Digging The Dirt:Out Damn Pests!

BlogHer Original Post

grasshopper on leaf

My approach to pests in the garden or landscape is usually to adopt a technique that is least harmful to the general environment while being highly destructive to the pest itself. So I often use soap, dusts, hot pepper and young men to deal with my pests. Except for muskrats. They actually drove me to buy a .22. But let's hope your garden invasions don't end up resorting to that degree of destructive power.

More than likely your invaders this time of year come in one of two varieties: insect or mammal. What can you do to discourage, or eliminate the problem if each case?

Insects:

In many of the spring/fall vegetables, planting time is the most important factor in preventing damage. If you plant brassicas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, beets and swish chard as soon as the soil can be worked but before the first frost-free day, the plants become established and you can pick a crop before warmer weather brings on insect invasions. So it's too late for early spring plantings, keep in mind that any open garden space come mid- to late-September might be prime territory for a fall crop of these goodies.

Good commercial organic pest controls include Safer Soap, (dehydrates the dasterdly things) diatomaceous earth, (cuts softs bodied insects to shreds. like mini-glass shards) horticultural oils, (smothers those suckers!) and floating row covers  (if the pests can't get in they can't eat it). 'Bacillus thurengiensis', or Bt and it's known to gardeners everywhere is a bacteria you can apply as the insect worms are appearing. It is deadly to the invaders, but does not harm humans, birds or other animals. Look for it commercial by name or as Dipel.

In 2006, FarmGirlFare went into detail on dealing with Blister Beetles. Her "home grown" recommendation:

I used all-purpose flour and limestone ("granular calcium carbonate for livestock and poultry") that I bought two years ago in a 50-pound bag at the farm supply store for under two dollars (to add to the water of the two bottle lambs I had at the time to help control scours and some other stuff). Since it was 95 degrees F in the shade, I figured this qualified as "the warmest time of the day" and simply sprinkled the mixture all over the plants and the surrounding soil.

I checked back later and only saw a few blister beetles, but there also weren't any in evidence on the bean plants they had been all over earlier. I wondered if they were all simply taking a siesta. I also wondered if this was such a wise idea: if I succeeded in getting them to vacate my already ruined chard, what would they attack next?

Do you have any favorite "home grown" insect controls? 

Mammals:

Can we have a little fun in our pest control?  When your pests are the furry kind who walk on top of the soil, yes I think we can try to have some. There are few truly effective commercial products for discouraging deer and rabbits and such from visiting and destroying your landscape.  Most of the suggested treatments are of the "home made" version.  All of these work.  They just don't work forever; you have to adapt and change your approach every month or so to stay ahead of these munching horde.

LifeBouy or Palmolive bar soap.  These specific brands have been suggested for deer because of something in their scent or in the oils used in their manufacture.  Take a freshly opened bar, place it in a clean nylon stocking or net-type produce bag and hang it in a tree or on a stake.

Plant marigolds and daffodills.  Again, the theory is that deer and rabbit are repelled by their scent.  I've had limited luck with marigolds, but daffodills planted along the edge of a bed did discourage deer from tasting all my tulips.

Human Male Scent.  Here's where the fun comes in, especially if you are lucky enough to have young males at home. It's theorized that the pheremones secreted in their urine and sweat will deter many a mammal from crossing their path.  Collect those sweaty t-shirts and hang them in the garden overnight before washing them (the likely origin of the scare crow).  Or pour a line a urine around the edge of a garden bed.  It's your choice (and the boy's/men's) whether they apply this treatment themselves or simply pee in a bottle for you to use.  BTW, the boys must have gone through puberty; while the 5 and 6 year olds may find this great fun, testosterone is needed for these to work.

I've tested them both with some success.  They seemed to be effective for about 2-4 weeks before the pests figured out it was only a scent.

My biggest pest problem at the moment is the pocket gopher.  Imagine something the size of a chipmunk, that burrows into my yard from the open space beyond.  It eats the roots off plants except where it pulls vegetables down into the burrows and eats them. I tried the sonic MoleChaser.  It didn't. 

Commercial gopher repellants work fairly well; these treatments release castor oil into the soil.  They actually work!  This year I didn't get a treatment down before the rains stopped (the castor oil must be watered in), and water restrictions mean I won't be using the product until the winter rains come.  If you have problems with a tunneling critter (be it mole, vole or gopher), I recommend giving one of these castor oil products a try.

How are blogger dealing with garden pests?

Rixgal's Weblog babied a tomato plant through 2 wind storms, but the first tomatoes of this year became the victim of gun violence.

Amy Urquhart listed 10 Ways to Deter Rabbits at Suite101.

Jean Vernon chooses a number of treatments for garden pests in the Telegraph.co.uk

TreeHugginFamily has compiled natural ways to get rid of pests.

Wendy R. writes How to Identiy and Eliminate Pests in Your Garden at EHow.

Amy at Playing In The Dirt showed the results when tulip meets rabbit.

photo credit: RaeA's Flickrstream

Debra Roby blogs her creative life at A Stitch in Time and her mundane life at Deb's Daily Distractions.Come talk with her at the Home and Garden Birds of Feather breakout session at BlogHer Con, Saturday, July 19, from 10:45 until noon.

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