Potato Beetle

How To Deal With These Common Garden Pests

If you are growing veggies, odds are, the bugs will come.

So what do we do when we find these visitors? In conventional agriculture, sprays are commonly used to control all of these pests. On organic farms, a common approach is to apply natural based sprays approved for use in organic production.

On our farms, we begin with hand removal for potato beetles and hornworms.

For flea beetles, cabbage loopers and cabbage root maggots we use trapping, coverings and watch for beneficial predator insects and other wildlife to come and help out.

On rare ocassions, when the infestation levels are much too high and the harvest must be saved, we turn to natural based sprays as used in organic farming. They’re the last resort, because they often kill not only the pest, but the beneficial insects that would feed upon them.

While scouting is a good way to catch problems early so we can take action, before the insects multiply and devour our crops… wouldn’t it be nice to have nature take care of the problem for us?

A Hidden Benefit Of Avoiding Sprays

After following this approach for the past several years, we have found our beneficial insect populations have increased. And this past season, we were surprised to find even more species coming to our aid in field and hoop house.

Lacewings took care of invasions of potato beetles. Wasps did in hornworms and brought flea beetle populations down considerably, while praying mantids and other insects kept populations of cabbage loopers and leafminers from causing much damage.

So based on what we’ve seen, here’s what we’re doing for pest control in 2021.

Ways We Can Support Our Insect Friends

Looking for ways to encourage more of these beneficial insects to hang out in our fields and hoop houses.

What do they need for food?

Mostly nectars, so flowering plants can support the adult stage of most of these predatory beneficial insects. We’re planting some flowering perennials just for the bugs, as well as letting more dill, cilantro and fennel go to flower as nectar sources.

Some of these beneficial species are predatory only in part of their life cycle, and need pests to feed on then. So keeping some plants around to support and attract those pest insects early in the season ahead of the crop we intend to harvest is one way to get those beneficial insects to set up shop early and protect the real crop from damage.

What do they need for shelter and habitat?

Greenery, plant debris or mulch left on the ground and a bit of shrubbery for some species. We’re adding some perennials to help provide more hiding places and habitats.

Praying Mantis
Photo Credit: Celtick27 at Pixabay

Avoid Killing Them off

When we don’t spray to kill insect pests, we avoid causing unintended harm to species we had not considered nor targeted.

And beneficial species that depend on the pests for part of their life cycle, need some of these pests around some of their living, so we really aim for very low pest populations rather than zero. That means just tolerating a low level of damage that leaves us with high quality yields without using sprays.

Friend Pests
Lacewing Aphids, White flies, mites, potato beetles
Praying Mantis Leafhoppers, aphids, flies crickets, grasshoppers, spiders
Braconid Wasps cabbage root maggots, flea beetles, tomato hornworms

These beneficial predatory insects do not live on insect pests alone. They need other sources of food and shelter for their entire life cycle to really make your backyard their permanent home.

What to Plant For Our Insect Friends

Here is a list of plants we’re planting to help our insect friends this season.

• Yarrow
• Dill
• Coriander
• Fennel
• bachelor’s buttons
• borage
• white sweet alyssum
• rose shrubs

With insect populations in decline around the world, these fellas can use our help… and in return they’ll help us… to grow healthy food for healthier living.

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