Gardening Without Pesticides

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About now most gardens are flourishing, the early harvests are coming in, and the dry heat of the late summer is still weeks away. It's also the time that holes start to appear in the leaves, chunks disappear from the tomatoes, and squash plants seem like they are playing host to an alien invasion. The garden pests have arrived. From slugs to squash beetles to hornworms, the trouble for gardeners can be legion. Here's what to do. 

Broad-spectrum pesticides aren't just potentially bad for your health — they can kill the good insects like spiders and wasps that are busy freeing your garden from harm. It’s better to work in concert with nature’s own pest-control methods rather than come in with a kill-them-all approach. 

Thankfully there are wide ranges of pest-control options available that don’t involve a total war on insects. The first step is to learn to identify some major insect pests. Squash beetles, potato beetles, tomato hornworms, Japanese beetles, and cabbage loopers are just a few of the common garden pests you should learn to identify. A quick smartphone picture and some Google research will help you identify most pests. Once you know the specific pest, you can begin to come up with a plan that will address it. Here are some common methods used in what agriculturalists call an Integrated Pest Management system.


Traps
Many insects will be attracted to traps that will capture pests and keep them off your plants. Though there are commercial traps available, many gardeners use trap crops. For instance, sunflowers are great at attracting squash bugs. When the pests gather on the sunflower, a gardener can then kill them all with a few passes of a butane torch or douse them with an organic insecticidal soap.

Barriers
Yes, pest control has a barrier method. Most are gauze-like drape cloths that you can place over plants in your garden. Check your local garden store or order through a supplier like johnnyseeds.com.

Predatory Insects
From preying mantises to wasps, unleashing predatory insects in a garden reminds me of releasing junkyard dogs. These natural enemies of garden pests are a great reason not to use chemical pesticides. Some predators like spiders will simply show up if the eating is good. Others can be purchased from garden stores. If you have a specific problem bug like aphids, its best to pair them with the appropriate predator — in this case, the lady bug. 

Biological Pesticides
These forms of pest control utilize microorganisms such as bacteria, nematodes, and fungi that are fatal to some insects. For instance, the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis is fatal to many kinds of larvae. Various sprays to apply these biological controls are available from organic garden suppliers.