Dig It! - What's Bugging You?
by Sage and Snow Garden Club
March 6, 2007
"It's not easy being green", said Kermit the Frog. As Kermit knew, though, we all can do our part in keeping our beautiful world in a natural, balanced state. For purposes of this article on control of multi-legged garden pests (well, slugs don't have legs, but they are included anyway), we want to provide ideas on how we can achieve harmony with all nature's creatures and still have beautiful flowers, herbs, and vegetables. An upcoming article will be about four-legged pests in the garden (deer, rabbits, gophers, voles, dogs, etc.).
You have to consider that
1) certain plants attract specific pests, and
2) certain environmental conditions within the planting bed can attract certain pests.
You can go through the seasons without the dusts and sprays of chemical toxins by learning the delicate balance of life forms you have and how they came to be there (amount of moisture, airflow, soil nutrients, and light; plant health; and soil type). Upset this balance and your plants are in trouble.
Natural Pest Control
Pest control in the natural, "green" garden is more straightforward than when using potentially harmful chemical pesticides. The goal is to keep pest insects from eating all of our plants. Natural pest controls allow nature to do the work, leaving us with more free time to enjoy our flowers and eat chemical-free vegetables. When we control pests naturally, we take advantage of the checks and balances nature has already had in place for millions of years. Another words, you only want to kill what is attacking your plants and not other beneficial pollinators and predatory insects.
If you have lots of holes in your cabbage, broccoli, or cauliflower leaves and see white butterflies hovering around them, it's likely the Cabbage Butterfly is the culprit. Turn over the leaves and search out the newly laid egg clusters. Natural controls for the small, green caterpillars that are doing the damage can be to plant parsley, cilantro (coriander), celery, or carrots close to the affected plants and allow them to bloom. The flowers will draw a beneficial insect called Trichogramma to the area that will lay eggs on or in the caterpillars. You can also purchase Trichogramma from many nurseries or through the mail. Another tool is a bacterium (called Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis) specifically attacks many caterpillar species and is a very effective and commonplace product in most garden centers.
If you see ants or a sticky substance on your plants, you may have aphids. The ants are there to "milk" the aphids for their honeydew. A sharp jet of water will dislodge aphids, but there are other insects that eat them, too, including the Ladybird Beetle (Ladybug).
Ladybug larvae have orange bands, are shaped like an alligator and are voracious. Ladybugs occur naturally, but to speed up the control process you can purchase them at many garden centers and through the mail. Put them in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before release so they will be too sluggish to immediately fly away. Release them in the evening or early morning close to plants with Aphids. Ladybugs also eat Mealybugs, some scale insects, Spider Mites, and Whiteflies.
Another general pest controller is the Lacewing. These are small, graceful, slender light green or tan insects that have a characteristic "fluttering" flight due to their large wings. Larvae are called "Aphid Lions". Lacewings also eat Whiteflies, some soft scale insects, caterpillar and Snail eggs, Mealybugs, Spider Mites, and some Thrip species. Lacewings occur naturally in most North American gardens but can also be purchased from garden centers and nurseries.
Attracting beneficial insects
Flowers that you should have that are pollen- and/or nectar-rich to attract beneficial insects, include pansies, alyssum, lavender, cosmos, coneflowers, goldenrod, daisies, asters, feverfew, marigolds and sunflowers. A birdbath and feeder will attract feathered insect predators.
Discouraging crawling pests
Spread diatomaceous earth, a dust or powder made from ground-up algae, on the ground around plants as a barrier to crawling pests such as caterpillars, Slugs, Snails, Thrips, and Earwigs. The powder's sharp edges kill these creatures. Wood ashes have a similar effect.
Making a bug trap
Here's a way to make a general bug trap: Fill a 2-liter soda bottle with 1 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 cup sugar. Add a banana peel sliced into small pieces and 1 cup cold water and shake. Tie a piece of string around the neck of the bottle and hang it from a low tree branch or place it on the ground.
Making your own organic bug sprays and dusts
Mix your own organic sprays and dusts from hot-tasting or strong-smelling compounds including garlic, parsnip roots, bell peppers, onions, cayenne pepper, and pipe tobacco. A coating of dormant oil suffocates bugs without harming plants. If you must spray something on your plants, start with plain water -- it will kill some insects and force off many others. For a little more power, add an insecticidal soap to the water spray. Insecticidal soaps, made from the fatty acids of animals and plants, are both safe and effective in controlling soft-bodied insects.
Interplanting to discourage insects
Interplanting flowers, herbs, and vegetables is often all the control you'll need. Here are some plant companions to consider: roses and chives, dill and cabbage, radishes and potatoes, potatoes and sweet alyssum, cauliflower and dwarf zinnias, onions or sage near carrots, and radishes planted among cucumbers. Marigolds have a natural resistance to harmful nematodes and an odor that turns off many pests.
A special group of insecticides called “systemics” offers a viable alternative that doesn't harm beneficial insects and protects a plant throughout the growing season without the need for repeated applications. Systemics are found in spray and granular formulations and are taken into a plant through leaves or roots, so insects are killed only when they feed on the treated plants. Systemics work to some degree on a wide variety of insects from aphids to white flies, but not on spider mites and borers.
Help from the County Cooperative Extension Service
If you aren't' sure what insect you have, capture it in a jar and take it to the County Cooperative Extension Service office in Pinedale. While you are there, be sure to look at their publications shelf. The Extension Service also has a web site that has many references and links to other information and has a whole section on pests and pesticides: http://ces.uwyo.edu.
Ant Control (from The Daniel Way! Recipe Roundup) - Mix a 4 ounces cherry or grape jelly, 3 tablespoons canned cat food, and 1 tablespoon boric acid; place small amounts where it can be taken back to the queen.
Mealy Bugs, Spider Mites, and Thrips All of these are minute creatures. Control by washing off the stems with water or spraying with an organic insecticide.
Cutworms - Make little collars using metal cans by cutting off the top and bottom of a metal can and place the can in the soil around the stem.
Earwigs Bugs with rear-end pinchers; don't cause much damage to plants, but they will hide in foliage; they prey on Aphids, so you really should not get rid of them; if you want to lessen their numbers, lay out cardboard tubes with a little banana peel in them (or a wet, rolled-up newspaper baited with a small amount of vegetable oil and bread crumbs) overnight and in the morning dispose of them.
Slugs Enjoy moist environments and will crawl under boards, rocks, or grapefruit halves or hide in plants, such as lettuce, that are too close together; turn boards over every day and pick the Slugs off; get some ducks; attracted to fermented yeast so bury a shallow cup or container even with the soil and fill with beer to within an inch of the rim so Slugs can "check in but not check out"; give Slugs a literal shock by surrounding plants with 2-3 inch strips of copper pushed into the soil to make a vertical fence; hand pick and drop into soapy water.
Some references for natural, nonchemical products and identifying beneficial and pest insects are Gardens Alive; Planet Natural; Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management (chapters can be accessed at http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/pp/resourceguide/); Gardener's Supply; Sunset Western Garden Book; Peak Bloom by Marilyn Quinn; Rodale Press books (such as Great Garden Formulas - The Ultimate Book of Mix-it Concoctions for your Garden; The Encyclopedia of Natural Insect and Disease Control); and www.organicgardening.com.
The Sage and Snow Garden Club meets the second Tuesday each month at noon in the Pinedale Library. If you have questions about the Garden Club or anything in this article or would like to provide ideas for future articles, please contact the Sage and Snow Garden Club at firstname.lastname@example.org or Box 2280, Pinedale, WY 82941 or come to one of our meetings.
We invite your participation in writing an upcoming article on four-legged pests. Please share your methods for controlling deer (we know one sure method, but it's not hunting season), rabbits, voles, gophers, dogs, etc. to the Sage and Snow Garden Club or call 859-8606 and leave a message. We look forward to hearing your stories!