Here are seven ways organic gardeners can manage pests without using chemicals.
Gardeners who choose to use organic practices know the secret to natural pest control.
I realized this while sitting on the beach with a group of friends, observing a spectacular feeding frenzy just offshore. A huge school of fish moved through the water, frantically leaping from waves as porpoises devoured many of their school. Overhead, birds circled, diving to catch struggling fish.
An osprey snagged an especially large fish and proudly flew away with his prize. That’s when a friend quipped, “Everybody’s gotta eat!”
And that’s the key. It all comes down to limiting food sources and maintaining a natural species balance that provides food for every creature.
Managing pest organically is not always easy. Yet there are several ways you can kick the pesticides and use nature for your benefit. The trade offs for healthy and nutritious food is worth it in the end.
1. Hand remove.
While herbicides and pesticides may make gardening easier, the scent memory of Sevin Dust from childhood reminds me that I would rather remove Mexican Bean Beetles by hand than add the chemical taste and smell to my heirloom green beans. Some insect pests, such as Harlequin bugs and the Colorado Potato Beetle, are simple enough to remove by hand while other bugs, allowed to live, will eat harmful pests on their own.
2. Good bug vs. bad bug.
Speaking of some bugs eating other bugs: Lady Bug Beetles, distinctive with bright red shells and black spots, are garden workhorses, eating thousands of aphids. A quick study in determining good and bad bug identification will greatly aid the organic gardener.
3. Crop rotation.
Crop rotation is especially helpful because moving a particular plant to a different garden location removes that food source from overwintering pests. You should rotate crops in a three to four year cycle and follow the roots, then leaves, and legumes pattern, which helps maintain healthy soil.
4. Companion planting.
Companion planting is the practice of growing plants that repel pests in close proximity. For example, parsley planted in the asparagus bed will deter asparagus beetles. White icicle radishes planted with squash repel squash vine borers. The herb borage deters tomato worms, and cabbageworms do not like thyme. For more tips, see Louise Riotte’s comprehensive guide to companion planting.
5. Natural barriers.
Wood ashes mixed with water may be applied to soil around onions, cauliflower, beets, turnips, peas, and lettuces to deter maggots and other pests. Cheesecloth tents prevent destruction by flea beetles, tiny creatures that can devastate seedlings, particularly eggplants, and leap great distances when disturbed. When plants achieve a certain growth, they are able to withstand flea beetle assault and you can simply remove the cheesecloth.
Purple Martins, migratory birds from South America, raise families and eat thousands of flying insects during their summer residence. These aerodynamic daredevils love to live in birdhouse gourds and are very social, making them excellent garden companions.
7. Decoy crops.
Finally, you can control insect pest damage by using decoy crops. Harlequin bugs love mustard greens. They may be planted in a garden area to distract them from other plants. Eggplants are useful trap plants as well, but I am hesitant to sacrifice my beloved eggplants. Certain weeds are also attractive to insect pests. So organic gardeners sometimes tolerate weeds in order to protect food plants.
With forethought and planning, organic pest control is effective and efficient. Plus you can have the satisfaction of harvesting chemical-free food and the joy of observing nature’s delicate balance at-work.
Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte, 1998.
Good Bug, Bad Bug, Who’s Who, What They Do and How to Manage Them Organically by Jessica Walliser, 2011.
About the author:
Cindy Barlow, a retired public school librarian, now devotes her time to writing and organic farming. She primarily grows her grandmothers’ saved seeds, which were passed down after spending years in her mother’s freezer. She is currently writing a book about organic gardening and her heirloom seed experiences. She also loves to create and share dishes that use beautiful chemical-free produce. For more of her articles and seasonal recipes, visit seedtales.com and watch her videos on YouTube.