Growing a backyard full of food is easy, but keeping this produce from pest damage or from being eaten by the local wildlife can be a little bit challenging at times…
So in this article, I’m going to give you guys my 10 top organic ways to control pest in your food garden. Let’s get into it.
Growing your own foods is exciting, satisfying, healthy, environmentally-friendly, and also money-saving. The last thing we want to happen is a bunch of freeloaders munching through our patch, eating or destroying our precious harvest. But there are ways we can limit the damage done to our homegrown crops by pests, and here’s 10 of my best.
Number one — healthy.
Pests like to target sick or dying plants because that’s the way they’re programmed to by nature. It’s nature’s way to clean up old plants and recycle. Yes, of course, pest will attack healthy plants too. However, I’ll elaborate more about this in some of the other points later. But it is true if you keep your plants healthy by feeding them appropriate amounts of fertilizer and trace elements and growing them in good soil with the right amount of water, healthy plants will get hit less often then weaker plants.
Number two — timing.
Growing your food crops at the right time is important when it comes to pest control. Many vegetables will germinate easily, even at the wrong time of year, but this doesn’t mean they’ll grow well. They might look okay, usually they grow poorly and won’t be as productive.
Plants that are grown out of season or their growing range won’t generally do as well and will often be targeted by pests. Also, certain pests are more active at different times. For example, we can grow tomatoes almost all year round, except in the middle of summer, which is now, but the larger varieties get stung badly through spring when the Queensland and Mediterranean fruit flies are active. So instead, we grow the cherry tomatoes, which are not targeted because most of the too acidic for the larva to survive. Then in our sub-tropical wintertime, we grow the larger tomatoes because the fruit fly isn’t active at that time and they don’t get stung.
Number three — harvest early.
Sometimes you can get away with harvesting your crops early before the pests get to them. Because most animals favor ripe fruits, you can pick your crop early and then let the fruit ripen in a safe area, or eat the fruit green. Eating immature fruits is common in some countries, like Asia, for this very reason. Think of green mango or poor poor salad or cooked green bananas.
Let’s use my fruit fly example again. If we pick our, say, chilies or capsicum/peppers early, like when they’re green, they often don’t get hit by the fruit fly. But if we wait and leave them to go red, they’ll get stung.
Number four — grow more.
If you use the law of averages and grow more, well then, you won’t care if some get eaten by pests. We often employ this logic in our garden. Trees like mulberry and citrus tend to produce more than enough for us and the animals that visit. I just finished growing a ton of sweet potato, and the mice nibbled on several tubers, but we grew so much that it didn’t matter if a few were chewed.
Some gardeners even grow a sacrificial plant, meaning they’re growing more than they need and allow one plant to become infested by pests, which tends to attract more pest to the weakened plant and away from the other ones.
Number five — manually remove them.
As I walk around the garden or work in the garden, I often remove pests by hand. Watering your plants can be a particularly fun time to take care of nasty bugs and a great way to relieve stress or train the eye. Removing pest like this can make a big difference in slowing down their population growth in the garden, and it’s not that hard. Remember, for every one bug or caterpillar you remove from a plant, several more have been eaten by good animals like predator bugs and birds. So together, you can work as a team with nature to win the war on pests.
Number six — сhickens
Speaking of good animals, number six, poultry, chickens and ducks can be excellent at controlling pests around the property or the home garden. This little one’s quite feisty. And I mentioned this as a main factor in my Top Five Reasons to Keep Chickens video that uploaded the other day. Chickens are a good cleanup bird to prepare garden beds for the next season, but they can destructive, so I wouldn’t give them free range in the vegetable garden when it’s growing. But wandering through an orchard or around the property, chickens can be an excellent bug catcher.
When hens scratch the ground, they dig up and eat pupating pests like fruit fly that mature under the soil surface before flying out as adults to sting fruit and veg. So having a few chickens around can help reduce pests overall and break the life cycle of bad bugs.
And I’ve recently found out that ducks like eating stinkbugs, such as citrus bugs, and especially seek out the baby ones, the nymphs. So that could be very handy in the orchard. They love slugs and snails too. Also, ducks don’t dig as much as chickens, making them less damaging in the garden. When I was in Nam … No, not the war. When I was on holidays with my friend, we saw firsthand how the local farmers used ducks in the rice fields to keep the pests down without ruining the crop. So yeah, consider keeping poultry because they can really make a difference.
Number seven — habitat.
In my opinion, one of the reasons that farmers need to use pesticides is because they grow one big large crop, and pests are naturally attracted to a glut of produce. Nature often tries to correct imbalances by counteractive them to bring numbers back to manageable levels. Organic farmers are discovering that diversity of habitat is a strength and by growing a variety of produce and plants, rather than one big mass of the same crop, they have less problems with pests invading their property in destructive numbers.
Us backyard grows have an even bigger advantage because we don’t have the same commercial pressures to produce a whole heap of the same product. Therefore, we can grow lots of different plants at the same time and incorporate the natural landscape, native flora and fauna, to encourage good bugs and predator bugs into the garden, and other beneficial animals too, like birds. Creating a more natural habitat on your property is the best way to keep nature balanced and happy. Companion planting is another great way to naturally repel pests. For example, planting basil alongside tomatoes.
But I must admit I’m not one to consider which plant is best planted with another one for that type of effect. Instead, we don’t have a dedicated herb barrier. We prefer to grow our herbs in the regular vegetable patch because we’ve found that scattering our herbs around the vegetable garden and orchard not only adds to the diversity of plants, they also help to keep pests away from our property.
Number eight — organic sprays.
Now, we just talked about using natural means to control pests in the garden. So this is going to sound a little controversial, and contradictory, really. And I get that, but let me just say that using the habitat in my last point really does work wonders and we rarely ever have to use sprays, even organic ones, in our garden.
However, there are times when pests will still hit your valuable crops in numbers that are difficult to control through manual or natural ways. When this happens, what can we do? Well, there are organic sprays and remedies that can be used to control pests in your food garden without harming other animals or ourselves.
For example, you can easily make a very effective pest oil spray at home by mixing two cups of cooking oil with one cup of dish washing liquid, and then use about a tablespoon of this mix per liter in a spray bottle. Spray over scale, aphids, leaf miner, and even some mites, and it will smother rather than poison the insect.
Another quick remedy is a ring of Vaso, Vaseline, around the base of a plant that’s getting attacked by aphids or scale. And what this does is stop ants from climbing up to protect the aphids from its natural predators. See, the ants protect the aphids and scale, and in return these pests feed the ants a sweet honey secretion. Stop the ants and the pest find it harder to survive.
Of course, you can also buy pest oils and other organic certified sprays, like garlic or chili concentrate and Pyrethrum, which is a pest spray made from the daisy plant. However, just keep in mind that Pyrethreum will kill good bugs too, like bees, so use it sparingly and target the pests at a time when the plants aren’t flaring or when pollinating insects are not around.
I’ll give you a quick example. Our olive trees got infested with olive lice bark. And I tried everything over the past two years, from pruning the trees back to giving them extra fertilizer, but the bugs kept defoliating the trees to a point where they would die if I didn’t act. So I sprayed with Pyrethrum and now the trees are recovering well. Having said that, let me reiterate the importance of only using organically-certified sprays as a last resort in the garden.
Number nine — bio-bugs.
I wanted to mention bio-bugs even though I haven’t used them myself yet. Buying good bugs and setting them free in the home garden is becoming a viable option for everyday people and not just organic greenhouse farmers or scientists. With just a click of a mouse, you can buy good bugs online, such as predatory mites that eat bad mites, ladybirds that eat aphids, and miniature wasps that eat caterpillars. It can seem a little expensive to buy. However, a few releasings of good bugs into your garden might just give your habitat the boost it needs to get the baddies back under control and return nature’s balance without using horrible chemicals that are indiscriminate.
Number 10 — exclusion.
Using nets or bags are one of the best ways to keep pests away from our produce, but it could also be expensive, time consuming, an eye-sore, and not always practical in the home garden. Nevertheless, netting whole trees or garden beds is effective against birds and most small animals. Insect netting is also excellent at protecting crops from pests, and it’s the only sure organic way I have found to stop fruit fly from infesting our stone fruits and apples.
Making a DIY frame for exclusion netting is easy. Get some 25 mil irrigation hose and about half a dozen steaks that are thin enough for the host to slide over. Place the stakes in the ground and cut the hose to size. If the frame needs to be stronger, tape a few of the crossovers together, then cover with your net and hold in place with some clamps or pegs. Bagging fruit is also a good way to protect it, and bananas are a good example for us because if we don’t bag them, the flying foxes will have a feast.
I’ve had mixed results with bags like these to be honest. See, they go over the avocado here. But bagging can work and I have had good results with mangoes by using fiberglass netting so not even the possums could rip it off, but I’ve had less success with paper or cloth bags. Sometimes containers or mesh covers over seedlings can act as a temporary barrier to stop possums, mice and other small animals from grazing them down, and then they can be removed once the plants are mature enough.
Those were my 10 top organic ways to control pests in your garden, but that’s not it. Here are just a few of some other methods I’ve tried and how they turned out.
Scarecrow, didn’t work very well. Crows must be smarter these days. Shining hanging discs, or fake birds of prey, or snakes don’t work either, because the birds just get used to them. Automatic water sprayer was effective on possums and cats, but wastes water and shot me too many times by mistake. Plus, they leak and didn’t last very long before the electronics failed.
Positioning, I did find by positioning our vegetable garden in the center of our property away from trees reduced the possum activity. Also, having raised beds helped. Dog, having a dog that chases possums away can work. And even just the dog’s scent can deter other animals from entering the property.
If you have any other ways, because I’m sure there’s plenty more, that you use in your garden to organically control pests, please whack them down in the comment section below so I can read them and everyone else can read them and we can all learn together.