People gardened long before pesticides existed, so how did they deal with pests? By working with nature, instead of against it. Here’s a look at some of the organic pest control measures that I have in place in my garden.
Our chickens provide us with eggs and fertilizer, but they also provide us with pest control. They eat our grubs, slugs and other undesirable bugs before they have a chance to wreak havoc on our garden. I can honestly say that we’ve had fewer pest problems since we got them.
Over the past two years, I’ve been working to attract more beneficial bugs to our yard. We started by attracting mason bees to pollinate our orchard (huge success). Now, I’ve moved on to attracting bugs that feed on our problem bugs. Since ladybugs eat aphids, mites and scale, we built a ladybug house to encourage them to stick around. We have a limited amount of space left in our garden, and I intend to fill that space with plants that will attract more beneficials.
Trapping bugs also plays an important part in our organic pest control plan. Coddling moths used to chew my apple trees to bits, so we started hanging baited sticky traps (Tanglefoot traps) in our trees each spring. They’re designed to attract (and capture) the males, before they get a chance to mate. This solved the problem for us; and to this day, we’ve never had to spray our trees.
Since carpenter bees have also been a problem for us, we built a couple traps for them, too.
Healthy plants have fewer pest problems, so we’ve put a lot of effort into building up our soil. For us, this starts with working compost into our beds. But it doesn’t end there. I also fertilize our plants throughout the growing season with egg shells, epsom salt and other natural fertilizers, and I rotate our crops, so the soil doesn’t get depleted.
Wintersowing helps the health of our plants, too. By starting our plants in the same climate that they’ll be grown, we end up with plants that are uniquely adapted to our growing conditions. They are, consequently, much more likely to thrive – even when the weather throws us a few surprises.
Each year before I plant my vegetable garden, I review my companion plants list to make sure I’m planting the right things next to each other. Since I’ve always had a problem with cabbage moths, I now know to plant my brussels sprouts next to oregano, nasturtiums or both. Sure beats picking off cabbage worms.
We love all of the bees and wasps that call our garden home (and we’ve worked hard to attract them), but sometimes they build nests/hives in places that pose a risk to us (near the door, in our mailbox, on our kids’ swingset, etc.). Whenever that happens, we aim to remove the nest/hive without chemicals. To do this safely, we monitor our yard closely during the early spring months, and we eliminate nests as soon as we find them. Removing a wasp nest that’s occupied by one wasp isn’t much of a risk, and can often be done when they’re off feeding (thus causing them no harm).
Now, as much as I try to stick to organic pest control solutions, my family’s safety does come first. If we were to come across a yellow jackets’ nest or any large nest, we would take whatever measures necessary to eliminate it safely. I don’t want to kill bees or wasps, but sometimes it has to happen.
Mosquitoes don’t damage our plants, but they’re a major nuisance nonetheless. We use homemade bug repellent spray and bug repellent bars to keep them off of us when we’re outdoors. While this works well, it doesn’t do anything to minimize their population. My solution for that? A bat house. A single bat can eat 1,000 mosquitoes a night, so imagine what an entire colony is capable of.
The bat houses shown above belong to our local college (they use them for pest control, too). While we built our own bat house last year, we’ve been slow to install it. [Making a mental note to move that up our to-do list].
Bugs aren’t the only pests that have to be dealt with. In my yard birds and squirrels can also be pests, simply because they like to eat the same things that I do. To protect my grapes from hungry birds, we started netting our vines last year. Now that our apricot bushes are fruiting, we’ll probably have to net them, too. Whenever I see netting at a yard sale, I snap it up because I know we’ll need it eventually.
And that’s our organic pest control plan as it stands now. Like any good plan, it’s constantly evolving. I’m always looking for new ways to bring balance to our garden because really, pest problems are just a sign that something is out of balance. Bad bugs are only bad when there are more of them than the good bugs can keep up with.