Friday, June 26, 2009

Controling Death in the Garden
Part II Insects

Save a bee, avoid pesticides.

I tend to have a very natural approach to insect pests. I don't spray or use anything toxic. When my kids were little I wanted them to be able to just pick something out of the garden and eat it. Safe was more important than keeping my plants alive. So I let many of the bad insects live. When you let nature take its course sometimes good things happen.

This year I had a huge infestation of aphids. Usually they aren't all that bad. So first the lacewings came and laid lots of eggs. In the last couple of weeks I have seen a lot of lady bugs. In due time these plants will take care of my problem. I also plant decoy plants just for such things. The aphids love my borage. So they went there first and my tomatoes weren't quite as infested. My feverfew on the other side of the garden also makes a great decoy.

Every garden has its own issue with bugs. One of my worst issues is slugs. I've dealt with them in a couple of ways. The first and foremost is to hand pick. They are nocturnal creatures usually so I pick them either at night with a flashlight or early in the moring. Some people hate the slime. I've become inured to it. This year they were constantly chomping down my little cucumber seedlings. So I hand picked. I put a ring of crushed eggshells around them. I covered the area with used coffee grounds and I was persistant. Every week I would grow some more seedlings to replace any that were eaten. Slowly but surely I've gotten plants that are big enough to withstand the onslaught. If we would ever get any warm weather the cucumbers will take off.

This year the fireflies have been very active. As far as I know they don't eat anything in the garden, but their progeny, the glow worm, does. They eat slugs. Yes a predator that eats my slugs. I love it. I don't like that they eat my earthworms too, but I have plenty. Yesterday the fireflies were all over the garden. They kept flying into me as I worked.

Last year I had a fight with squash vine borers. They killed all my pumpkins. I didn't get one fruit. This year I'm growing mostly Cucurbita moschata which is resistant to the borer. Sadly there isn't really a zucchini that is resistant. Tromboncino is the closest resistant squash to a zucchini, but it isn't quite the same. Maybe if my zucchinis all die this year I'll try it next year. Last year my zucchini did OK.

For my brassicas I always use a row cover. I can't get them to grow here without it. It looks very ugly in the garden, but if it means I can have cabbage and Asian greens, I'll use it.

For my nematodes I use marigolds as companion plants. They keep the population down. I have them around my corn and my tomatoes.

There is one insect that I've pulled out the guns for though. It is the earwig. Often earwigs aren't bad in the garden. They are predators themselves. They can eat things like aphids and baby slugs. But they are omnivores. They eat rotting material and much like sow bugs when they get numerous they eat plants. Right now I have some infestations in my lettuce. They love hiding in the leaves and they can shred it to pieces if there are no insects to eat. They are also in the tips of my corn. The tips have the male flower starting to come out and they are eating it. Ack! I've also found them in my peas, but so far they have stuck to the aphids and are leaving the plants alone so there they stay.

Earwigs freak me out. Give me a slug any day. They can hide in small places and are hard to catch. So today I brought out my diatomaceous earth. DE is the fossilzed remains of diatoms. It is basically rock that is very sharp. It kills chitinous insects by drying them out. It is innocuous to humans unless you breath it (use a mask). I'm hoping it will help my earwig issue. I sprinkled it down into my lettuce heads and into the tip of my corn. I tried to keep it away from anything else. I don't want my ladybugs dying. Luckily I've never seen them on my corn.

If you think ahead earwigs can be controlled by traps. They love to hide in small sections of old hose. You can shake them out into soapy water whenever you find them. Last year I had two T posts together and they love hiding between them. I would kill them every couple of days. I didn't think ahead this year. So had to resort to DE. Which reminds me. Where are those old hose sections I had? I ought to get them out in the garden.

I've only resorted to three pesticides in my garden. DE is the first. Years ago I used to use a soap spray for aphids, but now I just let them be. The last is Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Bt is a bacteria that is specific to killing caterpillars. It won't affect anything else in the garden. Right now I keep all my brassicas under a row covers so haven't used it. Next year I will. I planted some blueberries and found out that the winter moths that have inundated the area love blueberries and eat all the flowers buds off. Next year I'll spray my blueberries when they caterpillars start to hatch.

So there you have it all the things I use in the garden to control insects: decoy crops, companion plants, row covers, hand picking, traps, natural predetors, DE, and Bt.


  1. Well, you certainly have a good array of pesky critters, there! I'm glad that you are leaving the evil pesticides be. My worst enemies are snails, and I also seem to have a cutworm problem (mostly they attack my ornamentals, not veggies). Carrot rust fly can be an issue but there is a resistant carrot from Territorial I usually plant (forgot to order it this year). How do you feel the eggshells and coffee grounds work for slugs? I am trying that this year. What about Sluggo (iron phosphate?) - do you think it's more toxic than advertised?

  2. I think bugs are worse this year as appose to last. I have seen lots of aphids and those potato beetles are showing up already. Still not really sure what potato beetles do but I do recall picking things of potatoes when I was a kid??

  3. Karen, oh I do have a lot. I have cutworm issues too earlier in the spring. It is never really bad though. I put two sticks (actually hosta flower stalks from the last year) on either side of any transplants to keep them from getting cut down. I've never been into collars. Eggshells and coffee grounds deter slugs, but they don't totally solve the issue. I still get some damage using them. Fresh coffee ground would probably work better. I've yet to try iron phosphate. I've yet to read anything that says it is bad. Iron is certainly found in many soils and we put phosphorus on our gardens all the time as fertilizer. I just haven't tried it yet. I might sometime.

    Dan, ack potato beetles. I don't have them now thank goodness, but I hear such horrible things about them defoliating a plant. I'd be picking them off every day.

  4. Eeeewwww, earwigs! I had no idea they could hurt plants, but they are really gross. I especially hate finding them in the house, or in plants you've harvested and brought inside. I love the idea of the hose trap. Gotta try it next time they get bad here! Thanks to the fact that we're apparently the only people gardening around here, we have so many "good guys" helping us keep the bad bugs under control that I've never yet had to resort to any kind of control outside the greenhouse (where aphids, whiteflies and spider mites can take hold). Our worst pest is Japanese beetles, but the past few years they have been really bad, defoliating the rugosa roses. Grrrrr!!!

  5. Great tips on controlling insects in the garden using green & healthy methods! Thanks! ;)

  6. I have the same bugs and slugs, I'm going slug-hunting every morning and late evening. I really don't like them and when I know that they lay 400 eggs/slug I just have to hunt the bastards...ops
    I don't want them to eat all my veggie garden.

    Greetings from Tyra in THE GREENHOUSE

  7. Thanks for a great post, Daphne! I haven't used DE before, but it was good to hear about your experience. Right now, I'm dealing with whiteflies on my tomatoes. It hasn't gotten out of hand yet, since I've been using soapy water. But I'm afraid they might get really numerous soon... -Jackie

  8. our friend Ben, I'm lucky that Japanese beetles tend not to get too bad here. For most of our neighborhood at least half of people's yards are natural woods. I think they like the large expanses of lawn better. I do get them on my beans and roses, but I hand pick and they really aren't that bad.

    perennialgardener, your welcome.

    Tyra, yeah they are prolific. I try to get them when they are just babies. They can't reproduce then and are easier to squish.

    Jackie, I'm lucky not to have white flies. They can't survive our winters and I don't have a greenhouse so as long as I don't buy infected plants I tend not to have them. I guess that is one consolation for having a short growing season.

  9. Thanks for all the info., I raise everything organic but Im thinking of using BT this year on my cabage and broccoli. I didnt use any row covers and Im afraid I may regret it!

  10. It doesn't seem fair to have both a short growing season AND pests! Your diligence is commendable.

    I'm pretty much managing with hand-picking and predacious insects, but the potato beetles haven't yet shown up.

    If you collared your squash sith something like foil, could you escape the borers?

  11. The girls and I are crushing eggshells and hoarding the coffee grounds: ANYTHING in the battle against the slugs. Hand-picking the hordes has not been entirely effective. And I would like cucumbers. Our edamame beans have been reduced by a third, terrible.

    What does an earwig look like?

    As always, thank you for being so specific and HELPFUL beyond all belief.

  12. hey there, was just reading about your slug problem... it's been so dry here, not much of a problem this year... BUT a hearty helping of oyster shell (for poultry to eat) sprinkled generously around the plants will definately deter them, also will eventually breakdown and give your soil some calcium...

  13. Daphne - LOVE the controlling death series. Wealth of info here, for sure!! Great pics too! and FYI - I am seriously freaked out by earwigs too. blech!

  14. Mrs. Darling, well Bt is organic so you are still going to be raising them organically. If I didn't use row covers, I'd use it. I can't stand to find those worms in my broccoli.

    Stefaneener, Well we all have pests. I find the diseases harder to deal with than the pests - except earwigs. Collaring the squash would do nothing. The borers lay eggs all along the stem. The internet says that they lay them near to where they go into the ground, but frankly mine will do it anywhere. I've even had borers bore into the squash itself. Ick. The only way I can see to keep them off is to put them under a row cover, but pumpkins vine so much that they quickly escape.

    June, I'm with you. Anything to help with the onslaught. Luckily this year they aren't as bad as last year. Despite our wet and cloudy weather, we had a lot more rain last year.

    Earwigs are long thin brown chitinous insects. They are just under an inch long and about 1/8" wide. They have pincers on their rear. I wish I could show you a photo, but they always run away too fast. They hate being in the sun. BTW that is just our earwigs. There are a lot of species and they are all different sizes, but this one seems to be common here.

    Roasted Garlic, I haven't tried that one for slugs.

    Kate, I don't think anyone likes them. I think it is their nasty pincers that are the major freak out point. Or maybe it is the old wives tales they have about them.

  15. I believe that without agriculture, there could not have been an Old Testament. You need these plagues of insects to complain about. Vegetables are what made the Old Testament necessary.