I was very excited to see that my potato plant is flowering, which means I'll soon be able to harvest the potatoes that are growing under the soil. But look closely at the leaves of this plant... some a-hole bugs are eating holes my potato plant leaves! Jerks.I am going to murder them. This is how.
Before we start the pest slaughter, we need to get one thing straight. There are two kinds of bugs in a garden: The Good Guys and The Bad Guys. Good Guy bugs are dudes like bees (which pollinate the plants), ladybugs (which eat pests), and worms (which fertilize and aerate soil). Bad Guy bugs are ones that damage the plants like aphids, caterpillars, and snails. This is why we don't just dump a general bug killing agent on the plants to get rid of pests: we can't risk losing the Good Guys who are on our side!
I read this essay by Mort Mather about using natural methods to control pests in your garden. Mr. Mather reminds us that "healthy plants do not attract insect 'pests.' Think of insects that damage crops as indicators that a plant is not healthy rather than as pests. Their job is to clear away poor quality living things so that general health will prevail."
This makes so much sense to me! It's the circle of life and the harmony between plants and animals and insects and all that good stuff. I immediately tested all the soil nutrient levels in the my growing containers and adjusted fertilizer amounts to bring each one up to it's optimal level.
Though I'm hoping this will have an affect on the pests in the garden, I've decided to layer on a few other natural pest control methods just to be safe. Aside from the hole-ridden potato leaves, I also identified aphids on my jalapeno plant and a similar small black bug on my cucumbers. There is a natural pest-control method I have used previously for aphids on my houseplants and I gave it a go in the garden: mix a natural mild soap (like Doc Bronner's or all-natural hand soap) with water in a spray bottle and spray the heck out of the plant. This method knocks some bugs off the leaves with the force of the spray, kills some of the bugs, and then creates an undesirable environment so the rest want to leave. I've been doing this every other day for the past few weeks. I like that it's a chemical-free treatment so it won't affect the food I'm growing. It's also good to use on your houseplants if you have pets who could be poisoned by chemical pest control sprays.
The third natural pest-control method that I'm going to try is ladybugs. Ladybugs eat aphids and other pest bugs but they leave the plants alone! Woohoo! You can buy them online (1500 ladybugs for $12!), but that makes me nervous: I don't like the idea of introducing bugs into my local ecosystem that were harvested from elsewhere. There's also no guarantee that they would settle in my garden- they could migrate to another yard as soon as I get them, which does me no good. So, to turn FarmTina into a ladybug hangout, I'm going to set up some potted flowers that are known to attract them. Hopefully my local ladybug population will come running when they see the Dill, Fennel, Geraniums and Marigolds they love so much.
Finally, the last natural pest-control method that everyone seems to suggest is just hand-picking the bugs off the plant one by one. This would be OK for beetles and larger pests, but I've tried picking off aphids and it drives me mad. Hopefully it doesn't come to this!
Am I being too gentle with the Bad Guys? Do you think I should just suck it up and use chemicals?