Top 5 – Organic ways to limit damage from pests

When I asked for suggestions for future Top 5s recently both Amber and Nina requested posts about pests.  This particular idea is Nina’s but I think it will cover some of the areas Amber asked for as well.  Thank You to both of you!!!!

Pests are a pain and even if you aren’t evangelistic about organics I don’t know many gardeners who want to be spraying stuff all round their plot.  These are my top 5 organic ways to limit the damage caused by common garden pests.

1. Avoid them in the first place.  Whilst this doesn’t work for all pests you can limit the damage of a great many of them by avoiding them in the first place.  This is best achieved via planting a variety of plants and keeping those plants as healthy as possible.  The variety of plants ensures that you don’t give pests an obvious place to congregate.  Keeping them healthy ensures that they both resist pests and put on enough growth that a bit of damage becomes far less of a problem.  Plant health revolves around favourable growing conditions – right amount of warmth or cold, usually full sun, water and most importantly really good growing medium.  Look after your soil and hopefully the plants will do a lot of your pest resisting work for you.

2. Create a physical barrier.  Whether it be elevating your pots to avoid carrot fly as Mark does, bagging your fruits as L from 500 m2 in Sydney does to protect tomatoes from fruit fly or netting entire plants to prevent bird attack as Bek does, the barrier should hopefully keep the pests away from precious crops.  Personally I have some cages that I place over newly planted seedlings to keep both small children and marauding blackbirds away from developing seedlings.

3. Round up.  No I don’t mean the weed killer, I mean a systematic plan to ferret out pests and dispose of them.  To seek and destroy slugs & snails turn over pots, look under stones, in the inside of pot rims and so on.  Better yet go out at night with a torch and catch them in the middle of destroying your precious lettuce seedlings.  For cabbage moths I find the easiest way is to run your hands  over the underside of brassica leaves thus squashing the eggs and tiny caterpillars before they cause much damage. Of course this technique only works with pests big enough to spot and slow enough to catch but quite a few of the most common pests fall into that category.

4. Pyrethrum spray – When all else fails I have to admit I do find pyrethrum quite useful.  Pyrethrum will kill all insects including beneficial ones so it is important to both; only use it as a last resort – for me black aphids usually fit this category, and to check for ladybirds etc before spraying.  Pyrethrum is made from pyrethrum daisy flowers so it is often regarded as organic, but spraying it out of a bottle isn’t really ‘natural’ so this option will not appeal to everyone.

5. Traps – We use mouse traps in the garden occasionally (although not altogether successfully).  Ditto rat traps.  But the most effective traps I know are beer traps for slugs and snails.  Placed near a valued seedling I find that they are generally effective at keeping the slugs and snails away from the plant and happily(?) drowning in beer.  The down sides of beer traps are: less beer to drink, it is a fairly expensive option unless you brew your own and it only works on a comparatively small area.

So what measures do you really rate?  Coffee grounds?  Chilli and garlic spray? Copper Rings? Pyrotechnics? or something else?  I would love to hear what works for you.

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32 Responses to Top 5 – Organic ways to limit damage from pests

  1. Daphne says:

    I usually go with the physical barrier route. I also try to grow flowers that attract the good insects.

  2. Then there is to encourage birds and other wildlife into your garden to gobble up the pests.
    The blue tits soon clear aphids off our roses.

  3. Michelle says:

    Like Daphne, I use physical barriers like row cover and hardware cloth. Flash tape and old cds and dvds helped to scare most of the pecking birds away this summer. (The birds aren’t all bad though, I noticed that they cleaned a lot of the scale out of my citrus lately). I also make sure that my garden is a good habitat for beneficial insects by letting lots of coriander and alyssum bloom all around the garden and whatever else I can get to bloom for them, like African Blue Basil in the summer. I also have a number of lizards that call my garden home, I’m sure that they eat a lot of bad bugs. And like you I don’t use pestcides unless it is absolutely necessary and then I only use organic approved ones like 70% Neem extract, insecticidal soap, Pyganic (pyrethrum based), and Spinosad.

    • Liz says:

      Lizards love the slugs and snails don’t they? I would love resident reptiles (although perhaps not poisonous snakes….) that would be great. Flowers are great and I do like the idea of using coriander especially – now I don’t need to be quite so upset about mine continually bolting.

  4. Ooooh I do like this post. My fairly new herb spiral keeps getting attacked by the birds so I think I’ll take your advice and build some sort of protection.
    I also have a problem with white fly. And so far I have done nothing… except google and despair. But I’m thinking of taking the advice I read on the internet and getting out there in the morning with a vacuum cleaner to suck them all up!

    • Liz says:

      My parents get white fly in their hothouse and I know it can be pretty destructive. I haven’t had real issues with it and now I’m wondering why. I do have a lot of birds resident in the garden – perhaps the sparrows eat them? I do like the vacuum cleaner solution – I think you’ll have to get Monkey Man to photograph that one – definite blog post potential!

      • Yvonne says:

        I am sick & tired of chasing up with white flies with the flies flap so I am thinking of getting a big fish tank net to capture them before giving them a whack.

        • Liz says:

          I reckon the sparrows in my garden eat a fair few of mine. I did get the kids nets (for the beach but there’s no reason why they could have multiple uses) yesterday but i think the weave is to loose and the flies will escape anyway.

  5. Coral Hunter says:

    You can use vegemite instead of beer in traps. Just mix some up with water, it is the yeast the slugs and snails are attracted to. Better than wasting good beer!

  6. Though we loathe the idea of buying the slugs a beer, it seems to do the trick 😉 We have a terrible problem with squash vine borer, and I just read about planting radishes along the squash stems, something we’ll be trying out next season!

  7. Nina says:

    Thanks for that! I really must try the beer thing on the slugs and snails, I’ve never tried it and I can’t believe how many there are, at the moment. They have decimated the leaves on my potatoes-in-bags which makes me very sad. I don’t know (yet) if it has affected the crop.

    On a damp early evening a couple of weeks ago, I collected a gazillion and dumped them in a bucket of water, thinking they would quietly drown. Few did, most made a (slow) run for freedom so that didn’t work! Maybe I need a duck? The chooks turn up their beaks at them.

    I noticed that the broad beans don’t seem to tempt any bugs (for which I’m grateful!). Could you indulge me in a little brag? I’ve harvested about 3kgs (single peeled) and there is probably at least another 1kg out there. It (almost) makes up for the dismal garlic.

    • Liz says:

      Congrats on the broad beans!!! I find making the water warm and including detergent pretty much kills the slugs etc instantly. Did you read the vegemite tip that Coral Hunter posted above, sounds like a good option – cheaper and less wasteful of the amber fluid.

      • Nina says:

        Thanks! I was pleased with the harvest. The processing, not so much!

        Yes I did see the vegemite hint (after I’d posted) and will give that a try – thanks, Coral. I guess Dick Smith’s OzEmite will work just as well! I like it but the boy doesn’t.

        Warm water and detergent – I’ll give that go, as well. I love all the hints and tips you learn in this community. 🙂

  8. Louise says:

    Love this, I wouldn’t mind drowning in beer, it is probably better than the method I employ – stamping upon. Particularly fond of the green grub shot – they just get squashed in my fingers. I also take on spraying with the hose under my cucumber leaves to rid them of beasties and the gloved and goggled stink bug eradication but that might be a bit of a strategy for the warmer climes.

    • Liz says:

      I am very glad the stink bugs don’t seem to like Melbourne. A friend of mine who lives near Bega has huge infestations and they seem quite horrible little things.

  9. Balvinder says:

    Oh God! pests are pain for those like me who do not know much about gardening but try their hand on everything. I remember my parents used to put that physical barrier for birds and carrot flies, bu I am more like lazy person in doing all this. I wasted so much beer for trapping slugs but they multiply every year, then I switched to yeast method which seems to me a little cheaper and safe because I did not want my dog to taste the beer if I forget to remove it. Anyway Great tips.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Does anyone else have lots of small black flying insects in their Melbourne garden at the moment? (I am in the inner north-east.) They look like small ants but with wings, but definitely aren’t flying ants. They are all over the leaves of my newly-planted tomatoes and beans, as well as on the leaves of other plants (eg tree dahlia). I have googled without success in an attempt to find out what they are and how to get rid of them!

    Just found your blog, Liz. I will definitely be visiting it regularly – it’s great! Thanks very much for all your work on this wonderful resource!

    • Liz says:

      Did you consider termites? I get something which sounds very similar and I’ve always assumed they are termites but perhaps I’m wrong. The seem to appear for short periods and then disappear after a month or two. I have kind of ignored then and hoped they go away and that tactic hasn’t been too bad so far. I haven’t really noticed much damage from mine but then again i might not be looking in the rights places and yours might be a different insect. Thanks for visiting the blog – I really appreciate the feedback!

  11. I really like your seedling cages. I’ve vaguely thought about doing something similar, but always resort to cobbling something temporary together! I have just put the shadecloth covers on a couple of beds in the Country Garden to keep the birds out while the seedlings are young though. I’ve been trying coffee grounds to deter slugs. It does seem to work, but it needs to be replaced quite regularly as it washes away (or maybe caffeine addicted bugs eat it?!)

    • Liz says:

      I have wondered about the coffee grounds but have yet to try it. i think perhaps I’ll give it a go next time I have some vulnerable seedlings.

  12. Lrong says:

    Am doing the first three methods… most preferred way is number one…

  13. Thanks Liz, for a another great top 5. Although I don’t have garden at this time, I keep reading about it. Couldn’t agree more on companion planting, it works so well. I have a book “Carrots love tomatoes”, and applied some of the planting principles in my garden. I was amazed by the results: rue does protect roses from aphids, horseradish scares colorado beetles away, and so on.

  14. bavaria says:

    Thanks for the great ideas.
    I have noticed that as I enrich the soil, my plants seem to not succumb to pests as easily. I add things like seaweed, seashell sand, quarry rock dust, compost. I think when we give soil all the nutrients and trace minerals from these sources the plants are much stronger and they certainly produce large, nutrient rich vegetables.
    I’ve heard spent barley from beer breweries is an excellent addition to soil too, wish I lived near one! A friend also mentioned that hair placed around seedlings foils slugs as they get tangled in it and it cuts them-haven’t tried it yet.

    • Liz says:

      I do like the hair theory – and having just cut my sons hair I can give it a go. I absolutely agree with the soil being key. I’ve haven’t heard about spent barley being used before but its organic matter so I don’t see why it wouldn’t be useful.

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