13 May 2010

Grow Your Own, Pt. II: Terrible Beasties

So, we've discussed how to avoid weeding at all costs - it might be a lot of prep work, but it's totally worth it in the long run. The terrible garden Beasties, however, are a little more of a challenge. These are a few tips and tricks my mom uses to keep several of these plant-predators to a comfortable minimum.

Animal Kingdom

Conventional “Wisdom”

Like conventional weed eradication, many conventional farms use broad insecticides to keep garden pests at bay. The problem here is that it kills everything, including the good bugs (hard to believe, but yes, there are good bugs).

Another approach

I don't like bugs. Part of me wants to go with the conventional method, because I'd rather not deal with them at all, however, if it kills bugs, what is it doing to me? (You've caught me, this is why I can't get into gardening. I like the outside, but in small doses, and preferably insect free)

Pepper Spray - One of my mom's most common weapons in her anti-bug arsenal is homemade pepper spray. The stuff is amazing. There are several recipes online (and at post-time I hadn't gotten my mom's yet – I'll post it if I do!), but let me give you a very important heads up! If your recipe calls for boiling any fresh chili peppers (as my mom's recipe does) make sure you do that step OUTSIDE! Use a campfire stove, or a burner from your grill, but do NOT boil your peppers inside. We learned that lesson the hard way....

Spray the peppery concoction around the perimeter of your garden to deter ground rodents (like bunnies and voles and things – I think it even has some effectiveness against deer), and around the base of your plants and the undersides of the leaves to deter many common pests.

Please note: Don't spray it in windy conditions! The stuff can and will burn you if you're not careful. Wear long sleeves when applying it to the plants. Make sure to check (online, at your local garden store) if you are unsure about a particular plant's sensitivity. And I read somewhere not to spray it in bright sun on the tops of your plants' leaves, as this can burn the plant, and be counterproductive.

Slug-repellent - Another method my mother uses quite a bit is to deter slugs. Fill a shallow pan (like a pie plate, preferably disposable aluminum) with about an inch of beer. The yeasty scent attracts slugs, and they will fall in and drown!

Bring in the Good Guys – Of course, as I am always saying, nature is pretty smart. She created a nice system of checks and balances in the bug world. There are lots of garden bugs that are actually quite useful. Do what you can to attract them, namely ladybugs (a.k.a. “lady beetles” or “lady birds” in the UK... yeah, they're so not birds!), ground beetles, and the elegent (albeit weird looking) praying mantis.

Story - One day, a few years back, the hubby and I went to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens. It was early spring, and that's always a great way to take off some of the winter chill. After spending a few hours among hundreds of butterflies (how cool is that?) we started to peruse the gift shop, where I found what – to this day – is probably the best birthday gift I have EVER purchased for my mother: a praying mantis egg sack.

So I know what you're thinking. In reality, as cool as I thought it was (and pretty darn funny if you think about it) I never expected my mom to be quite so impressed with this gift! I kind of thought of it as a joke “Ha ha ha, I bought you bugs!” But she was super excited, and 6 weeks later, when thousands of teeny mantis' came pouring out of the nifty little cocoon, she immediately set them out in her rose garden to protect the flowers from aphids.

I'm sure my mom would have about another million tips to share, but I do try to keep my posts relatively short...ish.

What are some of your best tips?

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