Sunday, July 30, 2017

Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays


Cucumber beetle
Sunday, July 30, 2017


There are good bugs and then there are the bugs that eat up your harvest or give your plants diseases.  You have to be extremely careful in applying any insecticides (bug killers) as they will kill off the beneficial insects (like bees) that pollinate your veggies and increase your harvests.

The best approach is to let nature take its course.  If you have bad bugs, the good bugs will quickly follow and provide equilibrium in the garden.  When I went organic, there was significant reductions in bad bug pressure by the second year.  I did several things to help accelerate the balance.  I purchased good bugs to release in the garden, planted flowers that deter bad bugs and attract pollinators, applied milky spore strategically, attracted birds to the garden, and used natural sprays and powders judiciously as a last resort judiciously.

You can purchase beneficial insects via mail order or some nurseries carry them.  If you go this route, be sure to release them immediately.  If ordering on line, be sure that you will be at home when they are delivered so that you can get them released that day.
Edible garden filled with returning zinnias and sunflowers
You can encourage good bugs by planting flowers either around your vegetable patch or actually with your vegetables.  I have my vegetable garden actually in my flower garden.  Marigolds are a bad bug deterrent so I added these all around the flower beds.  My flower garden is in bloom from spring all the way through fall.  Many varieties are also edible like the day-lilies, borage, and roses. 
Flowers that are edible

To encourage birds to your yard plant trees, shrubs and flowers that attract birds.  Keeping a bird bath with shrubs nearby so the birds can hide in the shrubs is a great way to get birds into your yard.  We also have a bird feeder that keeps a steady stream of birds at the edge of our garden.  We get an occasional peck on the tomatoes, but this is minor compared to the entertainment of watching the birds and their help in pest control!
Chickens free ranging
This year we also got chicks in April and keets in June.  We let the chickens free range in the evening.  We tried letting them go on their own, but they quickly discovered the garden and how tasty squash and tomatoes were!  Now we only let them out when we can watch them.  The guineas are not yet old enough to let free range.  They are reported to not touch the veggies and love insects so we will give them a try in about another month.
Using a garden hose to dose down the insects can be a good strategy; just make sure that you are not watering a plant’s leaves that are susceptible to fungal diseases such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, roses or peonies.  

Manual removal of bad bugs can be very effective.  Just go insect and catepillar hunting and pull off the insects and throw them into a bowl with soap and water.

For Japanese beetles, I use an attractor that is quite a distance from the vegetable garden.  They love roses so I go hunting for them on our roses every day.  We also applied milky spore to keep the grub population down around the roses so we have fewer adults in the summer.  Milky spore is a microscopic bacteria that takes a couple of years to be effective so get started today.  I saw a huge difference in the Japanese beetle population by applying milky spore around my roses.  I am not seeing many Japanese beetles in my garden now so I am not using an attractor.

For ants, you have to control the aphids.  A recipe for catching the ants and aphids:  2 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water in a gallon jug with a lid.  Drill 3 small holes in the lid, large enough for the ants and aphids, but too small for a little bee.  Place in trouble areas.

One non-chemical approach I really like is diatomaceous earth.  It is a white powder of tiny aquatic fossils.  The fossils have tiny rough edges that we cannot feel or see, but cut the insects outer "skin" causing dehydration and killing the insect.  Again, DE doesn't know a good from bad bug so use carefully.  I would use DE only sparingly and not on any flowering plants to spare the bees.

If you are unfortunate enough to have grasshoppers, DE is a good option.  Here is a link to other strategies for these ancient pests  Natural control of grasshoppers

Lately, I have had extensive caterpillar pressure on my sprouting broccoli plants (last year they were also very happy on all my broccoli plants).  I tried the "let my garden come into balance" but that hasn't yielded results.  I have tried the caterpillar hunting, but am still seeing my sprouting broccoli be ravished.  The best thing to have done was to not grow any broccoli plants this year so that their favorite food would not be around.  These plants came back in their pots this year from last year.  Crop rotation is key to keeping pests at a minimum!  Crop rotation made easy for small gardens

For caterpillars, BT dust is a good option.  The caterpillars ingest it as they are eating the plant and they eventually die.  This is my next move!  Make sure to dust the undersides of leaves so that first rain or dew wash off the dust.  You can get a "puffer" that you can put powder in to dust the undersides.  You just fill it up and compress the container and it "puffs" out the dust.  Much easier than turning each leaf upside down to dust!  I bought mine on Amazon and it was called "pest pistol mini duster".  I imagine it is going to take a few rounds to get them under control.

Here are some make your own insect deterrents.  Make sure you test on a few leaves to insure that it won’t adversely affect the plant you are trying to protect.
All purpose spray.  1 garlic bulb, 1 onion, 1 teas dry cayenne pepper, 1 teas liquid soap, 1 quart of water.  Mix water, garlic, pepper and onion together in a food processer, let steep an hour or so, drain through cheesecloth, add liquid soap and you are ready to spray away!
Hot pepper spray.  Good for repelling insects, squirrels, rabbits, and other curious mammals.  1 cup of hot peppers in a quart of water.  Mix in food processor, strain through a cheesecloth and you are ready to use.  Be careful to not get the liquid on your hands and then touch your eyes or mouth.  It will burn.
Tomato-leaf spray.  This is toxic to soft bodied insects like aphids.  It also attracts beneficial wasps.  Take the leaves off the bottom of your tomato plant, 2 cups.  Put in food processor with 1.5 quarts of water.  Let steep overnight, strain out leaves.  Spray on affected leaves, especially the undersides where they like to hide.

If you are just overrun with the bad bugs, you can look on OMRI web site to see what the organic insecticides are:  http://www.omri.org/omri-lists  I use Safer Insecticidal Soap, Neem Oil, and Bt for my indoor plants.

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