It is a painful thing to nurse young seeds into seedlings, coax young seedlings into plants, and then watch those plants get devoured by garden pests. But, it happens every year, and it is something anyone hoping to grow food will have to contend with. For those of us who aren’t into pesticides or killing insects at all, the challenge becomes a little more daunting. Gardening solutions these days aren’t so into letting the pests walk free.
Luckily, not all hope is lost. There are some proven and time-tested methods for dealing with garden pests, both preventatively (the wiser choice) and prescriptively. This isn’t to say there will be no crop fatalities over the course of the season, but it’s also important to realize that feeding pests is all part of the process. Naturally, everyone and everything has to eat. However, there’s no rule to say we can’t try to protect our tomato plants!
The first rule of natural pest control is to plant a diverse garden. The reason monocultures have such bad pest problems and such a reliance on pesticides is that those large expanses of one crop are bound to attract whatever bugs or animals enjoy dining on said crop. However, when we mix our fruits and veggies, no one thing stands out, which means pests aren’t as likely to settle in for a pig-out session. It’ll be much harder to find what they are after.
2. Pest-Repellent Plants
Part of the biodiversity we plant definitely needs to be made of pest-repelling plants, and luckily, there are loads of them, many of which are also useful in the kitchen. Sometimes pest-repelling can be as simple as planting two typical crops together, such as onions and carrots. Otherwise, having a lot of aromatic culinary herbs mixed in the garden works wonders for throwing pests off the scent.
3. Pest Distractions
On the opposite spectrum, many gardeners like to plant sacrificial distracting gardens, filled with things to grab the attention of hungry pests. Nasturtiums are a favorite distraction plant. Aphids will flock to these instead of tomatoes. Sunflowers will do the same. Mulberries are often used to distract troublesome birds from coming after the other berry plants. Catnip for cats. Distraction actually works (kind of like chocolate cake next to broccoli).
4. Raised Gardens
Raised gardens can be useful against pests as well. For areas with burrowing pests, like moles, gardeners should lay a fine mesh cloth at the base of the bed before filling it in. This will keep the burrowers from coming up for the carrots. Additionally, many believe that the raised edges help with slowing down home gardeners’ biggest offender: the slug. It creates a barrier between slugs and the veggies.
5. Healthy Soil
Gardening in healthy soils without chemicals is a logical and effective way of combatting pests as well. Healthy plants are equipped to defend themselves, so when we provide them with healthy, organic soil from which to grow, that’s a good choice for pest control. Unhealthy plants, such as those medicated with chemicals, are more likely to become victims of disease and pests. It’s a lot like our immune systems.
6. Predator Habitats
Another clever, natural way of snuffing out pests is inviting their predators into the garden. Lots of people build insect hotels to attract predator insects that’ll control pest populations. People build birdhouses and put in birdbaths. Bat houses are great, especially because bats will work the night patrol. Garden ponds are superb for attracting frogs and toads that’ll gobble up bugs. Without predators around, pests are a little too free to run wild.
7. DIY Pest Sprays
Of course, preventative measures don’t always work, and in the midst of a squash-bug infestation, knowing what might have helped to prevent it isn’t so helpful. There are some rather standard pest repelling sprays that can easily be made at home. Natural ingredients include things like garlic, cayenne, tobacco, neem, coffee grounds, and so on. There is a natural method for almost any common pest.
Whatever the case may be, controlling pests rarely requires chemicals as a solution, and growing food should not require regular applications of chemicals. Remember, people were cultivating food and feeding themselves for thousands of years before agro-chemicals came to be.
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