It’s been a great growing season. We got an early start and have had a decent mix of rain and warm sunny days. Now that your tender seedlings are reaching up toward the sky, it’s a crucial time to prevent pest damage. Plants are especially vulnerable when they are young with only a few leaves to gather energy from the sun. Unfortunately, young tender leaves are also the most desirable food for most pests.
I have found it helpful to review the life cycle of an insect with gardeners trying to keep pests out of their gardens. Different insects are easier to control at certain stages – checking out this page may save you a lot of time and energy!
For small kitchen or container gardens, the best way to keep pests under control is daily monitoring and hand picking/squishing. If squishing bugs, eggs, and caterpillars between your fingers feels too violent or gross, you can place critters between a leaf or tissue first. Remember to look under leaves and along stems – pests are rarely in plain sight!
If your plants are really being attacked, use google to find organic pest solutions using words describing what you have observed, the type of plant, and the word “organic.” In the photos below, I’ve illustrated some of the bugs bothering our vegetables:
Can you find me? This is a small cabbage worm on a broccoli seedling. They are very well camouflaged and are usually found along the stem or underside of the leaves of broccoli, cabbage, kale, or collards.
Snails and slugs thrive in damp humid environments. One down-side of mulching is the creation of snail and slug homes near your plants. They usually come out after dark and feast at night.
These little beetles love love love our tomatillo plants. They lay small bright orange eggs on the undersides of leaves. Squish eggs, and then the little brown worms that emerge, to avoid breeding the hard-to-catch and destructive adult beetles!
Flea beetles damage leaves of plants from many different families. To keep them off your seedlings, try laying row cover cloth over the young plants and sealing the edges to the ground using rocks or stakes. Once the plants have enough leaves to withstand these pests, remove the cloth. This is a good preventative method for all flying pests (remember, most insects in their adult stages can fly and are hard to catch and kill).
Remember that non-insect pests also cause damage to gardens. This black netting is lightly mounded over the soil and keeps our cat from using the newly seeded carrot bed as a litter box.
Remember to use preventative methods to keep pests out. Strong healthy plants do not attract as many pests or diseases compared to stressed ones. Companion planting, like the tomato and marigold pairing above, will help your organic garden thrive. Some companions actually help their friends by attracting predatory insects that will eat the pests!
As you work to keep pests away, never forget that organic gardening depends on creating an ecosystem in your garden. That ecosystem includes pollinating and predatory insects. Always look up the pest before squishing – it might, after all, be a garden friend.