Organic Insect Management

Insect infestation in your garden can come and go. There are many factors that determine whether or not a particular pest will attack your plants. Insects move from one place to another and are often influenced by weather, day length, what your neighbors are doing, what crops you are raising (and what stage of life they are in), and many other factors. Almost any change can send insects out of your garden and off in another direction. Furthermore, the insects' own life cycles figure in the equation. If you're aware of what these are likely to be in your area, you can schedule planting accordingly. If a garden is started at a certain time of the year, it may be overwhelmed with pests; a few weeks later, and it might escape virtually scot-free.

Robber Fly Life Cycle

Wasp: The trichogramma wasp helps destroy more than 200 insect pests.

Trichogramma Wasps

Robber fly: Robber flies eat everything from grasshoppers to beetles.

Wasp: The trichogramma wasp helps destroy more than 200 insect pests.

If you intend to control insects organically, learn to live with some insects. A few holes in a cabbage leaf aren't very important—and you won't get rid of all bugs no matter what you do.

In trying to keep garden pests under control, always start with the simplest, least intrusive methods, move on to more aggressive controls only if necessary. Here are the steps to follow: -

Keep your garden clean: Get rid of all dead weeds, clean up piles of trash, and remove crop residue. This debris provides a place for disease and insects to multiply and hibernate during the winter. If you have severely diseased plants or rotted fruit, don't put them in the compost, as the problem may eventually find its way back into your garden.

Start with healthy plants and seed: Buy disease-free seed and healthy-looking transplants. Disease-free seed can be purchased through seed catalogs and at garden centers, and it will be "certified disease free.'' Many growers treat their seed with Captan, a powdered fungicide, but you can buy untreated seed from Nichol's Garden Nursery,

Robber fly: Robber flies eat everything from grasshoppers to beetles.

Johnny's Selected Seeds and others.

Most nurseries sell healthy plants. To make sure, select only vigorous looking plants without spots on the leaves.

Beware of overhead watering: Mildew and other diseases frequently occur on leaves that stay wet Water in the morning so the sun dries the foliage quickly, by hand watering under the leaves or by using a ground level drip irrigation system.

Plant resistant varieties and repellent plants: You can avoid many diseases and insects by growing resistant varieties. Certain types of beans, for example, are rust resistant and several tomato varieties are resistant to nematodes, and fusarium and verticillium wilts.

Some plants are not attractive to insects; others, such as marigolds and garlic, contain oils that repel insects. Still others are not affected by insect attack.

Rotate your crops: If you grow vegetables in the same spot year after year, certain diseases may spread rapidly. Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are particularly prone to club root, for example. In a Vegetable

Insect Zucchini Fruit

Factory garden, rotate the vegetables within the bed. Plant zucchini where the cabbage was and cabbage in place of eggplant

Watch your timing: Time your plantings to avoid peak insect buildups. Insects generally appear at about the same time every year. In some areas, flea beetles will destroy radishes and turnips planted in early summer, but if you hold off a few weeks until the adult (beetle) stage has passed, your crop will suffer little damage. Many other insects can be avoided in this same manner.

Even if you have the best soil and the healthiest plants, some pests may find their way into your garden. If you see any large crawling insects, such as the tomato hornworm, feeding on your plants, simply pick them off into a wide-mouth jar. The same goes for caterpillars and other large bugs. Pick off pieces of leaf that contain colonies. Spray small bugs and flying insects with a hard, direct stream of water from the garden hose.

Many insects can be lured into home-made traps. Some beer or other fermenting carbohydrates in a glass jar, cooking pan or similar receptacle will trap many moths and bores. Earwigs will crawl into rolled-up newspapers, from which they can be dumped each morning into a pail of hot water. Another method of trapping earwigs—and snails, slugs, grubs and cutworms—is to place pieces of ripe fruit and vegetables around the garden. The bugs will gather for the feast, especially at night, and you can dispose of them in the morning.

If insects are especially bad, cover plants with a netting and enclose fruit in a plastic bag. Or you might consider using a spray of some kind.

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