2009-06-04 / News

Pests in the garden

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

I was working the garden, but distracted by watching a squirrel. It was sitting in the walnut tree and calmly nibbling on the new nuts that were a mere eighth-inch long. When I shooed it out of the tree, it chattered and complained, running from branch to branch while I ineffectively shook the tree to try to get it away from the burgeoning nuts. I subsequently sprayed the tree with a pepper-based spray, but wonder how effective it will be.

Squirrels aren't the only pest in the garden. There are tiny flea beetles, larger caterpillars, slugs, snails, and even larger squirrels, raccoons, possums, birds and the largest pest of all, deer. So how do you stop your crops from being eaten if you are trying to grow everything organically? Frankly, you can't stop everything, but you can cut your losses and, if you are prepared to live with a few holes in your lettuce or cabbage, you can tolerate some insects.

The most effective way to control weeds is to spray or dust with a pesticide, but for organic gardeners that requires a careful inspection of the label on each can.

You can use almost any Neembased product or any BT based spray. They are both available from Jamestown Hardware and Secret Garden.

Neem comes from an oriental tree and BT is a cultivated organism that kills insects. When using them, however, be sure to wear a dust mask or respirator. You can also dust potatoes and cabbage with rotenone (a product made from plants) or with diatomaceous earth. Both work on the intestinal tracts of insects and take a day or two to do their work.

When spraying, try to spray only in calm wind, and only on the target plant. It is best if you do not get spray drift on other plants, although most organic sprays break down within a few days and can be used to within a few days of harvest.

Another way to control insects is to pick them off your plants. This requires some time in the garden and a certain lack of squeamishness. When picking insects remember to turn the leaves over to find insects under the leaves, and have a place to put the insects. Picking insects off your plants is best done early in the morning when it is cool and many insects are not yet active. If you don't like the idea of picking insects, cover your growing beds with spun fleece to help prevent insects from finding the plants.

Yet another way to kill insects, such as Japanese beetles, is to use a pheromone lure. My own feeling is that pheromone lures are best offered to your neighbor in the hope that he or she will put them up. If you put them up in your yard, there's a good chance you'll attract every insect within five miles to the trap. While the insects are waiting to get to the pheromone, they'll eat your crops.

Slugs and snails like dark moist places, and the best way to catch them is to invert a large flower pot over a saucer of beer recessed into the ground. The slugs like the beer (who doesn't) and crawl into it where they get drunk and drown. (What a way to go!) All you need to do is replenish the beer supply - that is, pour a little into the saucer and drink the rest - and dispose of the carcasses.

For possums and raccoons, the best cure is to get a dog. But you can also use a Havaheart trap and release the animals into the wild, preferably off island.

For deer, I use several deer sprays - Deer-Off, Deer Stopper, and Get Away. I spray at strategic places around the yard to deter the animals from coming into the yard rather than directly onto plants. In early spring, the plants are sprayed directly. These sprays contain things like putrescent egg solids, potassium sorbate, and sodium chloride and smell pretty bad. Deer Stopper also has rosemary oil and mint and doesn't smell quite as bad as the others.

Protecting your harvest against predators large and small is an ongoing battle that takes up a lot of gardening time. The alternative is to do what commercial growers do and spray pesticides to establish an almost sterile zone around your plants. I don't know about you, but I'll let a squirrel take a few nuts, provided he leaves a few for me, rather than spray everything in sight.

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