Organic pest control doesn’t have to mean fruits and veggies riddled with worms. Here’s how to use organic pest control methods to keep your vegetable garden thriving without pest damage — and without poison.
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Guest post from Angi at Schneiderpeeps
Sometimes organic gardening gets a bad rap. Here’s how a scenario usually plays out. A gardener tills up some ground and plants his favorite plants. He waters and weeds. He notices a few pests but since he’s growing “organically” he leaves them alone.
About mid season his plants are struggling because they are overrun with pests. He’s frustrated and overwhelmed and so runs out and buys a commercial white powder that kills the pests. Within days of sprinkling the powder on the plants, they are doing better and he declares organic gardening a failure.
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Organic pest control works
The problem isn’t that organic pest control failed, the problem is that he believed organic gardening meant doing nothing to deter or get rid of pests. On the contrary, organic gardening basically means using the least harmful method of controlling pests and diseases.
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It also means that the plant is not looked on as an isolated thing but part of bigger ecological system and doing what’s best for the system as a whole instead of what’s best for just the plant.
So how can you put organic pest control to work in your garden?
Build the soil
Growing great plants always starts with soil. If you have dead soil because you’ve killed every living thing but your plant, the plant will not thrive. Each year you will have to add more and more fertilizer to get the same results. Building your soil takes time but if you will stop tilling and start adding compost your soil will become healthy over time.
Healthy soil = healthy plants.
Don’t make it easy for the pests to find your plants by planting the same plants in the same spots 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. It’s an easy tactic for organic pest control.
Plant some companions
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, making them an ally in your efforts in organic pest control. Sunflowers will keep aphids occupied and off other plants, hyacinth beans will do the same for leaf footed bugs. Some plants will attract beneficial bugs to your garden. Chamomile and buckwheat both attract bees and ladybugs. And guess what ladybugs like to eat….aphids. So mix up your beds, you don’t need to have nice neat row crops to have a successful garden. [More about companion planting here.]
Pick varieties that naturally discourage pests
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 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 seeds, just varieties that naturally make it hard for pests to attack.
Encouraging beneficial insects is great organic pest control
Not all bugs or insects are harmful. In fact many are beneficial. Ladybugs and hoverflies eat aphids. Parasitic braconid wasps kill tomato hornworms. Paper wasps, spiders, and many other bugs and insects are very good for your garden.
If you use a commercial all inclusive pest control powder, you’ll kill all the beneficial bugs and insects in your garden and you don’t want to do that. Be sure to plant flowers that attract these bugs and insects. Dill, tansy, coriander, Queen Anne’s lace, yarrow, buckwheat, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, lemon balm, and marigolds are wonderful choices.
Sometimes you just have to get physical with pests. Nets or row covers over cabbage will keep the moths from laying eggs on them, making them a good organic pest control method. Crushed eggshells 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 pushed 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, looking for insect eggs on the underside of leaves and squishing them is an effective way to reduce pests in the garden.
Use caution — even with organic pest control methods
There are some organic sprays and powders that can be used in the garden for organic pest control. It’s best to use a spray or powder that targets just the pest you are dealing with.
- Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) is a bacteria that only targets caterpillars and worms. It comes in a powder and a spray and is very useful for things like cabbage worms and tomato hornworms.
- 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 (like this) 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.
Choose organic pest control
It takes more time and more thought to grow food organically 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.
Related: How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies
Angi Schneider is a minister’s wife and homeschooling mom. She is passionate about growing food for her family and living a simple life. She blogs their homesteading and homeschooling adventures at SchneiderPeeps.com and is the author of The Gardening Notebook which she wrote to help other gardeners remember all the great information they are learning.
Originally published in May 2015; this post has been updated.