclear and destroy those buggers at any cost!
But not to worry–there are lots of safe ways to control those nasties without resorting to toxic petrochemicals.
Here are my favorites:
My first go-to
Bacillus Thuringienses is hard to pronounce and in any case it sounds like a made-up word, so let’s call it by its initials: Bt. And let me tell you, Bt is a wonder. Earlier this summer I went out to find my gooseberries stripped of almost all its leaves. I mean stripped. Bare. I almost cried when I saw 80% of my bushes decimated.
What could have caused the damage? I took pictures and sent them to the County Extension, posted them on a gardening website and on my Facebook page. What could have destroyed 80% of our bush’s foliage in about one day?
Deer? No, the damage was down low as well as deer-height and I doubt deer would stick their tender noses deep into the spiny bushes. Besides, there were no deer tracks and the
Notice the absence of leaves? You won’t even see it unless you know what to look for. The voracious green worm with black spots turns into a saw fly, which then lays eggs at the base of the plant, starting a whole new cycle of destruction. A mixture of Bt and DE put an end to these pests.
strawberries right next to them were untrampled.
Rabbits? No, the damage was too high. And what deer or rabbit would have left all the berries behind?
The answer came from a Facebook friend who has faced the same enemy: saw flies. These nasty little flies lay eggs and their black-speckled green caterpillars will completely strip a bush in 24 hours. Once I knew what to look for, sure enough, there was one of the culprits photo-bombing one of the pictures I took.
Saw flies will go through as many as three life cycles in a summer and will also attack currant bushes. So we immediately sprayed all the bushes with Safer Bt. Sure enough, about three weeks later we saw evidence of a second invasion, but this one only stripped a handful of branches, proving that we’d eliminated a huge percentage of the nasty critters. We plan on spraying next year in late spring to ensure that any that have survived the winter never live to take another bite from our gooseberry bushes.
The number and kinds of pests that Bt will eliminate is somewhat limited, but on the pests it’s useful for, it does an amazing job.
The only thing worse than all the damage the cabbage moth caterpillar does is finding it hidden in the crevices of the broccoli you just cooked. Spray your brassicas with DE suspended in water once a week to keep them under control.
Bt is good for controlling most beetles, included the potato beetle and the asparagus beetle.
My next favorite pest control is diatomaceous earth. Sounds like another made-up word, so again, let’s just call it by its initials, DE. It’s a little hard to find DE locally, so I get mine online. In fact, call your garden center and ask them if they carry diatomaceous earth and they’ll probably think it’s some kind of joke. DE is a fine, talc-like powder made of microscopic hard-shelled sea algae. While it feels like a soft powder to us, to an insect it is like walking across razors. It scratches and tears their exoskeletons and causes them to dehydrate.
DE will put an end to those nasty cabbage worms that infest your broccoli and make hash of your cabbage and those ugly potato beetles. But it is perfectly safe for humans–in fact many health food people advocate taking it internally as a mineral supplement. But it is deadly to almost all insects, even the beneficial ones, so limit its use to only those plants that need it. On plants that need bees for pollination (like squash), cover the flowers with a cloth or paper bag while applying the DE so that the bees pollinating your plants aren’t harmed.
There are two ways to apply DE–sprinkle it on dry or use a wet application. For limited use, I use the dry method. I put it into a Parmesan cheese shaker and shake it on the leaves of the plants. If you have a larger area that needs it or plants that don’t have big leaves, like asparagus, use the wet method. We had a nasty infestation of asparagus beetles last year. Much of our asparagus was deformed as the caterpillars ate the newly emerging spears. I applied DE to get rid of all the beetles and sprayed Bt down close to the ground to get rid of the larvae.
Bt and DE take care of 90% of the pests I find in my garden. But there are few that need the special treatment of insecticidal soap. The fatty salts in insecticidal soaps are toxic to insects when they come in direct contact, so you have to be sure to thoroughly spray the whole plant. There are commercial varieties you can buy at the garden center, but many use petroleum byproducts which makes them less safe for humans, so I make my own. Homemade insecticidal soap is so easy to make and costs just pennies.
Insecticidal soap works best on soft-bodies pests: mites, mealy worms and other caterpillars and so it doesn’t harm the beneficial insects like bees and lady bugs. They are good for tomato hornworms and cabbage worms.
A heavy infestation of grasshoppers can spell doom for your garden. But Nosema locustae is a protozoa that is fatal to grasshoppers and crickets. It is perfectly harmless to humans, making it a good choice for those of us who want organic food.
grasshopper from the inside. And since grasshoppers are cannibals (Ew! I bet you didn’t know that, did you?), they’ll eat the dead bodies of their friends and ingest the parasite and thus continuing the cycle death and destruction. Serves them right.
It’s a little expensive (about $22 for a one pound bag.) But a little goes a long way and just one application will handily take care of your worst grasshopper infestation. Studies show it will kill 80% or more of all grashoppers.
We had a few bad years of grasshoppers but we just ignored them. But by about the 3rd or 4th year the grasshoppers were out of control. We used the Nolo Bait and have never had a bad case of grasshoppers since.
Don’t let the bugs ruin your plants. Be prepared with these non-toxic and organic remedies.