Growing vegetables organically takes patience and persistence. Non-chemical solutions to control insect pests are typically not quick fixes but part of an organic garden's regular maintenance. Treat plants frequently with benign methods and you won't have to use harsh or toxic chemicals.
Healthy plants can withstand minor insect problems without your intervention. To keep your vegetable plants vigorous make sure they have adequate sun, rich soil and consistent watering. Falling short in one of these three areas can create an environment more conducive to bug infestations.
There are several insect heroes out there to help protect your garden. Snails, aphids and spider mites are three common trouble-makers in the garden, but centipedes and millipedes make quick meals of snails, slugs, and other ground-dwelling insects. Lacewings not only dine on aphids, but they also attack a whole buffet of bugs: spider mites, mealybugs and white-flies, for example. Wasps also are huge helpers in the fight against unwanted caterpillars. According to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences in 1995, some plants, when bitten by a caterpillar a few times, actually release a chemical to attract these wasps.
Successful organic vegetable gardening means taking the time to learn what helps and what hurts. Bug identification can be as easy as placing a critter into a plastic bag and presenting it to a knowledgeable garden center employee.
Understanding the bugs might lead you to making a healthy habitat for them. Plant host plants for beneficial insects intermingled with your vegetables. Ornamental grasses and blooming perennials offer food and shelter that they need. The Black Pearl Ornamental Pepper has stunning purple leaves and marble-like fruit that goes from black to a bright red when ripe. It also attracts the predatory mite, Amblyseius degenerans, to your neighborhood. When not eating pollen from the pepper blossoms, this mite will keep the thrip insect population down.
Organic gardeners use safe sprays like insecticidal soap and neem oil. Sprays like these do not pack the toxic punch of chemical insecticides, but when used weekly, or every few days as the situation requires, they offer considerable control.
Bacilus Thuringiensis, also known as BT, can be used as a powder or spray to kill caterpillars. Keep in mind that most caterpillars, with the exception of the Tomato Horn Worm and a few others, don't cause permanent damage to plants. A nibble here and there is no different than you clipping a leaf with your pruners. The result is actually a flourish of new growth. The advantage of BT is that it only kills caterpillars. Your bees, butterflies and other beneficial bugs are safe.
Alternatives to Spraying and Dusting
Mechanical controls like floating row covers, fabric sheets which keep insects off plants, can be applied to large gardens. Sticky cards can also be placed in the garden to attract small flying insects like white-flies.
Keeping Bugs From Eating the Plants
Organic gardening is about balance. It isn't necessary to keep your vegetables entirely free of insect pests. Just supply your plants with good nutrition and keep large infestations from forming.