How To Organically Get Rid Of Garden Pests, Forever
This is a guest post from Phil Nauta.
I get the impression that more and more people are coming to understand a fundamental truth – That human disease doesn't come because of a deficiency of drugs, it comes from a lack of health – mostly improper nutrition, inadequate exercise and too much stress.
And yet many of us who have figured that out haven't yet made the connection with the garden.
Why do insects and diseases eat your plants?
The answer is probably not what you'd expect. We tend to think these “pests” are making our plants sick, but it's actually the opposite – they're there because our plants are already sick.
Just as most diseases manifest in humans when we aren't optimally healthy, insects and diseases go after sick plants. That means plants with a nutritional imbalance, not plants with a pesticide deficiency.
In fact, pests don't even have the proper enzymes for digesting healthy plants.
Bigger animals do, and they prefer healthy plants, but insects and diseases go for sick plants that emit specific frequencies. Insects pick these frequencies up with their antennae.
Healthy plants don't emit these strong signals, so insects don't even see them as a food source.
I've been gardening for a long time, but I didn't stumble upon this concept until I started studying organic gardening and especially organic pest control in 2005.
I read a lot of interesting research about the topic, but was still skeptical at first. It took a few years of observation before I believed it.
Now, I see evidence of it all the time. The other day, I was looking at a group of 40 or so burning bushes in our nursery. Seven of them were covered in aphids. The rest had absolutely none.
The aphids had weeks to move over to the other plants, but obviously they were only interested in some of them, the sick ones.
I've also “cured” many plants of insect and disease infestations simply by improving the health of the plants. (Laurie's note – our organic farmer said that herd health also dramatically improves after farmers switch to organic production, in some cases with formerly diseases animals now testing clean.)
That doesn't mean pruning the predators out of the plants, which actually does nothing to help plant health. It means using inputs and techniques to help tip the plants into a state of health so that the predators no longer consider them a food source.
Organically Get Rid Of Garden Pests – Where to Start
If you want to improve the health of your plants to the point where insect and disease predators go away, I have three starting points for you. If you're growing food, this can also drastically increase your yield and storage time, and improve the taste and nutrient-density of your harvests.
1. Compost. I know you already know about this one, but sometimes the old methods stick around for a reason. Compost supplies nutrients, organic matter and just as important, beneficial microorganisms to improve the health of your soil and plants.
2. Microbial Inoculants. When there's not enough compost to go around, liquid inoculants such as compost tea and effective microorganisms can be used very sustainably for much less cost and time than compost, and can be applied to plant leaves where we really need these beneficial microorganisms, too.
3. Organic Fertilizers. I'm not really into most of the organic fertilizers on the market, but there are a few such as sea minerals that can be very useful while we're transitioning to a healthier ecosystem. In the long run, it's best to not use too many outside inputs, but in the first couple of years in a new garden, they're a great help to speed up the process.
Methods such as these – and other simple steps like proper watering and appropriate plant placement – will help ensure your plants are fit for human consumption, not insect and disease consumption.
While pesticides, including organic ones, only get rid of plant predators in the short term, creating health in your garden keeps them at bay forever. (Laurie's note – I am working on these methods in my garden, but if you need a short term fix while you work on improving soil/plant health, you can check check out my Ultimate Guide to Natural Pest Control in the Garden.)
Feel free to ask any questions below!
This is a guest post from Phil Nauta, author of the book Building Soils Naturally, published by Acres U.S.A. He also runs an online organic gardening course called The Smiling Gardener Academy. He has taught for Gaia College, was an organic landscaper and ran an organic fertilizer business before starting SmilingGardener.com to teach practical organic gardening tips to home gardeners.
You can read a review of Phil's book here.
Thanks for this post!I’m new to the garden scene and know this info will come in handy. No questions now but I’m sure I’ll be back (: …actually, now that I think of it, is there a good online resource for looking up pics of bugs to see what they are, then finding out if they are harmful. I’ve got little beetles that are black with yellowish spots..
Dave’s Garden has a Bugfiles section where they have photos and identification of common garden bugs – http://davesgarden.com/guides/bf/
We have had a pretty good garden going in spite of the drought we are experiencing. BUT I recently noticed moles making runs all through my garden. Do you have any suggestions for this? I’m afraid they will eat the roots? Thanks so much!
easy way to get rid of moles – find their run ,with a bulb planter put a piece of bubble gum in the tunnel. no more moles. sounds silly but it works!
I’m sure that what you said about healthy plants resisting insects is true under normal circumstances.
In SW Ohio, we had a frighteningly, warm winter and spring. It was extremely unusual. We were sweating in April. The bugs have taken over as a result. It’s mostly cucumber beetles, but there are ants, squash bugs, cabbage loopers and other pests.
Last night, I had to break down and use a veggie pesticide..I hated having to do that, but my cucumber leaves and squash (both dark, green leaves) were being chewed like crazy, and some of the vines have been targeted too.
I’ve tried everything else I could find on the Internet — including flour on the leaves, garlic brew with a little mineral oil mixed in, and insecticidal soap.
Next year? Where can I buy ladybugs?
Great post! I have two sick cabbage plants, covered in aphids. They’ve also gotten cabbage worms twice. I read that aphids attack unhealthy plants and I didn’t get it. Weirdly, the cabbage has been growing well, it just keeps getting attacked. But I also planted it right in our clay soil without any added nutrients. So yes, I believe the bugs attack sick plants! Thanks for the explanation on how this works. I just gotta figure out what cabbage needs now…
Calcium is often helpful for brassicas.
Laurie: What companion plants do I need for next year? My lovely, prolific, dark green cucumber vines ended up with yellow vine after being attacked by those darn bugs. Tomatoes and squash too.
All else went well: carrots, onions, radishes, lettuce, snap peas, beets, mustard lettuce
Take care to enrich the soil before you plant again. Those plants are all heavy feeders. If you had cucumber beetles, they spread bacterial wilt, and poor soil plus bacterial wilt will mean sickness for future vine crops if you don’t address that problem. At our old place, I had heavy clay soil that I was struggling to amend over time, but we lived in the suburbs and I didn’t have access to the resources I have now. The beetles moved in one year, and after than I was never able to grow vine crops well again. Here, I add rotten manure to the beds, along with wood ashes, some compost, rock powders and other odds and ends. I see the beetles occasionally, but they don’t do much damage. The soil is key.
As for companion crops, radishes and nasturtiums are often recommended, and I always like to plant an assortment of flowers for beneficial insects. I like low growing, small flowered plants like alyssum and lobelia; high “platform” plants like cosmos, zinnias, daisies, and coneflowers; fragrant plants with clustered flowers, like catnip and lemon balm; bee and bird friendly plants like borage and dwarf morning glories; and a mix of other annuals, perennials and herbs.
I put in a heap of cantaloupe plants this year, and the bugs and slugs came out in force, as usual. But this time, I’d bought something natural and non-poisonous called FOOD GRADE DIATOMACEOUS EARTH. I put down about 2 pounds of the stuff (appx $4 total in cost). The bug and the slugs ALL died, and two months later, I put down a light dusting even though there was still no sign of pests yet. I’ve been up to my ears in cantaloupes, and the leaves are untouched! I live in Florida, and even the evil 2-inch long palmetto bugs have all died. My house, yard and gardens are perfect for the first time ever. Try it!
I live in Houston, tx and I love being in my cottage garden. Never really had any big pest issues until now. I am shocked how fast mealy bugs spread. I have an almond verbena that I have trained to be a tree. Ive been pruning all branches that I can reach where I see the mealy bugs. I have trimmed back other plants and have used neem oil. I cant keep up. What has brought on this infestation of mealy bugs & are there any other remedies? These fuzzy pests are unbelievable!
Thanking you in advance, Rita Rogers
From Planet Natural Mealybug Control: