About 1 out of 2.5 people in North America will get cancer at some point in their lives.
I notice an interesting parallel between how we treat cancer and how we treat pests in our gardens.
The main ways our medical system tries to get rid of cancer are to cut it out (surgery), burn it out (radiation) and poison it out (chemotherapy).
I’m not here to discuss the merit of these practices, but I think most of my readers would agree that there are at least some additional strategies that would be nice to consider if we’re interested in taking more of a holistic approach.
Certainly the cut/burn/poison methods don’t do anything to address the root cause of disease, nor do they leave our bodies in a healthier state, so it’s pretty clear that also incorporating some methods of improving our health could play a tremendous role in treating many types of disease.
But I’m not here to talk about human health today.
What’s interesting to me is how we seem to deal with diseases and pests in our gardens the same way we deal with it in our bodies.
And how even though many of us have figured out that there’s a more holistic approach to preventing and curing disease in our bodies, we may not have made that leap in the garden yet.
Here’s a recent comment I received from a member of my Academy from Texas named John:
“My wife and I have been thrilled with the academy. It has completely changed our thought process about gardening, lawns, most of nature even. I have long thought the major problem with our health system is doctors treat symptoms instead of looking for the root problem. I now realize my gardens in the past were suffering from the same symptom driven management. I have now thought about a couple of possible criticisms of the Academy: 1. We have learned so much and become so excited about of gardens that our plans have become considerably more ambitious. 2. I am losing sleep planning, thinking, reading, watching, and re-planning.”
Exactly John! Back in the garden this week – finally time to plant 🙂
My goal with my online organic gardening course is to teach you how to make the transition from ‘pest management’ to ‘health management,’ from treating symptoms to treating root causes.
Oh ya, I should mention again that the currently discounted fee for my online organic gardening course is ending this Tuesday night at 9pm Eastern Time.
So check it out now if you’re interested in learning a comprehensive process for growing nutritious organic food and getting rid of pests for good.
So, just as cancer is a disease of the body, blights and wilts and aphids are diseases and pests of our gardens.
I get regular emails from people asking me what to do about cucumber beetles and mildews and all kinds of other plant predators. I’m writing this article so I’ll now have a more thorough explanation for them.
When considering our options, there are 2 things to think about:
- Does it get rid of the predator?
- Does it make the plant healthier?
Point 2 above is something I’ve written about before, but in short, an optimally healthy plant won’t get attacked much by insects and diseases because they can’t digest it – they’re looking for plants that are in a state of nutritional stress, as that’s the role of insects and diseases in nature.
So, onto our options, starting with the conventional methods…
We humans don’t have the ability to regenerate our appendages.
So when we remove a breast or a lung, we aren’t getting it back.
But the cool thing about plants is that they have evolved the ability to regenerate their appendages.
When we prune a branch, the plant will heal the wound and grow another branch nearby.
So you’d think that pruning out diseased and pest-ridden branches would make a lot of sense, but despite this very cool skill, I still don’t recommend we use pruning to fight plant predators, because:
- Does it get rid of the predator? At first we might think yes, but the answer is no, not really. If 10% of the branches on our tomato plant have aphids or blight and we cut those branches off and take them away, are the aphids all gone from our garden? Is the blight all gone? No, there are still plenty more of them hanging around and they’ll find the rest of the plant if it’s appealing to them. We can’t get rid of them by pruning.
- Does it make the plant healthier? It’s cool that plants can heal the wounds we create when we prune and can grow new branches, but that requires energy and resources, and until the wounds are healed, it’s a perfect place for disease to take hold. Also, we’ve just removed part of the photosynthesizing capability of the plant, so it can’t make as many defensive chemicals to fight the predators. So no, pruning a plant doesn’t usually make it healthier.
Pruning out pests and disease is a common recommendation, but in my view there aren’t many situations in which it makes much sense.
We’re not getting rid of the predator and we’re just making our plants less healthy, therefore more susceptible to pests.
That being said, I will say that this is quite a contrarian point of view I’m presenting.
There are people in the horticultural industry, for whom I have much respect, who do advocate for pruning out disease.
Personally, I think it’s short-sighted most of the time, but as with cancer, I bet there are times when it’s appropriate to temporarily get rid of it in order to buy some time while we’re also working to improve human/plant health.
As with pruning, a common suggestion is to burn plants and leaves that are infected with diseases or pests, in order to clear your garden of these predators.
- Does it get rid of the predator? Again, no it doesn’t. There are other aphids in the area, and other blight organisms. In the mean time, the beneficial predators that would usually eat them – like ladybugs for aphids and various microbes for blight – are wondering where their food source went.
- Does it make the plant healthier? No, it removes organic matter from the garden that would have provided many benefits (I know it’s diseased organic matter, but that isn’t the problem here – we have to remember that disease is the result of unhealthy plants, not the cause of them).
This is similar to the pruning up above in that we’re just trying to remove the pest, which is a misunderstanding of why the pest is there in the first place.
And as with pruning above, perhaps we can give the plants a bit of a break by removing a certain percentage of their predators for a short time until more come in, and sometimes it may make sense, but it’s definitely a short term solution at best.
Here we’re talking about pesticides – fungicides for fungi, insecticides for insects and herbicides for weeds.
- Does it get rid of the predator? Yes… well, at least sometimes. Insects and microbes develop resistance fairly quickly, which means we need to use more and different poisons all the time, but an intelligently used pesticide can do the job pretty well.
- Does it make the plant or soil healthier? No, most pesticides have at least some negative impacts on many other species, if not huge impacts. E.g. an insecticide doesn’t just kill aphids – it kills many beneficial insects and harms plants, too. Most pesticides end up shifting plant processes so that the plants actually invite more pests. And then of course there’s the poisoning of our environment and our food – I don’t think I need to say much about that. We want to limit the use of pesticides.
What about organic pesticides? Well, if they really are organic, like if they’re OMRI Listed for example, then they’re probably less harmful to the environment.
That being said, they’re mostly still harmful to at least some beneficial organisms in addition to the pests you’re trying to get rid of, which is a big downside. Anything that kills aphids or blight is going to harm other insects and/or diseases.
And they’re still not focusing on the cause of the pest problem…
Some people think we can dramatically decrease our risk of cancer by living a healthier lifestyle.
I know for a fact that we can definitely decrease the amount of pest problems in our gardens by focusing on creating health there.
When we create health:
- Does it get rid of the predator? In the short term – sometimes yes, sometimes no. We can occasionally do something (like spray weekly applications of effective microorganisms and liquid seaweed) that fairly quickly moves a plant to a healthy enough level so the pests cause much less damage, but sometimes it takes longer, which I know can be hard to handle when we want our tomatoes to grow well right now.
- Does it make the plant or soil healthier? Yes, that’s what we’re going for here. We’re creating healthier plants and soil that won’t get many pest problems in the future.
My article from this weekend gave an overview of how to do that.
In short, we need to make sure the soil and plants have proper nutrition (organic fertilizers and organic matter) and proper biology (microbial inoculants and quality compost).
Doing this for a few years in a row is why I no longer worry about pests in my garden.
Okay, so maybe you agree that we should be taking a healthy preventative approach for long term organic garden pest control.
But maybe you’re also still anxious about how to deal with some specific pest that destroyed your plants last year and will probably come back this year.
So I’ll give you my 2 favorite homemade options:
1. For insects (and diseases). Crush 1 medium clove of garlic and marinate it in 1 tsp of vegetable oil for at least 24 hours. Then add 1/2 tsp of dish soap and mix well in at least 1 quart of water. Optionally add a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (makes it more effective, but also harder on beneficial organisms). Then spray on the plants in the morning. This works with many soft-bodied insects.
In fact, I coincidentally just received this in the members-only forum of the Academy from member John in Idaho:
“We spray our fruit trees with the mixture of garlic powder, cayenne powder and couple of drops of dish soap (to help it all stick) all in water. It’s worked very well, it has kept the worms and pests out of our apple and peach trees and we were able to save a plum tree that was so totally infested with aphids that we thought it was going to die. Tree looks fabulous.”
2. For diseases. Baking soda may help to prevent and eradicate powdery mildew, black spot and a few others. Apparently the original research on this was not particularly conclusive, but it has worked very well for me on roses. A solution of 1-5 Tbsp of baking soda per gallon of water is generally recommended. Start lower though, as 5 Tbsp can hurt the leaves in some cases. I go with 1 tsp per quart of water.
But remember, even though these solutions are not nearly as toxic as chemical pesticides, if they’re harmful to some of the ‘bad’ insects and microorganisms, they’re harmful to some of the good ones, too.
Also, don’t stop there – the main goal is still to improve soil and plant health to the point where you no longer worry about pests.
I cover pest management all throughout the Academy, but especially in month 3.
If you’ve been thinking about enrolling, check it out today because the current discount is ending this Tuesday night at 9pm.
If you want to bypass the pain I went through when I was a beginner organic gardener – of killed plants, rampant weeds and pest infestations, tasteless foods and money wasted, it’s definitely worth trying.
The membership includes exclusive access to 35-40 new videos each month with accompanying text, and a like-minded community of organic gardeners. I hope the 1 year 100% money-back guarantee makes it worth trying out.
Anything you’d like to know about my strategy of organic garden pest control? I’ll be happy to answer. Let me know down below 🙂