Phil: Hey guys it’s Phil from smilinggardener.com. If you haven’t picked up my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of smilinggardener.com.
Today I am talking about organic garden pest control. Everything I talk about in these lessons I often bows down to three things, increasing organic matter in your soil, balancing out the fertility and improving your soil food web, doing all of that not only grows the nutrient dense food but it really prevents the pests from coming in and the diseases in the insects. So that’s the main thing, even when we are doing a good job of improving all that stuff, we are still going to have the occasional plant that isn’t healthy or group of plants that are healthy and so we are going to get some pests.
We are still going to have some of those and today I am talking a little bit about what you can do when you find you have but even before them it’s still is about prevention, just in terms of some smart practices. So when you are buying plants from the nursery inspect the leaves and even inspect the roots a little bit and see if there are pests problems. You don’t want to buy plants are diseased because that means they are unhealthy and they are going to have disease probably in the future. You don’t want plants with aphids or spider mites or anything like that.
So that’s the number one thing, if you are doing some pruning disinfect your secateurs or your bypass perennials or whatever you are using with some just some hydrogen peroxide, it’s kind like a natural bleach. Another thing you can do is plant aromatic plants that sometimes confuse some insects. So what I do all throughout the garden is I plant garlic, you can see there is not much going on in this garden yet but there are a few garlic that are coming up here and there just because I always tend to plant them around my various plants and I don’t always pick them all.
So that’s prevention, now let’s go on to a couple of short term organic pest control measures you can take. Now what I often do, if I have some plants that are really sick and so they are covered in insects or diseases. I let them die because I know that’s going to encourage the predators of those predators to come in set up shop and start eating them and they will be there for next year and also I just know that food isn’t healthy so I am not that interested in eating it anyway but if you are having a lot of problems, I know you don’t your whole crop to die so you want to do something about it in the short term. Once you know what the predator is then it’s a lot easier to choose what kind of control you are going to do to take care of it, of course you always want to go with at least toxic control and often they are very entirely non-toxic controls but then you know what you are dealing with.
One of the simplest controls for tomato harm worms because it was not that many of them, there is just a handful of them in my plants as I just took them often I squash them. So that’s no big deal. Another one is you can often use of hose to just wash them off so I don’t have my hose here but that works really well for washing a number of things on. One is insecticidal soap, you want to read the label and make sure that it works for the predator that you are dealing with and another one is horticultural oil.
Now these are not entirely benign they are much less toxic than you know a chemical pesticide but when I use something like this. I would like to come through a day later and spray some EM onto my leaves or some compost tea, something to repopulate the leaf surface because if you are using a soap on your leaves it’s going to wash of a lot of the beneficial microorganisms. So I want to repopulate those leaves with something healthy.
The next one is biological controls. Now what some people try to do is order some lady bugs and release them into the garden to take care of their aphids. that’s usually not going to work that well because the lady bugs will probably just go somewhere else, the reason there are not in your garden in the first place is probably because there is nothing really there for them, no reason for them to be there. It can work okay in a greenhouse setting but what I like to do instead is to in my vegetable garden among my vegetables is plant a bunch of different flowers that attract beneficial insects and so right now I don’t really have anything going on because it’s so early in the spring.
Here is a rudbeckia that hopefully attracts and beneficial once it gets growing again this year. Here is echinacea that will attract some beneficial insects. So that can work pretty well too it’s just that’s really what I focus on a lot is planting a bio-diverse garden full of different kinds of plants that are attracting in all these beneficial insects along the same lines you wanna provide water for insects that means a bird bath and not too tidy over bird bath, you want to have it so that parasitic waste and other little insects can get in there and drink, not only bird bath but watering the whole soil and having so then you have little potholes on the soil for them to drink from and providing them other kinds of habitat, water and habitat grasses, rock piles.
I will show you my rock pile. So here is a pile of rock. So it hopefully is a good place for some snakes and other little animals. Here we have just a little pond that has some frogs and toads and things like that. Now I know a lot of people don’t like snakes and spiders but I think we need to encourage them with rocks and other organic piles of debris and even just weedy parts in the corner of the garden. So the goal here is to have a healthy garden with lots of organic matter, minerals fertility with a healthy soil food web. You want to get into prevention by not bringing pets and disease in insects into the garden in the first place. We do have some short term controls.
We can try such as a few sprays we can make or buy but in the long run we are trying to just create a garden that doesn’t attract these predators in the first place but does attract many beneficial insects to take care of any predators that do setup shop. So below why don’t you let me know about your most important predator problem whether it be insect or disease that you have maybe this year, maybe you are already far enough into the season, you are having an issue or maybe last year you had something. If you want a little more detail read the article down below I always post more detail in the article below that you can sign up for my free online organic gardening course, you can join me over on Facebook at facebook.com/smilinggardener and over there I will get my sister to post some naked photos of...
Update: I now recommend neem oil instead of horticultural oil.
As I’ve discussed in other posts, the best organic garden pest control method is a healthy ecosystem.
This means creating the right conditions for thriving, healthy plants by doing things like caring for the soil, watering properly, and having the right plant in the right place.
Then our plants won’t attract diseases or plant-feeding insects.
But it’s a tricky balancing act to keep garden ecosystems in perfect balance while shaping them to meet our own needs.
Even the most meticulous organic gardeners don’t manage to keep all their plants perfectly healthy all the time.
Sooner or later, we all end up running into the occasional plant predator – insects and diseases that want to make lunch out of our precious flowers or organic vegetable garden before we get a chance to enjoy them.
Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to avoid this.
There are also some options for how to deal with plant predators when diplomacy fails and we’re faced with a choice between fighting back and losing our crop...
Preventive Organic Pest Control
Organic gardening pest control starts with prevention.
One way to keep predators away from your plants is by using intelligent planting practices.
This means being careful not to bring pests and diseases into the garden from nurseries or on your tools or clothes.
Only choose pest-free plants, and disinfect your tools.
You can also use particularly smelly plants to mislead and confuse plant predators. These odorous plants bear the majestic title of “aromatic pest confusers.”
Many herbs fit into this category, as well as alliums like garlic and onions, and even some flowering plants such as marigolds.
By interspersing them throughout your organic garden, or deliberately planting them around other plants that you know are vulnerable to insect attack, you can do a lot to keep the would-be predators chasing their own tails instead of munching your lettuce.
You can also discourage diseases simply by rotating your crops. Use different plants, and if possible different families of plants, in each bed each year.
It’s harder for soil-based diseases such as clubroot in brassicas, or insects like wireworms whose larval phase lives in the soil, to get established if their favorite food source keeps moving around.
As for soil fertility, it's important to balance out your soil based on a soil test. Pest problems are often partially caused by a deficiency in calcium and phosphorus, as well as different micronutrients depending on the pest.
Short Term Organic Garden Pest Control
Even if you follow these practices, you may still end up with some pest and disease outbreaks.
When that happens, unless you’re willing to let nature re-establish its own balance by sacrificing the affected plants, you may choose to attack the problem directly with these organic garden pest control methods.
There are a lot of different ways to do this, so I’ll just mention a few of my favorites here.
First, it’s essential to know which plant predator you’re dealing with.
Fortunately, most plants are only vulnerable to a few specific predators and diseases, so once you’ve identified the plant, it’s usually not too hard to find a list of its common predators on the internet or in an organic gardening book.
Once you’ve identified the predator, you can look into some possible ways to deter, remove, or kill it.
Keep in mind that even products that are allowed under organic standards may still kill beneficial insects or have detrimental effects on plants, so always choose the least toxic option.
With some insect predators, a simple solution is to hose them off, or even pick them off by hand.
This can be time-consuming, so you may want to use a natural insecticide like isopropyl alcohol, horticultural oil, or insecticidal soap instead.
Update: I now recommend neem oil instead of horticultural oil.
In that case, I like to come back through the next day with a microbial inoculant like compost tea to repopulate my plants with the good guys.
Biological Garden Pest Control
One of my favorite natural garden pest control methods is to keep my own standing army of other critters to gobble them up.
This approach isn’t actually that out there.
You may have heard, for example, of people buying ladybugs to control aphids.
Now that doesn’t actually work very well, because unless you’ve created pretty great ladybug habitat, they’ll just fly away to find somewhere they’d rather be.
(You need them to stick around and lay eggs, since it’s the juvenile ladybugs who are the really voracious aphid-eaters).
But what does work is making your organic garden a place a ladybug wants to hang out.
This means having a variety of different flowers blooming throughout the season, as well as water sources, complete with pieces of debris for them to sit on while taking a drink – nothing worse than an overly clean bird bath that ends up drowning your parasitic wasps as they try to get a sip.
You can also encourage snakes (yes, snakes!) by having places for them to hide, like grassy slopes or sunny rock piles. You may think snakes are a bit creepy, but they’re a slug’s worst nightmare.
Some people will tell you to clear away the duff layer at the end of the season, to remove habitat for plant predators. The trouble is, this also takes away the habitat their predators need to make it through the winter.
By now, we’re totally over the idea that we can create sterile, perfectly controlled ecosystems.
But we can get amazing results by growing diverse gardens that invite the organisms we want to join our living community, and control plant predators for us!
Let me know about your most important pest problem below, and I will try to give you some good short-term organic garden pest control tips along with my longer-term advice.