We all have our problems.
When it comes to garden pests, some of us are plagued with slugs and others stand down plagues of grasshoppers.
Perhaps raccoons level your corn or squirrels uproot your lettuce.
Aphids might infest your cabbage, prompting a cabbage nausea from which you will not soon recover. Trust me.
From www.freephotosbank.com and spotted at eHow
Come on, you have a bathroom at home. It’s just rude.
The truth is that sooner or later we all come eye to eye with a critter that insists on eating our food or messing up our garden, and even though we all have to live together here on Earth, they can be a real pain.
Here at Headquarters, our nemesis is the flea beetle.
Flea beetles are small critters that often attack members of the Brassica family (broccoli, kale, collards, mustards). They chew holes in plants and can completely defoliate and kill a plant if it is young and tender.
Three years ago they descended on a crop of fall-planted collard greens and then overwintered in the soil only to attack the potatoes that were planted there the following spring. And then they went for the tomatoes. They went back down into the soil, overwintered, and…repeat.
Panicked queries to garden hotlines produced heavy sighs of sympathy and recommendations to pick up and move. Once they’ve moved in, they tend to stick around. Luckily I work from home so I can go outside, sneak up on them, and squish them several times a day.
They are fast so this approach takes cunning and a bit of training.
It’s not so bad
Everyone has to eat though, and it is always a good idea to plant a little extra as insurance against nature’s hungry. Sometimes a pest sticks around just long enough to do some damage and bring you to the edge of panic, and then they disappear as quickly as they came and the plants recover and all is well with the world again.
Accept some damage. Would it have been worth it to spray the heck out of those hard-bodied-impossible-to-kill flea beetles with a pesticide and in the process kill beneficial bugs like ladybugs and bees that were lurking around and probably give my nearby lettuce a good coating, too?
Well, no. From past experience I knew that the potato plants would get eaten a little bit, I’d squish a bunch to make myself feel better, and then the flea beetles would go away and the plant would outgrow the damage.
The idea that you can wipe out pest populations completely is a bit of a pipe dream, anyway. A better approach in our opinion, and in the opinion of the people who hand out the World Food Prize no less, is Integrated Pest Management - a step-by-step approach to pest control that uses least toxic methods first. For more information and pretty pictures on controlling pests naturally, download this handy Natural Pest, Weed, and Disease Control guide.
When it comes to pest control, keep in mind that the first defense against pests is a healthy, diverse garden.
Here’s how it works:
1. Healthy soil = healthy plants. When you feed the soil (compost), you get plants that are strong, lush, healthy, and less attractive to pests (and diseases, too).
2. Start off with healthy plants. Not all plants are created equal. Here are some tips on how to buy healthy plants.
3. Keep things neat. Don’t leave weeds and old, dead leaves and plants lying around. Critters like slugs love to burrow in and munch on decaying plants.
4. Be vigilant. And by vigilance I mean Crop Tour.
Just like eating supper with your kids, daily crop tours help you to keep track of how things are going and whether anyone is being gnawed or bothered.
5. Plant a diverse garden. Mix perennial and annual flowers in with your veggies. Some flowers - Bachelor’s Buttons, Sweet Alyssum, and Anise Hyssop - do a great job bringing in beneficial insects like bees, butterflies, and ladybugs.
Others, like French marigolds, repel annoying insects.
We’ll cover how to encourage biodiversity in the garden on another day. Today, we offer up some information about common garden pests and how you can defend the homefront.
They figure there are about 40 different kinds of slugs currently residing in the United States. When I pulled up one of the romaine lettuces in the Grow It Yourself garden, this is the kind of slug I found lurking inside:
The outer leaves were covered in slug slime and had to be chucked into the Yard Waste bin. I didn’t put the lettuce in the compost bin because I’m not taking any chances having slug eggs hatch in there and then having slugs spread themselves hither and yon when I spread the compost. No, sir.
You can spot slugs by their creepy soft bodies and shimmering slime trail. Lovers of lettuce and other soft-tissue plants, slugs take big chomps and leave jagged holes in your plants or, if it’s a small lettuce, they might strip the whole thing down to the stem. They may be slow, but they do not mess around.
Keep an eye out for them, but remember that big ugly slugs were cute kids once too. This is what a baby slug looks like:
And even smaller….
Slug eggs look like clear, shiny pearls.
It gets worse.
We dare you to look up slug reproduction on Wikipedia.
Sigh, yes, slugs do some good. They feed on decaying leaves and plants and help recycle organic matter into the soil. They are also food for bigger critters like raccoons, and chickens and ducks really like them too.
How to get rid of slugs
Slugs are sneaky sorts and come out at night, so they can be a bit of a challenge to find. On the bright side, the most fun you can have in pest control is strapping on a headlamp and going slug hunting! Some people swear by the therapeutic benefits of a slug hunt.
Simply shine a spotlight on them (just follow the slime trail), pick them (did we mention you might want to wear gloves), and:
a) Dispose of them in a plastic bag and throw them away
b) Toss them into a pail of soapy water to drown and then toss somewhere else
c) Throw them into an open area or, if you’re not on good terms with your neighbours, over the fence.
Note that all of these options are gross and we’ve personally never hunted slugs at night, but we’re all for it. What did we do with our slug? We tossed it into a densely planted area - a slug wilderness of sorts - at the back of the yard.
What else can you do to get rid of slugs?
Don’t encourage them. Slugs like to lurk under stones, boards, plant debris, low-growing plants, compost bins, and the like, so keep these kinds of things away from your garden.
Copper barriers (slug zappers), beer traps (use the cheap stuff), and Diatomaceous earth (rough on their bellies and fun to spell), are all recommended as ways to control slugs in your garden. Read more about these and other slug-stopping methods here.
What about other critters?
To learn how to deter squirrels, check out these suggestions from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Raccoons giving you trouble?
Copyright The Oregonian
Quality tips here.
Our pest control philosophy is to not grow any plant that is a repeat pest offender. Nasturtiums always seem to end up crawling with aphids. Cabbage - ditto. We have diligently hosed off the aphids with water everyday (works great but you have to keep at it), but honestly it is a bit gross and we have bigger fish to fry.
On the other hand, aphids are loved by ladybugs everywhere and when you have an infestation, the ladybugs will come. So you could think of them as a food source for those little fellows.
Next up: Container gardening!