Tuesday’s Tips — Organic Pest Control

We’ve been a little busy this week — more like crazy busy. Mary Beth is settled in Colorado, but her spring is just happening.  Her garden got by for five years while she lived on Block Island with a minimum of care, so now she’s got lots of work to do replacing plants that didn’t make it and cleaning out overgrown areas.

I’ve been helping a client whose husband is an ace at starting seedlings, but then wants to plant every last one of them — heaven help us! I’ve been building trellises for vines and tomatoes and trying to figure out where we’re going to tuck in the peppers, okra and watermelons. (Though “tucking in” the watermelons is kind of laughable.) Meanwhile, my garden is lost under a blizzard of eucalyptus litter. Hopefully I can get around to cleaning it up in the next day or two.

Today we’ll give you some organic pest control tips and next week we’ll talk about how to identify the pests that are munching your plants. This is backwards I know, but the i.d. part takes visuals and MB and I are still working on that part. Be sure to check out next week’s post. It should be a good one.

The most important concept in dealing with problems is to use the least harmful technique first. For instance, you could spray aphids (and spider mites) with insecticidal soap, but that can also kill beneficials who, in sufficient numbers, can keep pests in check. Spraying them off with a strong stream of water is a good first step and a surprisingly effective way to control bug populations. If that doesn’t work, your next move might be to release beneficial insects. If you still have a serious infestation then you could spray with an insecticidal soap.

One other thing to keep in mind is that stressed plants are much more vulnerable to all kinds of pests and diseases. Be sure your plants have the proper amounts of light, water and fertilizer. Encourage and support beneficials and birds by growing plants that attract them. Set up a fountain or birdbath, which will encourage birds to stick around and eat bugs and provides water for beneficial insects too. Birdhouses will also entice birds to stick around. In a healthy environment all things work together to keep pests in check.

Handpicking

Picking insects and egg masses works well with chewing insects such as bean beetles, potato beetles, Japanese beetles, hornworms, squash bugs and snails.

Traps

Earwigs:

Roll up newspapers and put the rolls at the base of pots or wherever else they congregate.

Slugs:

Method #1 — newspaper rolls again, but this time dampen them. It’s so easy to toss the rolls in the morning. You never have to touch the creepy, slimy little buggers.

Method #2 — place boards on the ground and sweep the slugs that gather underneath them into the trash.

Method #3 — place a small can filled with beer flush with the ground. Slugs and snails will fall in and drown.

Grasshoppers:

Sink  jars into the ground and fill halfway with a mixture of  1 part molasses and 10 parts water.

Barriers

Diatomaceous earth repels earwigs, slugs and snails.

Copper tape (at least 2″) repels snails and slugs. Lay it in your beds around vulnerable plants. Wrap it around tree and shrub trunks to keep snails off.

Earthworm castings and tea are also great at repelling sucking insects like aphids and they are said to provide protection against fungus as well.

Releasing Beneficials

Release beneficials in your garden to control pests. Ladybugs, praying mantises, green lacewings and trichogramma wasps, which control a number of pests, can all be ordered online or bought at your local nursery.

Spraying

As a last resort you can mix a number of concoctions that will kill soft-bodied insects. But, and this is a BIG but, these sprays will kill the good along with the bad, so don’t use them until you have to.

Mix one tablespoon of vegetable oil with a few drops of mild soap in 2 quarts of water. Spray both sides of leaves. The oil coats and smothers insects. Add 2 tablespoons of baking soda and it will help control fungal disease as well. (If fungus is your only problem, stick with just baking soda and water and spare the bugs.)




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