There is a question that I hear most often from home vegetable gardeners. How can you keep your garden pest free without spraying harmful chemicals on them? As one person wrote me, “Isn’t one of the points of growing your own food, to avoid all the chemicals and have it be safe?”
To me, one of the great benefits of growing your own food is being able to control the environment around your garden. That means the ability to control what goes in the soil to feed your plants up through and including what is used to keep harmful insects off your crops.
One of the best methods is to attract beneficial insects to feed on those insects that do damage. The most common example of this would be using ladybugs to eat aphids. This combination is very common. So common that you can buy ladybugs at your local garden store or online.
However if “buying” bugs is not your thing, a great resource that I learned about after reading Chris McLaughlin’s book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables is Craig MacGowan’s Mac’s Field Guide of Good and Bad Garden Bugs. It is a chart that lists on one side all of the common good bugs and on the other side, all of the common bad bugs. The chart is laminated and costs about five bucks. There is a chart for every area in the country as insects will vary from one location to the next. I purchased one for my area, and this chart has become an invaluable tool that I use every season. I am able to quickly identify an insect and not only determine what it is, but why it lives in my garden and whether or not I should do something to get rid of it.
You should always strive to attract beneficial insects to your garden as that will be not only the most cost affective means to get rid of harmful insects, but also the safest. However, it can be the most time consuming and at times frustrating.
Homemade spray recipes have popped up all over the Internet as a means to use safe and affective means against bad insects. I recently had a chance to speak to one such recipe creator, Jeff Gordon of Green Gordo, an informational blog for folks looking for healthy eating and living alternatives. Jeff likes to use a hot pepper/garlic spray mix to handle the leafhoppers, aphids, and June bugs he sees every year in his garden.
“My remedy isn't perfect (what is) but it keeps most of my veggies looking great,” Jeff says. “I usually keep a lot of veggies and spices in the house so I'll put together cayenne, onions, mint garlic and hot sauce. I'll puree all the contents and boil it with a little water. I'll let it sit for say 6 hours to cool and I'll strain it. I'll keep the solid part for later. I'll pour the liquid in a spray bottle and liberally spray my entire garden. I'll also take the left over solids and scatter that around the perimeter of the garden.”
Using safe sprays, such as Jeff’s, are great, and just like Grandmom’s Chicken Noodle Soup, everyone has their own recipe.
One might be thinking, “If you use these sprays, will they do harm to beneficial insects?”. In short, they might. Which is why I recommend that you attract beneficial insects first, especially if your are not inundated with harmful ones. If you are, then start using a spray to get that insect population down, or at least, under control, then wallop them with the one-two punch of beneficials.
About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club, which has appeared on NBC, ABC and MSN Money as a great way for consumers to save money.
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