When you grow a garden, the pests and bugs are bound to show up. They like to munch on your fresh veggies too. Here are a few tricks I use to help keep the bad bugs at bay.
Good bugs vs. bad bugs
First, be sure the bugs you are trying to get rid of are actually harmful bugs. There are many beneficial bugs that may be hanging on your plants waiting on the bad guys. Bugs such as lady bugs (properly known as lady beetles), green lacewings, and soldier bugs are all helpful insects that you do not want to squish. This article (not an affiliate link) can help you determine whether your bug is a bad bug or a good guy.
Harmful bugs include Japanese beetles, potato beetles, tomato horn worms, squash bugs, squash vine borers and cucumber beetles. And this is just the beginning.
Once you’ve determined you have some bad bugs, you need to figure out how you want to try to get rid of them.
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Easy ways to get rid of bad bugs
If the damage is minor, you may decide to leave them alone and just monitor the problem for more extensive damage. If you go this route, be sure to monitor daily. A minor insect problem can become major almost overnight.
If you have a small garden, (like this 4′ x 12′ garden plan) the easiest way to rid your garden of the pests is by hand picking the bugs. At first, this might seem gross, but you get used to it. I do wear a pair of old gardening gloves, to grab them, but you don’t have to. You can either drop the bugs in a jar of soapy water, or just squish them (which is what I do).
Even in my large-ish garden, I still hand pick the majority of my pests. If you spend 5-10 minutes in your garden doing a walk-through everyday, it is easy to stay ahead of the bugs. When I go to pick the vegetables, I wear a glove on my left hand and pick with my right hand. This way, if I find a bug, I can squish him immediately.
A beautiful way to prevent bugs
Another trick I use to keep bugs away is to plant flowers. In my garden plan, I used marigolds to help deter some of the bad bugs. Many pests don’t like the smell of them. Other flowers that tend to repel pests are nasturtiums, tansy, and even petunias. You can find a whole list of plants that repel various insects at harvesttotable.com.
Not only do these flowers help keep the bad bugs away, but they also attract bees which help pollinate your vegetables. And they look pretty!
When you just can’t seem to get rid of the bugs
The one garden pest I can’t seem to get rid of is squash vine borers. The female lays eggs near the base of the squash or zucchini plants. As soon as the larvae hatch, they bore into the spine of the plant and suck the juice from the stems. This causes the plants to wilt and die, almost overnight.
Since I don’t like spraying chemicals in my garden I have come up with a planting schedule to try to keep them at bay.
First, I start new squash and zucchini every two to three weeks directly in my garden. I usually only plant one hole (2-3 seeds per hole) so it only takes about a packet of seeds for the entire summer.
Secondly, I cover them with netting. I actually use an unlikely type of netting, but so far it seems to work. As soon as the seeds sprout, I cover them with tulle. This is the same tulle that is used in ball gowns. My local Wal-mart carries it for about a dollar a yard so it is fairly inexpensive as well. It doesn’t matter what color you use either. I keep my plants covered until they start to bloom. You can also use row covers, but they are usually more expensive.
Once the plants start blooming, you have to remove the cover so the bees can do their job of pollinating the squash and zucchini. But by the time I need to remove the cover, I have already started some more seeds. By doing this, I can usually manage to have squash and zucchini most of the gardening season. This technique can be applied to most crops.
Organic insecticides as a last resort
As a last resort, there are a few organic insecticides that can be used. My first choice would be neem oil. It serves double duty because it can also be used as a fungicide. From the research I have done it seems to be fairly safe.
Diatomaceous earth is another insecticide that is generally thought to be safe. It usually comes in powdered form and works by cutting the outer skeleton of insects. These microscopic cuts cause the insects to die of dehydration. If you choose to use diatomaceous earth, please wear a mask when applying it as it can cause the same cuts in your lungs if you inhale it. For more information on using diatomaceous earth, check out this article from Mother Earth news.
Pyrethrum is supposed to be good at controlling most beetles while Bt (short for Bacillus Thuringiensis) is great for controlling caterpillars. There are many other organic pest control options on the market now as well as some homemade sprays that you can mix up from natural ingredients such as garlic, cayenne pepper, and citrus oils. A quick Google search will yield many recipes you can try.
Before using any of these insecticides in your garden, I highly recommend thoroughly researching them and only using them when absolutely necessary.
How do you control bad bugs in your garden?
There are many ways to control bad bugs in your garden without resorting to toxic chemicals. Do you have a preferred method of pest control? If so, I would love to hear about it!