Monday, March 21, 2016

Growing a Garden: Organic Pest Management

Spring has sprung! We're on Day 2 of this year's spring season and boy does it feel like March here in Northern Illinois. Frost last night, high of 45 degrees today, high of 60 tomorrow, and then on Thursday, snow! Ahhh peaceful prairie living, I tell you. Spring weather is spontaneous, moody, and barely predictable. So basically it's me, any given day of the week.

But weather also induces inspiration. Gardens and fields across the globe equally feel the pain of a dry summer, a bug-breeding surplus, or a cold snap mid-season. And we, as garden-making humans, try to lessen the heartache by developing our own way of doing things...of trying to control the environments around our little plants....of trying to mitigate the shock and abuse of something we cannot control.

And for every gardener on this planet, you'll find a different set of gardening habits and procedures. Mention gardening in public and you will hear, without fail, a number of tips or tidbits picked up from books, magazines, grandmas, and the long lost online articles of our yesteryear. You'll hear about an experience with eggshells, a devotion to soaker hoses, or the coveted practice of leaving little cups of beer around to capture slugs. Everyone has an opinion.

Especially when it comes to bugs.

Now as I mentioned in the very beginning of this series, I am not a pesticide girl. I do not like soil mixed with chemicals and I do not like bug-reducing sprays and seeds. That doesn't mean, however, I am not utterly obsessed with finding new ways to win my personal vendetta against the squash bugs that destroyed my punkins the first year I tried to plant anything. Or that I'm not dedicated to backyard guerrilla warfare on a miniature level. I even wrap a multi-colored bandanna around my head when I go out there. Just call me Jembo.

You can fight back organically, passively, and cooperatively, I promise. It is possible and effective. Oh let us count the ways.

Companion Planting
This is my #1 favorite way to keep pests at bay. You see, nature kinda has this whole "growing" thing figured out. Nature created plants that help other plants and then nature stuck those two plants together and the two plants thrived....and then humans came along with our monocropping (acres of a single plant) and uncooperative agricultural practices (till, plant, till plant, don't let anything else grow!) and nature got sick of us and sentenced our fields and food to a million years of superbugs with no opportunity for parole. Hence, the chemical industry thrived.

But I found one incredibly tough tough, I was personally able to break out of the monocropping, chemical-sprayed food prison and become one with nature again. Jenshank Redemption. I'm on a roll today!

Companion planting, people. Take the inherently natural principles present in every plant and allow them to symbiotically function with the inherent natural principles of another. Do you feel me?

Let's practice with a little game of Veggie Date Match-Up, shall we?

I love my sweet peppers, but so do bugs. Onions, however, are smelly and known to repel worms, aphids, and slugs. Peppers and onions? Ding! A good match!

And onion flies (yuck!) love my onions, but hate carrots! So let's stick some carrots on the other side of my onions. Ooo! Double whammy - onions repel carrot flies! Wouldja look at that! Carrots and onions...ding! A perfect match!

Do you see what I'm getting at? Some of these plants work so perfectly well together it would be silly to plant them any other way.

My favorite example? Those who read my posts often (I love you three!!) will likely be sick of it....I've mentioned it in my Maintenance-Free Food Garden post and my I Love Summer Break post....but for the sake of awesomeness, I absolutely must mention it here even though it has less to do with pests and more to do with just growing something that actually grows strong and healthy....

The 3 Sisters Method

Corn naturally grows tall, long stalks right? Like a pole? And guess what corn needs to grow strong and tall? Nitrogen in the soil.

And which plants help retain nitrogen in the soil? Well beans, of course. And guess what pole beans need to grow? That's right....poles! Or trellises. Or corn stalks.

And what keeps weeds at bay? Huge leaves, right? They shade out the sun and make the soil inhospitable to leaves and growth in general. Well and guess what food grows on plants with huge've got it! Squash!

And now for my magic trick.....corn feeds us sugar, beans - protein, and squash - veggie vitamins. It's a complete meal, grown together in perfect cooperation, developed back in the day by nature-approved Native American tribes.

Isn't that incredible? It never ceases to get me amped up. I am over the moon about companion planting.

No-Pest Flowers and Herbs
Now if companion planting is too overwhelming, consider selecting a few plants specifically known for their anti-insect features.

Nasturtiums and marigolds are my two favorite pest-free flowers. If I had to pick one I would choose Nasturtiums because they are edible and tangy. Make your salads pretty while keeping bugs at bay? Yes please!

Both flowers work by popping up in bold, bright colors and producing an insect-repelling scent that washes over your garden like a beautiful blanket of love. Fortunately, these flowers do not repel pollinators - in fact, their bright colors draw pollinators nearer to your garden. Score!

Herbs also work really well. They are stinky to bugs but delicious to us. I like to use dill, but you can also inter-plant basil or other strong herbs - just keep an eye on them! Mint, especially, tends to take over.

Dichotomous Earth
Some people love it, some people hate it. This stuff kills bugs - all bugs. Every bug. Even precious little ladybugs. BUT...if I had an infestation I couldn't control, I would absolutely try using this stuff because it doesn't involve any chemicals and I have some lying around for my wintertime chicken feather baths. Yep. I have those now....who would've thought the words "wintertime chicken feather baths" would ever cross my lips, let along become something I write about. But I digress.

Dichotomous earth is actually pretty dang neat when you think about it. It is, and I quote from Mother Earth News, made from "fossilized prehistoric crustaceans called diatoms." Apparently these little dead fossilized diatoms are super sharp and they quite literally cut into the bodies of insects and kill them by leaking out all their water until they die from dehydration. So metal.

Remove Death!
Next in our unintentionally death-themed post is a very easy but sometimes overlooked answer to pest problems - remove your dead stuff! I have a huge earwig problem - they love to make babies in the dead leaves left under all of my huge veggie plants. This is especially important as summer wanes and your plants start to ripen/dry out for the season. Some of those insects can overwinter so compost the dead and let them live again!! Dr. Frankenjen!

Chickens :) or Birds! Birds are good enough, too!
I love my chickens so much I had to give them a little shoutout here. Chickens are fantastic bug eaters. They love bugs - especially live bugs. I dug a few holes to plant some trees last week and I kept finding little rolled up (alive) cicada babies and boy can I tell you, my chickens were in heaven. They eat anything that crawls, flutters, buzzes, slithers, or wiggles. They scratch the soil up to find the bugs and then poop on the soil, providing instant fertilizer. They also give eggs. And they have fluffy butts that are just cuter than anything on the planet.

Wild birds do the same, minus the scratching. And yummy eggs. Well...and the fluffy butts. BUT wild birds love bugs and they sing pretty songs. Attracting some bug-eating birds to your yard can sometimes be as simple as installing a few birdhouses and winter feeders.

I built one of my raised beds from cedar fence planks. They smell like everything that is right with the world....but bugs do not like them. Basically I've learned bugs don't like strong smells, period. Or maybe it's that the strong smells mask the smell of their favorite foods? Either way, cedar in your garden is beautiful and good-smelling and rot-resistant all by nature's design.

Water Bucket
Yep. When the going gets tough and everything else has failed you, it's time to grab your gloves and a bucket and get out there. You can flip over leaves in the early dawn to find most pesky insects but some will require some stealthy maneuvers involving sticky tape and/or bowls filled with beer. Regardless, when you find your bugs, hand-pick them off your plants and toss them in a bucket filled with water. If you have chickens, just toss your water-logged bugs to the girls when you're done and watch them praise the heavens with joy. If you do not have chickens, well, you're SOL. Just kidding! If you do not have chickens, add some castile soap to your water and it will kill those suckers a little quicker.

So what do you think? Feel like you have a few more weapons in your arsenal to manage pests in your garden? We can't control the weather...or the imbalance of insects in our hood....but we can certainly create our own little backyard ecosystems that allow plants and nature to work cooperatively to adjust to life's little problems.

Do you have any organic pest-control methods? I'd love to hear about them in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!

Did you miss a Growing a Garden series post? Don't worry! Click the link below to catch up!
Where Do I Start?
Starting with Seeds

**Can't get enough homesteading? Check out the Homestead Blog Hop, hosted by some of the best and most beautiful bloggers in the self-sufficiency world. This post, and many of my others, are shared on the Homestead Blog Hop each week. From breadmaking to seed selection, home-grown recipes to herbal health, the Homestead Blog Hop has it all! Enjoy! :)


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