Pests in the garden are part of the gardening experience. Organic gardeners use only natural pest-control methods and no synthetic chemical insecticides. Safe, organic alternatives to the chemical poisons are effective and usually cost less than chemicals, too. Choose organic methods and tailor them to the type of control you need.
Part of having a healthy organic garden is keeping everything in balance. Healthy soil that contains rich humus and compost has a balance of beneficial organisms that make nutrients easily available to your plants, helping them grow stronger and healthier. Strong plants are better equipped with natural defenses against pest attacks.
Learn about the life cycles of common insects in your area. If you can identify them before they damage your garden, you can apply the correct organic control and prevent damage. Many natural pest control products do not discriminate between harmful insects and beneficial insects. Spray carefully, and only when you notice potential problems.
For small infestations, hand-picking is an effective way to remove insect pests. Half-fill a jar with about 1 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap and take it into your garden. When you see a caterpillar or insect, pick it from the plant and drop it into the jar. Smash small insects like aphids against a leaf with your fingers (wearing gloves). Large tomato hornworms are easy to find and remove.
Some plants have natural properties that repel insects. Plant these companions next to plants that are susceptible to insect attack. For example, plant onions near cole plants to repel cabbage loopers, garlic inter-planted with roses to control aphids and other insects, and marigolds with tomatoes and peppers to repel harmful root-knot nematodes in the soil.
Biological Pest Control
Most garden insect pests have natural enemies. Biological controls may be parasitic insects or bacteria that infect specific species, or they may be carnivorous insects that will attack and eat the harmful pests. Ladybugs and Lacewings ravenously consume aphids. Praying mantis catch and eat dozens of bugs each day; they are especially fond of soft-bodied caterpillars. Several species of beneficial nematodes kill grubs in the soil, including Japanese beetle grubs. The tiny parasitic Trichogramma wasps kill more than 100 species of caterpillars, including tomato hornworms.
Use diatomaceous earth as dust or in a water-spray for effective control of hundreds of species of insects. It works by scratching their exoskeletons and dehydrating them. Insecticidal soaps are made up of fatty acids that break down the cell structure of the insects’ exoskeletons and cause dehydration. Oil or wax sprays coat the insects’ bodies and smother them. Some oils and waxes contain other ingredients such as capsaicin (hot pepper oil), which is toxic to insects. These remedies are broad-spectrum and are toxic to beneficial as well as harmful insects.