Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Get rid of Garden Pests Naturally

I've never really considered myself an environmentalist, though I do believe in being responsible. What we do today affects future generations, so I do agree it is important to think about that when making decisions that have an effect on our planet. I try to balance being green without pushing our family decisions on our friends and neighbors.

Anyway, this year we faced a few pests during our gardening ventures. Some of them were recognized and returning foes (such as squash bugs), some were newly recognized problems (like aphids) and some were new and terrible surprises (more on that in a moment).

The squash bugs are my sworn enemy. They feast on the juices of my zucchini and pumpkin plants, while at the same time poisoning them. They mate constantly too, causing their numbers to explode if you don't catch them quickly. Last year was the first time we encountered them and I scrambled for a way to get rid of them.

I nearly went the pesticide route, but a combination of not really wanting that on my fruits and veggies and  also considering that one of our neighbors has bees made me change my mind. Instead I squished any bug I found immediately (and tried to ignore the pungent odor that filled the air afterwards) and destroyed the eggs I found on the undersides of the leaves. I think the presence of a garden snake might've helped to push things in our favor too. Keeping ahead of these bugs was tedious, but eventually, the balance was restored and only one of our plants wasn't able to recover.

This year I only found a few squash bugs and killed them immediately, so it wasn't a big deal. Unfortunately, the aphids took their place. I first found those nasty little aphids on our plum tree, which I treated with a mixture of Dawn, canola oil and water to kill the buggers. We saved the tree, but didn't get any fruit from it this year. Next year, we'll know what to look for and nip them in the bud sooner. The aphids caused the leaves to shrivel and curl, and when I uncurled the leaves I found dozens of them hiding there.

Then the aphids made their way to my zucchini. Yes, that squash seems to be a favorite among pests. I actually noticed some lady bugs hanging about, along with some damsel flies and lacewings, so I decided to see what would happen. Those beneficial bugs won out and I finally got to harvest some squash without so much as a single drop of pesticide. Turns out you can order these beneficial bugs on the internet or they may even be carried at your local greenhouse if you find that they're in short supply in your yard.

I feel good about the way we handled these pests because I know we haven't harmed any of our pollinating friends, especially the honeybee! This is no small thing considering the current plight we're facing with the vanishing bee population due to Colony Collapse Disorder. The current data points to pesticides (especially systemics) as a possible culprit, and yet despite the compelling evidence, many of these pesticides are still being used liberally. Well, not by our family :)

If you want to know more about this, we recently watched an excellent documentary on the subject called Vanishing of the Bees and they have a great website where you can find more about it.



And finally, there is the nasty surprise we got in our corn crop this year. I kept finding knocked over stalks and partially eaten cobs of corn littering the ground each morning when I went out to the garden. I couldn't figure out what was causing this problem, so I decided to research it. Turns out it was raccoons. So not only did we have to be careful of them getting into our chicken coop, but we also had to keep them out of our garden. We were able to get rid of them successfully, so I decided to write an article about it on HubPages: How to Keep Raccoons out of a Garden. Hopefully it will help others who encounter the same problem. I never knew raccoons could be so troublesome until this last year. At least we figured out how to handle it without too much trouble.

Well, I just thought I'd share what we learned this year. Hopefully it will help some of you out there facing the same pests!