When bugs attack: How to deal with garden pests organically

Photo by Sven-Kåre Evenseth
Lead photo by Sven-Kåre Evenseth – via Flickr

 

How is your garden going?

One of the most heartbreaking things to have happen when you’re growing your own produce is to come out one morning and find your precious plants have been invaded by small bugs that are either eating your plants or, worse, making them very sick. Don’t feel too depressed, bugs are a natural part of having a garden and one of the battles we must face as home gardeners. It is easy to feel despondent when greeted by a sight such as the one below and our first reaction is often to pull the plant out and pave over our garden bed or to hit the plant with some very nasty chemicals.

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The decision to use chemicals in the garden is a personal one for every home gardener. I choose not to use heavy chemicals in my garden because I’m worried about toxicity and the impact using harsh ingredients has on our environment and waterways. I also worry about how these chemicals will impact on local wildlife, which I try to encourage in my garden. I’m also concerned about how they might impact on my health when applying and when I eventually go to eat the produce from the plant I am trying to protect.

When you consider a bug attack, don’t consider it in isolation, consider the bigger picture. Many gardening books and articles I have read over the years have suggested that bugs will tend to attack a vulnerable plant, that’s why your tender seedlings are often the first to be hit. Here are my tips on how to deal with bugs in your garden:

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Caterpillars

Identify the problem

If you’re new to this gardening caper then it can be hard to know what’s hitting your plants, the longer you do it, the more you come to know which bugs hit where and when and you can start to factor in some strategies for dealing with them before they get out of hand.

I’ve included a couple of photos of the most common pest problems I have in my garden – aphids and caterpillars.

The first step is to try to find the source of the problem, identify the bug and then you’ll know how to treat them. If you’re not sure what you’re dealing with why not post a pic to the Facebook page, our awesome community will soon help you out.

Aphids:  One of the first signs of aphid infestation are ants, if you’ve got ants crawling over your plants then you’ve likely got aphids. Aphids and ants have a mutually beneficial relationship where the ants protect the bugs and feed on their waste product. Check for little bugs on the underside of leaves and around flowers and the stems of fruit. If the problem is particularly bad your plant may also be covered in a sticky substance, the aphids’ waste product, known as honeydew.

Caterpillars: The only reliable sign of caterpillar attack are holes in your leaves, if you flip over the leaf you will usually find the source of the problem – a big fat green grub happily munching away at your leaves. It’s remarkable how much damage these little buggers can do in a short space of time.

Aphids

Aphids

Get the situation under control

Now you know what you’re dealing with you can treat accordingly.

For aphids, the first thing I do is grab the hose and blast the leaves with a stream of fast-running water. The aphids will dislodge and be unable to get back onto the leaves. If you’re dealing with sticky honeydew then mix a drop of dish-washing detergent in some warm water and gently wash it off with a soft cloth. If the situation is particularly bad then consider spraying the plant with a natural oil based product like eco-neem.

For caterpillars you just need to pick the little blighters off. This is a bit gross and some people are squeamish about touching the little grubs so one thing I’ve seen people do is grab a clothes peg and use that as a kind of ‘grabby’ tool in place of their fingers. Failing that, a big stick! I usually drop them into my compost, squish them if they’ve done a lot of damage (vengeance!) or put them in a bucket of soapy water. Chooks really love these grubs too.

In my next post I’ll talk about how to defend against future attacks. In the meantime, what bugs are you doing battle with at the moment?

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