Even the most bountiful gardens will have pests. Though it may be tempting to use pesticides and insecticides to eliminate a problem, many gardeners use organic gardening methods preventatively. The goal of organic pest control is not to eliminate pests completely, but to create a stable and diverse ecosystem in which pest populations are kept under control naturally.
Grow Healthy Plants
Pests are less likely to attack healthy plants. Purchase sturdy plants. If sowing seed, thin to leave the strongest seedlings. Try an organic fertilizer such as a seaweed or fish emulsion product. According to Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, healthy soils contain a host of organisms that are vital to healthy plants. Make it a priority to build your soil by adding compost regularly. Consider raised beds. Collect a soil sample so your local Cooperative Extension can perform a soil test to determine exactly how to improve and balance your soil. Insects tend to attack wilted plants, so keep your plants hydrated by watering deeply.
Attract Beneficial Insects
As the Michigan State University Extension states, garden pests have natural enemies. The ladybug is a predator that will eat many aphids in a lifetime. Certain small wasps are parasitoids that will lay eggs within a host such as a caterpillar. The young will develop and feed within the host, eventually killing it. To attract beneficial insects to your garden, plant native perennials. This form of biological control can be as beautiful as it is effective. Toads, another predator in the garden, will eat 50 to 100 insects each night. Entice toads to your garden by providing shelter and water.
Keep the Garden Clean
Good sanitation in the garden will help prevent pests. Remove dropped fruit to prevent infestations of pests such as apple maggots, fruit flies, and codling moths. If plants are not diseased, clean up at the end of each harvest season by turning crop residue into the soil or by composting to kill pests that may try to overwinter. Throw away diseased plants to prevent spores from spreading to healthy plants.
Fences are a good solution for many animal pests that damage or steal vegetables from the garden. Tall fences offer protection against deer while the smaller openings in chicken wire keep rabbits out of the garden. A strip of partially buried hardware cloth is a good barrier to halt gophers and other animal pests that burrow underground. Humane traps can be used for pests such as moles and raccoons. Anchor netting to sit a few inches above crops to keep birds from eating fruit. Store-bought or homemade objects such as plastic owls or snakes (repositioned occasionally), or plastic balls painted with “eyes” that mimic bird predators can scare birds from the garden.
When infestation becomes a problem, garden remedies are available for purchase or to make at home. Dusts such as diatomaceous earth scratch insects like flea beetles, earwigs, and aphids and cause them to die from dehydration. Copper strips prevent slugs from crossing into the garden. Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria paralyzes the digestive tracts of the Colorado potato beetle, mosquito, and certain other insect larvae. A floating row cover is a barrier that allows rain and sun in, but keeps pests out. Insecticidal soap kills aphids and other soft-bodied insects.
Homemade pepper and garlic sprays can keep pests away. When spraying, be sure to target the underside of leaves since that is where most insects hide and lay their eggs. Pick damaging insects off plants by hand for the most natural method of organic garden pest control. Prevent future populations by dropping insects and their eggs in a bucket of soapy water.