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Kitchen Garden Insect Control

Radish in garden

There is little reason to spend money on controlling kitchen garden pests. Most of the tried and true garden insect controls have been around for thousands of years.

“Prevention is better than a cure”; that old adage is true in the garden as it is in most areas of life. Spending quality time in the garden is as simple a way as any to stay ahead of insects and other pests. By making daily visits to the garden, you’ll be the first to know when pests arrive, and you’ll be able to control them before they get established.

Here are ten simple ways to keep tight control on garden insects without spending a dime:

Keep the garden clean. Cucumber beetles, flea beetles and asparagus beetles are just a few of the pests that seek shelter in garden debris. Clean up the garden during the season and after the season ends. When a crop is finished, clean up and eliminate insect shelters. Fall cleanup is particularly important in reducing overwintering pests and getting a head start on next year.

Turn the soil. Using a garden fork or hoe to simply turn the soil between crops or at the end of the season will expose soil-dwelling pests and their eggs to sun, heat, and cold which will interrupt their life cycle. Light cultivation will also keep weeds at bay during the growing season and interrupt germination. Deep cultivation to 6 inches at the end of the season will expose soil-borne pests to the light and bury surface dwelling insects. (This fall cultivation is also a good time to add compost to your soil.)

Handpick pests. One of the pleasures of gardening is being in the garden. So while you’re there scout for newly arrived insects on a regular basis, and use your thumb and finger to dispatch them. The best time to look for insect pests in the garden is during the middle of the day; most insects love the sunshine. Don’t forget to look under plant leaves for insect eggs; look for white, yellow, or reddish brown eggs. If you suspect small insects are about, place a sheet of white paper under the plant and shake to expose them.

Water spray. A strong spray of water from the garden hose will end the stay of small caterpillars, aphids, mites, scale, spittlebugs, and others. If an infestation has gotten out of hand, you may have to return more than once to get the upper hand on aphids and other colony dwelling pests.

Cardboard and foil collars. Cardboard, heavy paper, and aluminum foil collars around young seedlings and even more mature plants will keep chewing pests from attacking plant stems. A four-inch cardboard or aluminum foil square around the base of a cabbage plant will keep cabbage root maggots from laying eggs. Plant collars will also keep flies from laying eggs. For cutworms, extend the collar 1 or 2 inches into the soil around the stem of the plant.

Plant traps. Use sacrificial plants to trap insects. A trap or catch crop of early maturing radishes will lure flea beetles away from more substantial crops. Mustard can be used to trap harlequin bugs. An early sowing of one or two squash in pots will draw beetles away from your main crop. An unthinned patch of carrots will attract aphids leaving other crops pest free.

Mixed plantings. By intermixing crops instead of planting each crop in concentrated rows or blocks, insects that attack specific plants have a harder time getting established; there’s just not enough of one crop in one place to make their efforts worthwhile. Mixing crops is particularly easy to do in small gardens.

Mulch. Mulches can help keep pests from laying eggs or setting up house in the soil.

Beneficial insects. Attract insects that like to eat other insects. Lacewings, lady bugs, parasitic wasps, and syrphid and hover flies are beneficial insects. Grow beneficial insect host plants to attract these insect predators to your garden. Lacewings are attracted to carrot family plants and oleanders. Lady bugs are attracted to angelica, goldenrod, morning glory, oleander, and yarrow. Parasitic wasps are attracted to carrot family members, goldenrod, oleander, and strawberries. Syrphid flies and hover flies are attracted to members of the daisy family. Give beneficial insects a reason to visit and stay in your garden.

Rotate crops. Changing where you plant specific crops from year to year will break up the life cycle of rootworms and nematodes that feed on the same plants. Move crop families to another part of the garden every year if possible.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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