This is my first year gardening in Texas and I’ve become acquainted with the grasshopper.
Let me tell you these bugs are big, measuring in at 2 to 3 inches long. And they eat a lot. I’ve caught them on more than one occasion nibbling the broccoli. They land on the moringa and move around its trunk when I look at it, as if I can’t see it hiding behind there!
It can be hard to keep them out of your future food without resorting to some kind of chemical application. For those of us determined to go as organic as possible, there are natural garden pest controls that you can put into place and minimize the damage.
It is important to control pests before they become a problem. A single black bean aphid that lands on a broad bean at the start of the growing season can produce over 2,000,000 aphids by the start of autumn. Early control is the key to your growing success.
I’m all about organic pest control whenever possible, it just doesn’t seem practical to grow your own food and put chemicals on it. You’ll never keep the all the pests out of your garden but there is hope for a pest free harvest this spring and summer. Here are a few ideas to try.
Grow suitable plants
Native plants are the best choice for trouble-free gardening. Because they thrive naturally in your climate and soils, they do not need extraordinary care to help them along. Look for resistant varieties when choosing plants, and ask nursery personnel for advice. This is especially important for plants that are prone to diseases since there are few control alternatives to fungicides.
Practice Crop Rotation
If you grow vegetables, rotate planting locations for each type of vegetable from year to year. This will help prevent diseases and nematodes from building up in the soil and causing damage.
To be most effective, planting areas should be large enough to allow plenty of distance and time between vegetables from the same family. If you can manage it, a four year rotation cycle is best.
Build Healthy Soil
Healthy soil contains many things – clay, silt and sand; air and water; and organic matter in various stages of decomposition. Organic matter is simply the stuff that at one time was part of a living plant or animal – leaves, bark, twigs, manure, dead insects and more.
The more organic matter in your soil, the “more alive” it will be and the healthier your plants. Healthy plants are less susceptible to pests. All that benefit for building your soil! One of my favorite soil building books is The Art of Gardening (affiliate) by Susan Vinskofski. It’s well worth a look.
Know Friend from Foe
To reduce pesticide use, learn what is and is not a pest. Many insects you’ll find in your yard neither help nor harm plants, and many others are helpful predators or parasites. When you see a new bug in the garden, figure out what it is before running for the bug spray. Even natural bug spray should be used sparingly.
Even if you identify it as a plant eater, consider that the predators and parasites in your garden would probably like to eat it much more than you would like to spray it. Also ask yourself if this one pest will cause damage that will adversely affect the whole plant. If not, let it go and spend your time on more fruitful endeavors, such as producing an environment that will result in healthy plants and lots of places for predators to thrive.
5 of the Least Harmful Natural Garden Pest Control Strategies
Identify the Problem – before taking any measure you should correctly identify the pest or disease so you know what you are facing. Ask at a master gardener at a local extension office, join a Facebook gardening page in your area or search it on the internet.
- Remove the pest by hand. “Remember that every weed you pull and every insect you smash is one less to deal with later on” Blast it away with water, prune it out, remove diseased leaves, and of course pick them by hand and stomp!
- Apply barriers. These will not kill the pests but simply keep them away from where you don’t want them. Consider floating row covers, (Amazon) netting to keep out birds, copper slug barriers and sticky barriers like this TreeHelp Bug Band.
- Set traps by attracting the pest. This works by trapping them in a container so you can remove them from the garden. The best know is the beer trap for slugs, it’s easy to set up and quite effective. Learn how in our previous post Natural Slug Solutions.
- Bring in their enemies. You can encourage beneficial insects to take up housekeeping in your garden by providing habitat, water, and another source of food. Bring birds in the garden. They will come back, year after year, to help you take care of pests.
- Try a making a natural pesticide. Before you resort to a conventional pesticide try making a less toxic recipe. There are several liquid soap, vegetable oil, and vinegar concoctions to try before you bring out the big guns. Get recipes in our previous post The Gardener’s Arsenal: 10 Things to Sprinkle, Spray & Brew for Garden Pest Control.
Rosemary Herbal Brew for Garden Pest Control
This herbal brew works wonders on aphids, cucumber beetles and cabbage worms. Mix up a batch with any potent herb – like mint, sage, lavender or rosemary – whatever pungent herb you are cutting back and have extra of.
For this recipe you will need:
1/2 cup rosemary (or other pungent herb) leaves
8 cups water
1 tablespoons of liquid soap
Make a strong tea by steeping the water and herb leaves for 30 minutes. Once it’s cooled, strain and add the liquid soap. Put your brew into spray bottles without diluting. Store it in a cool dark place, it will last all season.
Want more information about individual pests? Here are some of the common pests you might encounter and how to combat them:
Aphids – can quickly become a problem. Learn how to use dish soap to control them from Colorado State Extension.
Birds – can be their own form of pest control until the berries start to ripen – then watch out! If you don’t have a plan they will take your berries as payment for their previous work. Search here to find out how to keep birds away from the garden.
Caterpillars – their appetite knows no bounds. Luckily, they hate citrus. Get recipes in this link from eHow.
Deer – you may find that the deer in “your” yard are finicky eaters. Try these ideas for stopping them in their tracks.
Natural garden pest control is possible if you will employ the tactics of identifying the pest, rotating your crops yearly, and building a place for beneficial predators. What happened to those 3 inch long grasshoppers in my garden? One day there was a large flock of great tailed grackle in my yard. There must have been several thousand of them in the neighborhood. When they were finished eating as much as they could – every grasshopper in the area was gone. Pest problem solved for this year!
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