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Organic gardening: keeping pests at bay

Having a thriving organic garden is as much about the wildlife as it is about the plants. Don’t let pests get you down, just remember that all creatures have a place in organic gardening, so while they might sometimes be a nuisance, all organisms play a vital part in the overall health of the environment.

Organic gardening: keeping pests at bay

In organic gardening, the best tool we have against troublesome pests is observation. Spending time in your garden and learning what to look out for at certain times of the year will help you spot problems before they get out of hand. Pest problems can also be very localised, the blackfly that is troubling your beans may not be a problem for your friend down the road. Over time, you will gain a good knowledge of what to look out for and a range of methods to prevent invasion.

Companion planting is growing organic crops next to others to increase diversity, aid pollination and to help with pest control by providing a habitat for predatory insects. Some companion plants are grown as a sacrificial crop. Nasturtiums, for example, are irresistible to aphids and caterpillars. Grow them in with your organic veg and the pests will be attracted by the companion plant, leaving your precious crops well alone. It’s worth doing some research into different companion plants and how they can help you.

Direct sowing seeds straight into your organic garden comes with risk. Young seedlings poking through the soil are far more likely to become lunch for a slug than a strong plant approaching maturity. Propagating your own plants and planting out once the young risky stage has passed will give them a much better chance of survival. Strong, healthy organic plants have a much better ability to recover from the odd nibble or bad weather and will perform much better than plants that have been through the wars.

Creating unique environments in your organic garden like a pond can provide habitat for beneficial wildlife. Frogs and toads are brilliant slug catchers and can really help with infestations. Introducing predatory insects such as ladybirds, nematodes and parasitic wasps can help with specific problems too. These can be purchased online and can be very effective in some situations.

There is a seemingly endless list of pests that can thwart your quest for home-grown organic produce, so here are a few of the most common, and ways to manage them..

Aphids

Don’t over use nitrogen rich liquid feed as it can encourage soft fleshy growth which is very attractive to aphids. Encourage natural predators by growing organic companion plants and leave a wilder area of your garden to encourage ladybirds and lacewings who will feed on aphids. Inspect plants regularly, rub off infestations and wash them in a soft soap and water solution. A strong jet of water can dislodge them too.

Caterpillars

Removing egg clusters from the underside of leaves before they hatch is the most efficient way of preventing infestation. Companion planting with Nasturtium and Calendula can lure the butterflies away from your crops. Netting can prevent butterflies from landing but make sure it’s suspended away from the plants.

Mammals

Rabbits are the most devastating of all garden pests, particularly in rural areas. Rabbit fencing is essential to prevent widespread felling of your young seedlings. Growing in raised beds can prevent rabbits from having a munch too.

Birds

Songbirds take a particular liking to soft fruit. So grow organic fruit in a cage, it’sa a sure fire way to stop them. Pigeons can be a nuisance as well. Netting can also prevent them from nibbling the kale.

Slugs and snails

Keeping the garden tidy can dramatically reduce habitat for slugs and snails. It’s advisable to pick up piles of weeds and keep edges tidy. In my experience, physical barriers are usually ineffective but beer traps can work. When you dig over a bed make sure you knock out the clods and rake over to prevent slugs from crawling in and laying eggs. And sometimes, simply picking them off works wonders.

When you're in the grip of a pest invasion on your veg patch, using chemicals might feel like an easy option. However, organic gardening methods not only save you money but help you to preserve the all-important diversity of your environment too. A healthy garden teeming with life gives you a natural balance and resilience against pests.

Will Livingstone

Will Livingstone

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