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Organic Pest Control Tips For Your Garden

organic-pest-control-tips

If you’ve committed yourself to an organic garden, you’ve probably heard the stories. They’re legendary. They’re the stories of fellow organic growers whose soil is so healthy, whose plants are so vibrant, whose diversified crops are so varied that they never, ever have any real problems with pests. The idea is that if your garden is truly healthy, it won’t attract pests. Sure, they may come. They may nibble on a few leaves here or there, but they don’t stick around. That’s how the story goes. Only sick plants get eaten by pests. Only sick plants are susceptible to fungus or mold. Only sick plants….

Maybe there’s truth to those stories. After all, I can’t deny the results when I walk through my local community garden. There are some gardeners who’ve taken such good care of their little plot of soil year after year that you can literally see the difference. Nevertheless, when you’re newly starting out, when gardening is not your passion, when your time is limited and you’re a little on the lazy side (like me!), you probably don’t have the soil of legends. You’ve got the soil of the suburban backyard.

So, how are you supposed to keep pests at bay while still sticking to your organic principles?

The video below provides a good, brief introduction to the topic. In it, Scott Meyer, editor of Organic Gardening magazine shares some of the most useful tips out there.

I especially liked the tips on how to deal with deer (a big problem in these parts). I also appreciated how Scott warns gardeners to watch insects closely to see if they’re actually harming your vegetables or not. Part of embracing organic principles is to acknowledge that not all insects are bad — even if they’re making your broccoli leaves look like swiss cheese.

The most exhaustive resource I know about is well worth the $10. It’s The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control. I’ve got an older edition on my bookshelf, and it’s the perfect reference manual for identifying pests, diseases, and prescribing natural, effective treatments.

One thing the video above hinted at, which the book does excellently, is describe preventative measures you can take to combat pests and disease. The video mentioned planting edible flowers to attract beneficial insects and placing a bird bath nearby to attract insect-eating birds. But the book goes into greater depth, even giving the names of specific varieties of vegetables that are resistant to particular pests and diseases. Until a few years ago, I had an incomplete view on exactly why variety is so important when it comes to fruits and vegetables. I used to think that any variety would do, and I picked seeds based on the pictures in gardening catalogs. Now I’ve learned to be more discerning, choosing varieties that are proven to do well in my area and which have been cultivated through the generations to be hardy and vibrant (and TASTY!) despite the heat and the pests common here. I wish someone had told me this the first time I tried to grow tomatoes!

How about you? What has gardening experience taught you that you wished you’d known earlier?

I wrote this post while participating in the Sowing Millions Project by Real Food Media on behalf of Seeds of Change. I received product to facilitate my post. However, my thoughts and opinions are my own and not of those of Real Food Media or Seeds of Change.

(photo by pipdiddly)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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18 Responses to Organic Pest Control Tips For Your Garden
  1. Darci
    July 18, 2011 | 3:41 pm

    I think this post should have something about a book endorsement in the title. I was actually expecting some tips. If they were in the video, I didn’t watch b/c I’m at work.

    • KristenM
      July 18, 2011 | 4:03 pm

      Yes, the video has a number of useful tips and is meant to be the focus of this post.

  2. Valerie Jaquith via Facebook
    July 18, 2011 | 3:47 pm

    almost lost all of my kale, mustard greens and collards one year. When they were very wee little seedlings they where getting munch by flea bettles. Take a spray bottle with water, and a bowl of flour. Sray both sides of all the leaves and carefully sprinkle flour on both sides of the each leaf. You can use this trick for any bug I would think. Its difficult to do when the plants are big, but its worth the effort when they are small, it will save them from being descimated. The flour won’t wash off, later these leaves are meaningless anyway, and you have saved your plant! The bugs get their mouths filled with paste and they leave.

  3. Nancy Oliver via Facebook
    July 18, 2011 | 4:20 pm

    get a chicken, works for me!

  4. Valerie Jaquith via Facebook
    July 18, 2011 | 4:28 pm

    chickens are not an option for many.

  5. Alice Sun via Facebook
    July 18, 2011 | 11:12 pm

    what do you do about the birds and squirrels? i walked out and saw a bird perched on my tomato cage staring at me like he was daring me to do something. they’re quite bold.

  6. Charlotte
    July 19, 2011 | 7:09 am

    and the chickens will eat all the lovely veggies too along with the bugs if you’re not careful!

  7. Peggy
    July 19, 2011 | 1:46 pm

    Flea beetles were making skeletons of my pepper plants. I heard about insecticidal soap and many of my friends use Bronner’s. I didn’t have any Bronner’s on hand, but I had soap nuts. I made an infusion with five soap nuts in two cups of hot water and it worked GREAT! I know soap nuts are non-toxic and won’t put anything on my food that is dangerous. The pepper plants are thriving now and there aren’t any more little holes in my leaves. YAY!

  8. Food Renegade via Facebook
    July 19, 2011 | 2:11 pm

    Row covers work well for birds & squirrels. There are some that are designed to let light in, but keep pests out. The video showed an example of one.

  9. Valerie Jaquith via Facebook
    July 19, 2011 | 2:33 pm

    YES on the row covers. I have disciplined myself to put on the covers (various weights for different seasons) and LEAVE THEM ON!!! All the time. Great for protecting my strawberries.

  10. Kate
    July 21, 2011 | 10:12 am

    Our garden was plagued by red lily leaf beetles, and they basically munched our asiatic lilies to the ground, then coated what was left with their dung-covered larvae. I read that neem oil is a good deterrent. So, we bought some online, diluted it heavily with water, then sprayed the lilies (and our other plants, too) with the mixture. They were gone in two days.

    Its important to get rid of them ASAP, because once they’re done with their food of choice – your lilies – they may well move on to your herb garden. They were really going at my basil, and I knew we had to do something, or risk my key pesto crop!

  11. Wendy
    July 21, 2011 | 3:59 pm

    There are so many things I wish I had known before starting our garden this year. And I really thought I had read up on things.
    Squash Bugs, have been the bane of my life lately. I thought I got rid of them for a while, just to have them come back in droves.
    I’ve been sick lately, and about all my husband will do for the garden is water. He’s so afraid he’ll hurt something he won’t try to fix it. So the only plants that have survived…and some I have no idea why they just shriveled up and died….have been the crops that grow underground. I have a plethora of potatoes, and shallots! The tomatoes seem to be doing well too.

    I have a beautiful herb garden in containers. Have been growing herbs successfully for years. Veggies…well, let’s say this has been a learning experience in what not to do!

    I’ll check out the book. I’m hearing impaired so videos are lost on me, but the book sounds great.
    thanks.

  12. Bob P.
    July 22, 2011 | 11:43 am

    How about 4-legged pests, such as chipmunks? How can we keep them away?

    • KristenM
      July 22, 2011 | 11:50 am

      I would think the same thing you use for squirrels and birds would work for chipmunks, and that’s row covers!

  13. Elizabeth Walling
    July 23, 2011 | 3:52 pm

    I so need to use the tips to get rid of June beetles! We have such a problem with them here, and they eat up all my lovely roses and crepe myrtles.

  14. Walter Jeffries
    August 17, 2011 | 6:22 pm

    For insects we have free-ranging chickens. They depopulate the local bug levels wonderfully.

    Ducks do a wonder on the slugs and mosquito larva.

    Generally we keep the poultry out of the gardens but if potato bugs or something like that shows up we’ll put a few hens in the garden for a little while – they clean up and we take them back out.

    We also encourage the populations of dragonflies, swallows, killdeere and bats with houses and habitat.

    For deer we have free-ranging livestock guardian and herding dogs. They also keep the coyotes, bears, cougar, foxes, etc at bay.

    In the spring and again mid-summer we spread Bt.israelis spores (bacteria that like to make mosquitoes feel sick and puke). Very effective.

  15. Valerie Green via Facebook
    July 2, 2014 | 8:34 pm

    Oh learned this year, too late, to cover squash/cukes until they start to blossom so that the vine borers are not laying eggs to hatch and cause problems.

  16. Kimberly Carvalho via Facebook
    July 3, 2014 | 5:12 am

    Garlic spray is very effective since it is toxic or at least irritating to most pests. Boil water and add it to 1-2 bulbs of freshly chopped garlic and let it sit in a mason jar overnight. Then strain it into a spray bottle and add a teaspoon of oil (it smothers the eggs) along with natural soap power to the mixture. Also, test it out on a plant or weed to make sure that it is not too concentrated.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.