Organic Pest Control in the Garden
Natural pest control is very important, not only for the planet but for your family as well. Children and pets are very prone to having allergic reactions to chemicals, so why not try controlling pests naturally? The more you promote natural pest control the better it works.
When operating natural pest control you need to be able to recognize which are the good guys, and which are the bad guys, in your organic garden. There are so many that a good pest book can be invaluable.
Natural pest control is far preferable to chemical control because, with chemicals, not only are you killing off the bad pests but the good pests as well.
Some of your nasty bugs may become immune, then what to do? We believe that once we know who the bad guys are, we should try to prevent them from becoming such a problem in the first place! And the best way to do that is with natural pest control.
With natural pest control we first, we need to look at how we “garden“. It is best to be as tidy as possible, particularly at the end of the growing season, to ensure you tidy up all plant debris in your garden. This will ensure populations of pests cannot over winter so easily because they’ll either get killed off by the frost or eaten by the birds, natural pest control at its best. To encourage you to be clean and tidy in the garden, think of the benefits of composting, a wonderful end product to natural pest control.
In theory, when you decide to use only natural pest controls, the garden’s natural predators increase to keep the pests in control, the only drawback is that there is usually a time delay, but you can help this with a little manual removal.
Natural pest control can involve using biological controls, which you can easily purchase, but you do need to follow the instruction carefully and be sure that temperatures are just right.
If you have had a pest or virus problem with a plant, a good natural pest control action is to never replant with the same variety. Then the pests cannot thrive.
Natural pest control will give you a real feel-good factor as well as a wonderful garden, full of wildlife.
Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails really are the bane of every gardener. Many years ago it was quite acceptable to use slug bait to control them, but we now understand how harmful slug bait is to all the creatures that eat, not only the bait but also, the slugs and snails that have feasted on the bait.
There are many ways to control slugs and snails, which one suits you and your garden, depends on how big your garden is, how much time you have, and how many plants you have that are the favorites with the slugs and snails. It also depends on how squeamish you are, so take your pick of the few suggestions that follow.
One of the easiest ways is to take a bucket, and perhaps some gloves, and go around your garden and collect them. This can be done on a damp day or in the evening, by torchlight, as generally slugs and snails are nocturnal creatures. You then need to decide what to do with your bucket full of slugs and snails. Your choices are to take a good long walk and deposit them well away from any gardens, or you can drown them in beer, still cheaper than pellets. My favorite way to dispose of a bucket of slugs and snails is to feed them to ducks, either have a few of your own or take them to a local pond
.Another is beer traps. Slugs and snails love beer so if you set bowls of beer close to their favorite plants they go for the beer, get drunk and drown. You may find that your dog or cat may also help themselves, but at least they will not come to any harm!
If you eat grapefruit, melons, or oranges, you can use the skins, cut them in half, and turned upside down, so that the slugs and snails retreat under them away from predators and the midday sun. You then need to go round before the evening and collect them up and dispose of them as you wish.
Slugs and Snails really do not like copper, so you can lay copper wire around your plants, making sure that no leaves touch the ground to allow them to climb up, if they are really persistent you can run a small charge through it, but only small! For potted plants you can buy special tape that you stick around the pot about 4″ from the base, the slugs and snails will not be able to cross it.
A weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place. Weeds compete with our flowers and vegetables for precious water, light, nutrients, and space, which will affect how well our garden plants crop or flower. And as weeds can be very invasive, they spoil the look we try to create.
As with flowers weeds fall into two main categories; annuals that complete their life cycle in one year and perennials that live for many years seeding new plants each year. The real problem weeds are the pernicious weeds, that are both annual and perennial, and don’t seem to be affected by the weed killers we subject them to.
One small role that weeds can play is to indicate the soil type, for example, horsetail would indicate poor drainage. Weeds are very proficient at colonizing bare ground, thus stabilizing soil that might get eroded by wind and rain. Some weeds, namely nettles, are vital for some egg-laying butterflies, so it is always advised that if possible you should try to leave some nettles growing, but cut them down before they seed. There are some weeds that are used in medicines, and others can be eaten, like making dandelion soup.
You have no control over most weeds as they are blown into your garden as seeds, but you can control others, such as making sure all new plants you buy do not bring weeds with them, by scraping away the top few centimeters of soil. Regularly check any manure or mulching that you have used, just in case you bought weeds as well. Creeping roots can infect your garden from your neighbors so you would need to dig a trench and put a barrier in, at a depth of 1.5 ft. Some seeds will lay dormant in your soil until you fork it over and bring them to the surface.
Weed control is a chore every gardener has to suffer. Acquiring a good weed book will help you recognize them early on. Weeds are a lot easier to remove when they are young, as most will grow strong root systems, which when pulled will re-grow from the smallest piece of root left behind. You need to be vigilant and pull weeds when you see them as some propagate very quickly, like hairy bittercress that will seed all year round, at 3 weekly intervals.
Bare ground is best-kept weed free by covering it with a membrane or mulching, this stops seeds from getting to the soil to germinate. It can also stop weeds growing from roots by not allowing them access to light, but some like docks can be indestructible, or at least it feels like it. If you are preparing a new plot you can cover the area with old carpet, black polythene, or cardboard, leave it over winter or possibly even a year and it will kill the weeds off for you. The latter two will need weighting down with something to keep them in place, grass cuttings are a good source.
Hoeing is a good way of keeping weed seedlings en masse, from growing to full size in and around your plants, they shrivel and die very quickly. Hoeing will cut perennial weeds down but they will just re-grow again. With these weeds, you really need to get your hands dirty.
Hand weeding is best done when the soil is damp, then the root has less resistance. Use a trowel or hand fork to help ease the root out as you are pulling it. This can be a back-breaking task so little and often is best.
Flame guns are excellent tools for weeding on driveways, pathways, and paving, but are still not ideal for permanently removing perennial weeds as they will just grow back. A flame gun is best used when weeds are young and no taller than 2 inches (5cm). Do remember to remove anything flammable, and wear protective clothing.
Ants as garden pests are generally one of our lesser pests, but some people do find them a nuisance. The black, or garden ant, is the one most likely to venture into the house, from a nest in the garden. The worker ant is brown, nearly black, and about 5mm long, but the queen ant is mid-brown in color, about 15 cm long, and is only likely to be seen in the summer months, but this is very rare.
The queen ant makes a nest in the soil, below paving slabs, in grass or hollow tree, usually near buildings or walls.
The worker ants follow well-marked tracks, usually into your house to find food. Once one ant has found a food source lots more will follow, they are usually attracted to sweaty foods.
- The first line of attraction to free yourself of ants is to remove the food source.
- Have a spray bottle filled with soapy water, and spray any ants you see.
- Leave cuts of bitter cucumber around, as ants really do not like it.
- Mint tea bags also act as an ant deterrent.
- Other items that ants dislike are; citrus oils, cayenne pepper, coffee grounds, cinnamon, and lemon juice.
- Mix ½ a teaspoon of honey, borax, and aspartame, together and leave them in bottles or jars, and the worker ants will take the bait mixture back to the nest. Do be sure children and pets do not have access to it.
- Leaving a low-wattage light on can disturb the ant’s routine.
- Garlic is also disliked by ants.
Hedgehogs are the companion gardener’s best friends. Hedgehogs will be searching for somewhere to hibernate for the winter, so be a friend to a hedgehog and provide him with a cozy safe place to over winter. When a hedgehog wakes up in the spring he will be eating all those nasty slugs and snails.
To encourage your hedgehog to stay in your garden provide a box, about a one-foot cube, with a tunnel leading into it, just big enough for a hedgehog to walk through. Incorporate a hole in the back of the sleeping quarters, to give ventilation to the hedgehog box, preferably with a piece of hose pipe in it to help stop the rain from running in. If your hedgehog box is made of wood use untreated wood.
Fill the hedgehog box with dried leaves, place it in your garden surrounded with soil and leaves and try to have the opening facing south, or at least not north, west or northwest, to avoid having the coldest winds blowing straight into the box.
To encourage hedgehogs to visit your garden, and to keep any resident hedgehog, leave food and fresh water (never milk) out for them. Water is most needed in hot weather. A plate of dog or cat food well hidden from said dogs or cats is always appreciated, most particularly in the autumn when they are trying to fatten up for winter. Create various feeding stations around your garden.
Hedgehogs are vulnerable to many of our gardening activities so try and reduce some of the problems they may meet in your garden by adhering to the following advice, if at all possible.
Dogs: Try to be aware of your hedgehog’s routine and avoid letting your dog out at that time. At night try and warn the hedgehog by turning on a light or shining a torch around just before the dogs are let out.
Bonfires: Try to use an incinerator, or burn the fire as soon as you have built it. If you make a bonfire stack over a period of time then move it slightly to check that a hedgehog has not taken up residence under it. If you have Pampas Grass that you burn then again check that a hedgehog is not nesting in it.
Compost: The compost heap is another popular place for a hedgehog to nest, so be careful when you are turning it to avoid forking a baby or adult. The best time to spread your compost is Oct./Nov when the baby hedgehogs have left home and adults have not yet started to hibernate.
Drains: Keep drains covered, this not only stops hedgehogs from going down them but stops the leaves as well, from blocking up the drain.
Fences: Leave holes at the bottom of fences and walls so that hedgehogs can come and go. Use environmentally safe wood preservatives, as hedgehogs will lick new smells. Try to mend or pick up any fallen fences as hedgehogs may nest there and then be disturbed.
Ponds: Always provide escape routes for hedgehogs out of ponds or tubs of water, this is also necessary to stop frogs and toads from drowning, another companion gardener’s friend. Keep ponds topped up to avoid hedgehogs falling in when having a drink. Remember that sand pits and paddling pools will provide similar dangers.
Netting: try to keep any form of netting above ground to stop hedgehogs from getting stuck in it. If it is necessary to have netting hugging the ground then please check it morning and night.
Slug Pellets: As an organic gardener you should not be using these, as they will kill your hedgehog as well after he has eaten the slugs and snails that have feasted on the pellets.
Sheds: If you generally leave them open then check before changing this habit. Similarly, if you usually close the door and forget one night, please check in case a hedgehog has taken up residence. As with children keep all undesirable substances out of reach of hedgehogs.
If you accidentally disturb an empty nest try and leave it as you find it. If you find a hedgehog with or without young, try to offer food then leave it alone, do not let others come round for a peep. Any doubts phone your local BHPS (British Hedgehog Preservation Society).
Your lawn is the platform that the rest of the garden is set around. Different people have different ideas about what is a good lawn. Some do not mind a few daisies on the lawn but everyone would like to be rid of the perennial weeds.
So if you use pesticides to remove weeds from your lawn, the pesticides kill indiscriminately, killing pests along with their natural insect predators. So once insect predators are eliminated, pest populations grow in ever-increasing numbers, which means you need to use even more pesticides to eradicate them.
Who uses the Lawn most in the family?
Children are particularly vulnerable to pesticides and are the most likely to be exposed to lawn pesticides. Children living in homes using pesticides are at a higher risk of developing leukemia, lymphoma, and asthma. If the children are kept off of the lawn, it has to be remembered that the chemicals can easily be tracked into the house. Lawn chemicals are just as harmful to pets.
A healthy lawn will manage to overcome most weeds, drought, pests, and diseases more effectively than a lawn in poor condition.
Start by testing your ph and if it is below 5.5 then add some limestone or dolomite during the autumn, this helps to remove the thatch and encourages the worms to burrow, which will help to aerate the lawn and improve structure. Cut your lawn more frequently, so that your trimmings are kept to a minimum, and can be left on the lawn to feed it. The decomposing cuttings release up to 30% of your lawn’s needed nutrients. Only leave the trimmings on the lawn when it is warm and the decomposing rate is good.
In the spring be sure to give your lawn a good rake, to remove any debris, and use a fork to “hole” the ground to open it up. Reseed any bare patches, as these will just attract weeds. Any perennial weeds are best hand-pulled, before mowing.
Many people see clover as a weed but it collects nitrogen from the air and gives it back to the soil for the grass to feed on. If your lawn is in need of feed, then use a slow-release organic fertilizer in the spring or summer.
If the grass is very thin then you need to spread fresh seed, after you have given the lawn a good raking, roll it in if you can and be sure to keep the area damp. You can give a light covering of sand to help keep the birds from eating it all.
Lawn problems mostly stem from compaction, poor drainage, over acidity, shade, too close mowing, underfeeding, and drought, as all these can encourage moss to take over. Identifying and treating the problem will allow the grass to take the place of moss. Chemical moss killers won’t cure the problem long term.