Organic Garden Pest Control

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Hi everyone, Sarina here. In recent posts, Jon has been describing how life has been for him after a work injury. He spends most of the day in pain, with a very limited ability to do anything for too long. As difficult as it is for him to go through, it is almost equally difficult to watch him suffer day after day. Luckily, he’s had some help from our awesome kids, who have been doing some extra work in the gardens and around the house with him. You can read about their most recent projects here and here. I’ve also agreed to pitch in; we’ve discussed designing some new permanent shade structures for our plants – think custom pergolas for the plants – and those are soon to be in the works. I’m also going to be popping up more on the site, filling you in on our gardening adventures and writing posts containing some awesome information, like this one about organic garden pest control. Thanks for following us on this journey, we love having you with us.

 

Organic gardening is a wonderful way to grow your own food, sans nasty chemicals. Starting organic is easy; by using organic plants, soil, and the20150225_160438 proper building materials, an organic garden can be crafted in no time. However, staying organic when faced with pests proves to be a little more difficult. It’s so easy to defer back to conventional methods of pest control, such as bug sprays and pellets, because they usually do the trick. While those sprays are busy killing off the bugs, they’re also creating a host of other problems: damaging the soil quality, making the air unsafe for humans and pets to breathe, and infusing your beautiful crops with some really unnatural ingredients. We’ve found that being proactive about pests is the best way to keep them at bay. Of course we still have the occasional unwanted visit from bugs from time to time, but we’re always well prepared for them, and the damage to our gardens have been minimal after using the techniques outlined below for the past few growing seasons.

While shopping the other day, Jon and I perused through the bug repellant aisle, after spotting some ants on our tomato plants. (Ants don’t bother the garden, but the aphids that attract the ants can cause quite a bit of destruction if left unchecked.) We nearly fell off the organic wagon for the sake of convenience…until we read the labels and refreshed our memories on why we don’t use that stuff! Even the bottles labeled “safe for organic gardening” were bogged down with fine print, warning users to keep away after applying for at least an hour! And keep the number Poison Control handy, in case you inhale the product, or get it in your eyes. There’s no way we’re using anything like that on our garden, on food that we’re anticipating feeding our family. We realized right there in the store that we needed to write a post about pest control, so here it is! There are a whole range of things you can do to protect your garden, here are some of the things that really work in our garden.

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Companion Gardening
Planning in advance for common pests can significantly reduce the negative effects they can have on your garden. Companion gardening is strategically placing certain plants and flowers close to, or away from, other plants. There’s a few reasons why it’s important to be mindful of which plants are close together. Certain plants repel bugs, and they’re great to plant near other plants that those pests are most attracted to. Others enhance the flavor of their neighboring fruits or vegetables. Though, soil quality is most definitely the biggest motivation behind companion gardening. It’s best to keep plants with similar nutritional needs away from each other, so the soil doesn’t become depleted, and therefore unable to properly nourish the plants. Struggling plants attract bugs, so planning ahead to keep your  soil and plants healthy is key. I can’t stress it enough, companion gardening is so essential in order for a garden to thrive to it’s fullest potential. (I’ll be writing a post soon on the topic, stay tuned!)

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Compost
As I mentioned above, keeping your soil in tip top shape is a great way to keep your plants performing at their best. Making and using your own compost makes your soil super nutrient dense. Our key garden has a compost built into the center, and we credit it for infusing our soil with all the goodies it needs, and helping to grow some gorgeous plants. You don’t need a fancy compost bin, you can make one out of pretty much anything – a garbage pail, a storage tote, any container with a lid. Toss your inedible or unusable kitchen scraps (veggie shavings, onion skins, etc.) along with yard waste (brown, shredded leaves are ideal) in the bin with some of your favorite gardening soil, and water it as needed. It will need to stay fairly moist in order to decompose, so here in Arizona we need to water ours more frequently because of our ultra dry climate.Turn it over with a pitchfork every couple of weeks, and add it to your garden at the beginning of your planting season. You’ll know it’s ready when the only thing left in the bin is dirt. Remember, healthy soil = healthy plants! Which leads me to my next suggestion,

 

Crop Rotation
Another key factor in soil health is crop rotation, yet it is often overlooked. Continuously reusing the same area for the same plants is a surefire way to drain your soil of its essential nutrients. Each season, move plants around to a new spot in your garden. This will allow the soil to have a chance to replenish the nutrients it lost during the last growing season.

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Physical Barriers
This is the perhaps the simplest way to deter all sorts of nuisances. We use a few different kinds of physical barriers, and they’re all very helpful. Draping netting over some of our most delicate plants, such as lettuce, has successfully discouraged birds from feasting on our food. We also throw down crushed eggshells around the base of our plants, as soft-bodied insects dislike the sharp edges. Eggshells are also rich in calcium, a much needed garden nutrient, so double bonus!

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Garden-Friendly Bugs
There are some bugs that you should welcome into your garden, as they feed on the bugs that ruin your plants. Ladybugs and lacewings are among the most popular garden-friendly bugs; and in short, they’re hungry! As both larvae and adults, they can consume tons of smaller bugs, and they’re pretty aggressive about going after aphids, caterpillars, and mealybugs. It’s awesome when your garden is blessed with having some of these little guys around, but don’t panic if you don’t – most of them are available for purchase from your local nursery, or even online.

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Remember when I said earlier that we needed to clear up a little aphid problem? We decided to take care of them with a round of ladybugs. This was not only highly successful, it was really fun too! We picked up a container of ladybugs from our favorite nursery, and waited until dusk to set them loose in our garden. It was interesting to watch them crawl out of the cup, up my hands, and onto the base of the plants. They were eager to get out, and they went to town as soon as they hit the ground.By the time I was finished distributing them around the plants, the first ladybugs to be let out were already scurrying around the tops of plants!

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While we were in the nursery, we also picked up a package of beneficial nematodes, which are great for getting rid of caterpillars. We’ve had a problem with caterpillars in the past, but this year we’ve only noticed two on a zucchini plant. Since there are most likely more hiding out in the soil, we decided to prevent them from initiating a hostile takeover of our squash plants. The nematodes came in a sponge, and we released them by gently squeezing the sponge while submerged in lukewarm water. We poured the water into a watering can, and distributed it over the soil. This is the first time we’ve tried this, so I’ll update you on whether or not we see a lot of caterpillars in the garden this year or not.

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What methods have you used to keep pests out of your gardens? Did it work? Let us know in the comments below!

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