Tag Archives: garden pests

Organic Integrated Pest Management

As lovely and romantic as organic gardening can be it can also be really tough. A huge struggle for many organic gardeners is dealing with pests in an efficient and economical way without the use of pesticides or rodenticides. Developing an organic integrated pest management system or IPM can help.

Monitor & Identify

The first step is to monitor your garden and identify any pest issues. Record any problems in a garden journal and be as specific as possible. Research the type of pests you’re seeing and their life cycles. Are they cabbage worms or cabbage loopers attacking your broccoli plants? Also record dates and conditions when they attack your garden. Do aphids destroy your fall crop of lettuce or do the only impact your spring sowings? The more you learn about these pests the easier it is to prevent them. You should also consider at this time if the pests are actually a problem. Having to pick off a few tomato hornworms may not be worth putting major preventative measures in place if they’re not actually affecting the productivity in your garden and are otherwise easily managed.

Prevention

This is the most important part of an IPM. Once you’ve gathered information you can put preventative measures in place. Knowing a pest’s habitat and life cycle can be key. Examples of of preventative measures include planting a crop late or early to avoid a major pest season (ex. planting quick maturing cabbage early when it’s too cold for cabbage moths), attracting certain bird species to keep pest populations in check, encouraging or purchasing native predatory insect species (ex. ladybugs can be purchased online and are excellent at reducing aphid populations), growing pest resistant varieties, or using row cover over your most vulnerable crops. Sometimes you’ll need to employ a combination of these strategies. Often a well planned preventative strategy can keep your garden productive without a lot of additional work.

Control

In severe situations where pest prevention has been ineffective control measures are used as a last resort. These controls may be very effective against pests however they’re typically costly in other ways. Some, like handpicking can be very time consuming while others may actually be pricey for the small gardener like neem oil. Even though they aren’t as problematic as chemical pesticides they also may have unintentional environmental impacts despite the fact that they’re organic. Organic pesticides like neem oil, diatomaceous earth, or milky spore powder may be implemented with the intention of only harming a single pest species but unfortunately there’s no way to protect the good species. These organic pesticides can still kill beneficial insects like butterflies, bees, parasitic wasps, predatory beetles, and more.

Using integrated pest management can help you successfully maintain an organic garden. While no strategy is perfect, researching and recording your specific pest problems and then implementing preventative strategies can be effective.

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12 Strategies for Battling Cabbage Moths

Premium Late Flat Dutch Cabbage

For many gardeners planting brassicas in anything but the very early spring or fall is asking to be devastated. Cabbage moths can quickly colonize a patch of brassicas leaving tons of eggs which seem to grow into caterpillars and strip entire plants in the blink of an eye.

Don’t give up on summertime brassicas just yet though! There’s many ways you can fight off the cabbage moths to reap bountiful harvests.

Pick the worms off by hand.

It’s certainly not fun but it can be effective particularly if you only have a few plants. Drop worms into a bucket of soapy water to kill them. Be sure to check the undersides of leaves. If you see a cabbage worm with little white cocoons on its back leave it be. The cocoons will hatch into parasitic wasps, killing that worm and eventually others.

Note: Know your worms! Species that also have a green caterpillar stage include Luna Moths, Black Swallowtail Butterflies, and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails.

Swat the moths.

Some gardeners swear by the tennis racket method. When the cabbage moths show up in the spring they head out with tennis rackets to swat them out of the air. If you go this route be sure avoid killing other non-harmful moths and butterflies.

Use your poultry.

If you have a backyard flock it may be worth letting a few birds into your cabbage patch once the plants have gotten big enough. Both ducks and chickens have been known to enjoy cabbage worms.

On the subject of birds, try to attract songbirds to your garden.

Many songbirds will eat cabbage moths but they need to be visiting your garden regularly to take notice. Make your garden more bird friendly by planting varying heights of plants for them to perch on or adding feeders, houses, and/or bird baths.

Try companion planting.

Red Acre Cabbage & Wormwood

There are several crops that can be planted in your cabbage or broccoli patch to deter pests. Wormwood, thyme, marigolds, tomatoes, tansy and peppermint are all believed to help keep the cabbage worms away. You can also use companion plants like buckwheat and yarrow to attract beneficial insects to fight the cabbage worms for you.

You may also consider interplanting single brassicas throughout a garden. Unlike a monoculture bed having a plant here or there is much harder for cabbage moths to find.

Be sure to read our other post, The 7 Benefits of Companion Planting.

Try moth decoys.

While we haven’t tested it there’s a belief that cabbage moths are territorial and will leave your plants be if you hang decoy moths on and around your brassicas. Check out this article from The Good Seed Blog for more information and printouts.

Make your own plant spray.

Some people have found that tansy tea or oil deters cabbage worms when sprayed on the plants because of the volatile oils it contains. Others have had success with sprays made from dish soap, crushed garlic, or blended hot peppers.

Plant a trap crop.

Have you ever noticed that cabbage worms or another garden pest really love a specific variety? While you might initially think you should avoid planting that crop the opposite is really true. Plant the offending variety and then the pests will be less likely to go after other varieties you planted. Some people also choose to burn the trap crop with a flame weeder once it’s covered in pests to eliminate many of them. If you choose the burn method make sure your fire doesn’t get out of hand and you follow local regulations.

You may want to try organic pesticides.

Before you think we’re advocating the use of harsh chemicals know that there are organic and natural substances that are considered pesticides. Probably the most well known example is diatomaceous earth which is a powder made from crushed, fossilized, prehistoric crustaceans. This powder will cut insects (but not people or animals) as they crawl through it but it does need to be re-applied every time it rains. If you want to be sure whatever you buy is organic look for an OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) certification label.

It’s also important to note that pesticides affect all insects, good or bad. Consider what beneficial insects may also be harmed by your pesticide choice before you choose this strategy.

Practice crop rotation and cover cropping.

Both crop rotation and cover cropping are important to a healthy garden for a couple of reasons. First they help lessen disease and pest problems by ensuring the same crop isn’t planted in the same area helping to break pest and disease life cycles by moving their food source. Second they help ensure plants receive necessary nutrients and stay healthy which makes them less susceptible to pest and disease issues to start with.

Remove and compost any leftover plant material at the end of each season.

Cabbage worms overwinter in dead plant material so it’s important to remove and compost it. Alternatively you can till it under.

Use row cover.

If you can’t find another solution that works for you, row cover will do the trick. Cover the plants right after you get them in the ground and cabbage moths will never get to your plants to lay eggs.

Gardening is never easy but it’s especially difficult when you have to deal without a lot of pests. Hopefully among these tips you’ll find a strategy that works for you and your garden.

How do you deal with cabbage moths? Did we miss anything?

7 Benefits of Companion Planting

By Jordan Charbonneau, photos by Ira Wallace

At first companion planting may seem like an odd idea. However if you consider how plants grow in nature, there’s never sections of just one species. There’s always a mix of species with different niches and ecological functions. While scientists have really just skimmed the surface studying the interactions between plants we do know that many plants have beneficial relationships and that applies to garden plants too! That’s why when we plant monoculture sections of crops we’re setting ourselves up for less healthy and productive gardens.

Companion planting is one of the easiest ways to mimic a natural ecosystem more closely. There are many benefits you’ll see in your garden if you use companion planting this year.

The list below contains some of those benefits and easy ways to achieve them in your home garden.

Companion planting saves space.

It’s perfect for people trying to make the most of their small gardens. A common way to use companion planting to save space is by planting a vining plant under a taller one. It uses space that would otherwise stay empty or fill up with weeds. Another method is to plant quick growing crops in between rows of slower growing crops. My favorite two plants to tuck in around our garden are radishes and green onions. They can be stuck in just about anywhere and harvested before the other crops start to fill up that space.

It keeps soil moist and helps prevent erosion.

Not having large spaces of open soil not only allows you to grow more plants but helps hold the soil and keep it moist. Vining plants like squash and cucumbers are especially useful for shading the soil. In a time where droughts have become a real problem in much of the United States this is perhaps one of the most important aspects of companion planting.

It keeps weeds out.

The same way that having soil covered in plants hold water it also blocks weed growth. In the well known Native American method, the three sisters garden, vining squash is grown beneath corn and beans to shade the soil and prevent weeds from growing.

Companion planting can decrease pest issues.

When you ditch the conventional monoculture garden layout it will be harder for pests to destroy your crops. They won’t find a solid patch of their favorite food. Some plants even deter certain pests. For example, wormwood can be planted among cabbage and other brassicas to help deter cabbage moths and marigold can be planted with beans to deter Mexican bean beetles.

Companion planting can help with disease issues.

Just like with dense gatherings of people disease is spread more quickly through your garden when plants of the same type are all in one big group. Adding different species to a planting can help break up your garden and slow the spread of disease. As previously mentioned plant interactions aren’t fully understood but certain plants have been shown to make other plants healthier therefore lowering their susceptibility to disease. Good examples of this are beans in the three sisters garden method providing nitrogen for the corn and squash and growing basil with tomatoes which many people believe makes for healthier tomatoes plants.

Companion planting can be used to attract pollinators and beneficial insects.

Beneficial insects of all sort will be more likely to spend time in and travel throughout your garden if there’s plenty of habitat and food available. Throughout our garden we include patches of of flowers and flowering cover crops like clover, vetch, and buckwheat. It’s good to choose varieties that have extended bloom periods.

Companion planting can eliminate the need for trellises.

The most common living trellis is probably the corn which pole beans grow up in a three sisters garden. However there’s many other tall plants that are suitable for lightweight climbing plants including sunflowers, sorghum, Jerusalem artichokes, amaranth, and fruit and nut trees.

Companion Planting Examples

Asparagus, Parsley, & Tomatoes: plant together for better harvests.

Beans & Marigold: the marigold deters Mexican bean beetles.

Cabbage & Buckwheat: the buckwheat attracts parasitic wasps that will kill cabbage worms.

Carrots & Rosemary: the rosemary deter carrot flies.

Lettuce & Chives: the chives can help deter aphids.

Melon & Radishes: You’ll get two crops out of one bed as the radishes can be harvested before the melon plant spreads.

Tomatoes & Basil: intercropping basil makes for healthier tomato plants.

Radishes & Spinach: radishes attract leaf miners which don’t harm the radish bulbs but will destroy a spinach crop.

Beets & Garlic: intercropping garlic improves the health of the beets.

Peas & Fruit Trees: Peas can use the tree as a trellis and are so early they’ll be done before the tree shades them fully.

Squash & Borage: the borage deters harmful worms and improves the squash plant’s health.

Nasturtiums and Cucumbers: nasturtiums add another edible to the same space and attracts beneficial insects.

Corn, Pole Beans, & Squash: the corn provides a trellis for the beans which provide nitrogen for the corn and squash. The squash shades the ground beneath the beans and corn keeping soil moist, blocking weeds, and utilizing space. Check out the Three Sisters Garden Package!

Using these examples and other plant relationships to your advantage can help you to achieve a productive and beautiful garden without resorting to conventional agricultural methods. Companion planting is one of the easiest ways to deter pests and present plant diseases organically. It’s abundance of benefits make it great choice for anyone looking to make the most of a small and/or sustainably focused garden.

Have you tried companion planting? Comment and let us know!