Organic Pest Control for Vegetable Gardening & Orchards

Caterpillar Pests Organic Pest Control Gardening
What are pests? This is a broad term used to define any insect, animal, or living creature that happens to get in the way of humans pertaining to our food growing systems and homes. Just as a weed is defined as a plant that is growing out of place (according to humans) a pest is defined as an animal or insect that is out of place (according to humans). It's sadly true that naturally occurring numbers of animals and insects can sometimes become overpopulated due to disruptions in the food chain or environment. This can sometimes require intervention methods to help restore balance. However, it is important to remember all pests have a purpose in nature and their purpose can be beneficial more often than detrimental in the big picture.
  • Organic
  • Humane
  • Holistic
  • Preventative
  • Permaculture
Organic Pest Control Slugs Gardening
Wood chip gardening, a no-till gardening technique, naturally helps control negative pest infestations. By following organic gardening principles, it is very rare that a negative insect population gets out of control. If you have a healthy vigorous plant, insects should not be a problem. By enriching and improving your soil structure with arborist wood chip mulch your plants will grow healthier and be more resistant to pests. However, healthy soil takes a bit of time to build. Some gardeners experience challenges with increased insects or tunneling pests when they first start their Back to Eden Gardens. After all, you just turned a barren desert-like environment into a lush life-giving Eden, flourishing with nutrient-dense plants, soft soil, beneficial microorganisms, and an abundance of growth! People and animals alike will likely notice your gardens. How you treat these problems can be a personal preference but a lot of these problems will resolve themselves when you learn to restore balance to the garden environment.
Healthy plants result from healthy soil and balanced habitats. When your plants are in good health they will be able to naturally fight off the occasional damage from insects and even the occasional rodent damage. When your garden is in operating as a balanced natural ecosystem a natural balance of beneficial insects and animals will help control out-of-control infestations. However, restoring the natural balance of a garden's ecosystem as it would operate in nature takes time, persistence, and sometimes some careful assistance from gardeners and farmers.
Even though a thriving Back to Eden Garden may see signs of minor damage from slugs, aphids, squash bugs, etc. the plants will be strong enough to survive abundantly due to their healthy ideal growing conditions. In a garden environment that is in balance, you will see very few occasions of an out-of-control infestation that cause significant damage to your plants. This concept took me a long time of trial and error and speaking with other Back to Eden Gardeners worldwide dealing with pests to fully wrap my mind around. I understood it in theory but did not comprehend how to make my plants healthier and keep the pests from killing them. If I just keep adding more wood chip mulch and organic fertilizers to the soil will all of my pest problems disappear? The solution to healthy soil and a balanced growing environment is based not on one single factor, but rather on an entire system that is functioning healthily together. Many factors play into creating a balanced Back to Eden Garden with healthy, hardy plants including humidity, too much or too little moisture in the soil, lack of nutrients and minerals, too much raw material in the garden, lack of pollinators and beneficial insects, not enough plant diversity. All of these problems are of course caused by us as humans interfering with the environment improperly instead of mimicking the design of nature.

Trying to mimic nature can be challenging! Mostly because it means doing less! When we find that we are doing too much labor in our gardens bringing in a ton of organic mulching material too frequently or too thick, watering more than necessary, over-fertilizing, or disturbing the soil we are usually not on track with mimicking the incredibly slow, self-regenerative, prolific design of nature. Even adding too much nitrogen can stimulate too much new growth and attract aphids. Stepping out of balance from slow is an almost unavoidable error as our human nature is to eagerly fast track the cycle of nature to see results in our gardens quicker. We can easily justify to ourselves that our livelihoods depend on fast growth results. However, we sadly pay for our errors in the long run by actually reducing our yields and the food nutrient density when we don't implement organic permaculture methods. Just be aware each decision you make has a domino effect, impacting your entire growing system. The best solutions are to prevent pest problems with organic pest control and implementing permaculture growing principles. Permaculture literally means permeant culture. The idea is that if you create a habitat in your garden that functions as a self-sufficient system, as seen in nature, this will eliminate the need for any major human interference to effectively control pest problems.
Consider the amount of ground covering trees naturally shed in the forest during a year. 4-6 inches of wood chips is a safe depth to avoid over-mulching. Consider how much rain your region gets annually. It’s easy to overwater because people do not take the time to reach down into their soil below the wood chips and touch it to see how wet it really is! The mulch on top can appear to be very dry even when it’s very damp below. Too much moisture again causes rotting in plants and therefore attracts more insects to your plants when they begin showing symptoms of weekend immunity. If you see a plant with an infestation try to understand the root of the problem.
Plan your garden plot carefully so that only seeds needing to germinate are getting watered regularly until they sprout and not your established plants too that do not need watering. In conclusion, waterless and add fully composted wood chips to avoid attracting insects that feed on raw organic matter like slugs, snails, and roly-polies. 
These creatures burrow in lawns and gardens which can undermine plant roots and inadvertently cause damage or death. Since they love soft, moist soil they also love wood chip gardens. Despite their reputation for damage, some experts have found that they do not do that much harm overall. Moles aren’t all bad. In fact, they’re 99% good. They aerate the soil and eat mostly grubs. Grubs eat the roots of your grass and plants which cause more damage actually. Grubs also turn into beetles, which feed on your decorative plants. Moles eat lots of Japanese beetle grubs, which also helps save your plants. The best way to feel with tunneling ground pests is to install wire baskets around your perennial plants and fruit trees. Install raised bed gardens with a wire mesh inlay base for annual vegetable gardens where moles and voles are an issue.
 Neem Oil Organic Insect Pest Control Vegetable Garden
There are some OMRI-certified, natural insect control methods that are deemed safe for use in organic gardens. HOWEVER, even organic pesticides should never be used unless absolutely necessary. The reason being that by interrupting the population of a negative insect you may be robbing a natural food source from a beneficial insect population like pollinators. There is always an impact on more than just the insect that you are trying to get rid of. The beauty of backyard gardens, homesteads is that pests can often be controlled without the need for sprays, even organic ones. Don't panic if you see insects. Our first human instinct is to kill them all immediately. Learn to observe them instead. They are often a sign that your plant is expired, under stress, or simply not happy with the growing conditions. You will often witness that ladybugs or other beneficial insects show up to feed on the bugs. This not only provides the beneficial insects a reason to stay around your garden and work for free as pest control, but they also often help with pollination which will increase your yields. also It's sometimes better to remove the plant and start fresh or improve the growing conditions.
  • Diatomaceous Earth: You can use food grade diatomaceous earth to help manage an out of balance population of insects with an exoskeleton like ants, Japanese beetles, sowbugs, earwigs, potato bugs, etc.
  • Neem Oil: Neem oil can be diluted in water with natural dish soap in a BPA-free spray bottle and sprayed onto plants for treatment again many types of orchards and vegetable garden insects as well as an effective preventative of fungal disease and mold on the leaves and stems of plants. It is very helpful for any organic gardener to have on hand.
  • Beneficial Nematodes: You can also add beneficial nematodes to your soil to help control overpopulations of grubs.
Make sure to read instructions on how to use these organic pest control treatments with care so that you don’t accidentally hurt your plants or beneficial insects.

Healthy gardens will not have excessive insect infestations. Find the root of the problem. Try to implement a minimally invasive, holistic, organic and preventative approach in your garden. Plan for long-term solutions instead of battling pests constantly without actually solving the root of the problem.

 1. DON'T OVER WATER to avoid attracting harmful insects! In fact, if you live in many climates you don’t need to water at all unless your germinating seeds! “I realized that Texas provides enough rain for all our native food-producing plants I decided to give it a try (Back to Eden Gardening). And I'm so glad I did! This one 15x20 garden gave us over 1500 pounds of food without a single drop of water from us, and when temperatures were well into the 100s!” - A Modern Homestead

 2. DON'T ADD TOO MUCH RAW ORGANIC MATTER during the growing season. Add sufficiently composted material. Insects are attracted to fresh organic matter and green waste. It’s part of their natural purpose to feed on cellulose and fiber from vegetable scraps, leaves, plants, wood. In fact, insects and beneficial bacteria actually help break down cellulose like raw wood chips into compost. However, when you add too much fresh wood chips, fresh manure or vegetable compost that hasn’t fully decomposed, the insects will crawl in like a magnet to feed on the raw organic material. Then when your baby seeds sprout they will be glad to add these to their salad buffet! This is another reason why adding fresh organic materials like wood chips is best just before winter. This way by the time the warmer planting season arrives the insects have subsided and the frost has helped keep pests at bay. The more mild your winters are the more likely you will see a higher population of insects in your wood chip garden in the spring. 

3. DON'T OVERCROWD WHEN PLANTING Leaving mature plants growing too closely together can cause plants to be more prone to excessive moisture and decomposition which can attract insects which can, in turn, attract animals. On the flip side, you can direct sow your rows thicker and thin them early on to fill in the gaps where any seeds didn't germinate or seeds didn't come up.
Lady Bug Beneficial Insects
4. BENEFICIAL INSECTS  Although some may argue that all insects are beneficial in some way, there are some insects that have earned an especially positive reputation in the gardening community. These insects naturally help ward off the insects that cause the most damage to our crops. Ladybugs, lace wigs, and praying mantis all feed aphids. In addition to wasps that eat the aphids, there are parasitic wasps that lay their eggs inside the aphids. Aphids are eaten by so many beneficial insects. If you try to kill off the aphids at the bottom of the beneficial insect food chain, then the beneficial insects leave your garden searching for other food sources. As we mentioned above Beneficial Nematodes are also a helpful addition to add to your soil to naturally balance the grub population. Some animals can help to have around for certain pest control problems.
5. BENEFICIAL ANIMALS Dogs and cats have been farmer's faithful companions in protecting their crop fields for ages. When it comes to birds, voles, moles, deer, even raccoons having the scent of other animals can help deter them. Or allowing them to chase them off for you can also work well. Although free-range chickens are a gardener's best friend when it comes to reducing soil-borne pests. Chickens can be incredibly helpful in reducing infestations of grubs, roly polys, earwigs, and other ground-dwelling insects. Be aware that slugs, worms, and snails that are infected with gapeworms can cause health problems in chickens. Since chickens also will consume beneficial insects be aware of where you allow them to free-range and how frequently.  
Companion Planting Flowers Organic Gardening
6. COMPANION PLANTING When you design your garden, it is a hugely beneficial practice to a plant healthy diversity of companion plants within your garden. Companion plants can even be perennial which means once you get them established you will never have to worry about replanting in many climates. Doing your research from the start to find the best plants to prevent the insects or pests you struggle with within your area can save years of battling pests ineffectively. Choosing the proper plants will create a self-sufficient garden that naturally keeps damaging pest populations under control without work. Interplanting Marigolds can help deter aphids. Nasturtiums are called a "trap crop" because they attract aphids to themselves instead of your cabbage for example. Planting Garlic and onions as border plants can help ward off insects. Basil, Bay leaf, Chives, Chrysanthemums, Dill, and many more edible plants are repellents to specific pests. Where you plant everything matters in relation to other plants and their pest resistance. 
6. PLANT NATIVE PLANTS Native plant varieties will be better adapted to your regional growing conditions. This makes them easier to grow with less watering and greater natural resistance to pest problems. Native pollinator attractors are especially wonderful to create a garden space with natural pest control from beneficial insects.

7. PLANT ORGANIC SEEDS When you buy organic seeds they are required to have been grown in certified organic growing conditions. When seeds are not grown organically they may have been treated with chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, and chemical pesticides. The seed has a built-in genetic memory of its growing conditions. Plants becoming dependent on chemicals to fight off pests for them and their own natural immunity to pests and diseases becomes genetically weakened. When you buy organic seeds they are better adapted to have resistance to pests in organic growing conditions like your Back to Eden Gardens.
Organic Seeds for Organic Gardens
9. NEVER USE TOXIC PESTICIDES In holistic health principles we learn that the best way to maintain health is to treat the root of disease, not just the symptoms. Think about what this means. It's easy to ignore what is causing a problem and just attack the symptoms of it relentlessly without ever resolving the problem. If you spray chemicals in your garden anywhere you will almost certainly end up ingesting those same toxic, cancer-causing agents. Your water supply, soil, and food will become contaminated. Instead, treat the root of the problem without chemicals. For example, a slug infestation happens in your garden. Find the cause. Am I watering too much? Is there too much raw material? Rake away debris to allow the soil to dry from excessive moisture or attractant food for the slugs. 
Insect Control Organic Gardening
10. DISTRACT THE INSECTS If you are finding that your direct sowed seeds are sprouting and getting destroyed by insects before they have a chance to mature chances are one of the above issues is our of balance. However, a trick that can be helpful is to distract the insects by giving them something more tempting to feed on rather than your sprouts. I have found large cabbage leaves, chard, anything I have excess of works well to lay on the ground near a newly planted area after the seeds germinate. Do not cover the sprouts, just place the leaves near by a few inches away. The roly polys and slugs etc. will be attracted to the fresh decaying matter and feed on it at night instead of your sprouts. I like to think of it as a tithe to the gardens. Once your sprouts mature for. a few weeks these insects will no longer be a threat to them. Alternatively, you can set out a cup of beer flush with the soil level top and slugs and roly polys insects will crawl in and drown.
We will be sharing articles digging into more depth about the most common specific pest problems and solutions in Back to Eden Gardens. If you have a pest problem question or a recommended solution you'd like to share please leave a comment below!

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