The Challenge of Organic Pest Control
  • Don't "hand your garden to pests on a plate",
  • Out-smart pests with natural pest controls that work,
  • A multi-line defense to protect your plants &
    enrich your garden... ...

Safe, organic pest control methods are right here - I don't advocate using obnoxious chemical pesticides. I describe organic pest controls here, and there are very many to choose from. So what works?

Are you looking for a quick 'one size fits all' solution - "a no brainer"? That's unlikely to be organic because organic methods are nothing if not intelligent. They deploy a wide range of controls rather than rely on one. And - let's face it - you have to be smart - more below...
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Remember - Gardening Is Not The Same As Agriculture

Small is beautiful for gardeners, unlike the farmers who deal with large crops and big fields. Indeed gardeners should take the hands-on approach that farmers often find impossible (market forces have driven labour out of agriculture).

Warning: Monocultures on farms attract pests and feed an increase in pest numbers. Don't hand it to the pests on a plate by copying agriculture. When agricultural methods are used around your home they will give the pests a free run and a free lunch.

Many chemicals used for agriculture have been made available to gardeners, but their use is not appropriate for a typical garden. Please don't kill off your garden's natural defences. Your organic garden should be designed to grow largely without monocultures - i.e. without masses of same crop plants. Gardening really can and should involve a more individual approach to plant care, ranging from easy to use pest barriers to hoeing and the simple methods below...

Organic pest control is not an impossiblity as some may think. I won't deny that it often seems like a battle. But pest control is a challenge for all gardeners - because gardens are usually unnatural. So if you value your environment you'll realise the importance of working with nature and saving money rather than battling against it - you choose - here's how it's done...

Unlike the 'no brainer' of chemical use (I'm sorry I use the term here with a slightly different emphasis) organic gardening requires using a range of methods, with planning and coordination.
Organic pest control is nothing - if not intelligent.
You have to be smart.
Remember: even with chemical pesticides the problems still reappear. But as you grow you come to depend more on pesticides which prove to be less effective and more costly.

As an organic gardener you have opted not to poison nature and not kill the organisms that will assist you in organic pest control as well as in pollination. Complete pest eradication should not be the goal.
There is no single one-size fits all solution for organic pest control. You have to integrate organic controls into routine gardening methods from the planning stage to harvest and storage.

I'll add more details later

Soil Pests - Cultivate the soil finely

Slugs hide in soil and around larger damp soil lumps. They like to remain under cover during the day.

Cultivate the soil finely around slug prone plants like, potatoes, lettuce and seedlings. This exposes the soil pests to predators such as birds, frogs, hedgehogs, etc... Slimy creatures won't be as happy moving over fine dry soil crumbs.

Regularly cultivate flower and vegetable beds. Whenever you're in the garden get into the habit of removing any pest or weed that you see. With untidy gardens concentrate on one smaller area at a time. If slugs and snails are a problem make a few trips down the garden after sun down. But also learn to distinguish the pests from the useful animals such as larva of ladybirds and hoverflies.

Clean away organic debris

Layers of soft moist organic debris provide cover and food for slugs and other pests. In danger areas crisp mulches like chippings, straw or strulch are better. Some advisors even say that manure attracts soil pests - but you have to balance advantages and disadvantages. The same goes for none essential companion plants or close spacings.

Plastic sheeting and newspaper etc... also provide pest cover. Consider the risks at the planning stages and make appropriate compromises. You might create a pest unfriendly environment around vulnerable areas but elsewhere retain some pest risky methods that have overwhelming advantages e.g. covering crops in cold weather can also protect pests.

Grow resistant varieties

Yes, there are lettuce varieties that are reputedly far less attractive to slugs. Carrot root fly resistance bred into carrot varieties such as 'resistafly' is no guarantee but gives a significant percentage of improvement.

Resistance to fungal attack such as American mildew has been bred into many garden fruit varieties. Also try mixing more than one variety in the same row. The differences may only be due to timing of growth but it's better than giving disease a clear run at the whole crop.

Timing of the growing

Growth can sometimes be timed to miss a pest's life-cycle e.g. delaying carrot sowing to miss the carrot root flies late spring attacks.

Barrier methods

Covering the crop has to be one of the very best organic pest control methods against all sorts of animal pests from: tiny flea beetle, to cabbage butterflys, from carrot root flies to flocks of pidgeons. Select the finest mesh to exclude flea beetles.

Likewise cabbages can be protected from root fly by using collars placed on the soil around the seedlings.

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Biological Pest Control

These have become iconic of organic pest control methods. They use an application of living pest predators. For example: nematodes for slugs, encarsia wasps for whitefly, and others for leatherjackets, ants, aphids... ... more on these later.
UK gardeners will find a good range of biological pest controls on this link. Note: you have to follow instructions exactly.

Don't forget to encourage your garden's natural pest predators. Grow plants that attract ladybirds and hoverflies. Have a pond for frogs and newts, a log pile and dense hedgerow for hedgehogs and shrews. Provide nesting sites for small insect eating birds.

In organic gardening it simply does not make sense to use pesticides some of the time as I heard one professional recommend recently. These kill natural pest predators and that defeats the object.

Pest Repellant Companion Plants

Also consider natural pest repellant plants. They include a wonderful marigold called Tomato Growing Secret from Thompson & Morgan. It reputedly repels white fly so is good in greenhouses. It does indeed have a strong smell when transplanted. I'm planting lots in my greenhouse.

I've just sown a row of carrot 'Bright Lights' covered the seed with ¼inch of fine soil then sown some spring onion 'White Lisbon' and topped off with another ¼inch of fine soil. Both crops will need thinning but the spring onion should confuse the carrot root flies that may be attracted to carrots.

Organic Pest Control Works

Organic pest control has many methods but they are best applied in unison. The rush to use pesticides is really something of a no-brainer when in fact we need a more intelligent coordinated response.

Well I hope at least to inspire the critics of organic gardening to think again, and of course I'll be adding more details when I get in from my garden.

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By Michael E. J. Scott.
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