In the Garden:
These Pacific chorus frogs like to hang out in my planter boxes. I know they feast on insects so I give them lots of room to roam throughout my garden.
Over my gardening career I've spent almost as much time pleading with my plants to succeed as I've spent weeding, watering, and grooming. As a new gardener, I begged my plants to perform; as an experienced gardener I set boundaries with clear expectations. As a seasoned gardener, I've adopted a do-or-die attitude. I no longer plead; I insist on peak performance. Or else!
Around here, failure to thrive puts a plant on probation. If it doesn't shape up, it's considered a traitor. In my garden, puny plants are unceremoniously removed from their beds. I think the word has gotten around because they all seem to be on their best behavior. I swear they stand at attention during my daily strolls through the garden!
My attitude may sound hard-hearted, but it's actually a defense. Keeping a sickly or stressed plant in the garden can compromise the well-being of its companions by attracting insect and disease problems, which can quickly spread.
Scouting for Problems
Daily monitoring helps me keep the upper hand against potential insect and disease problems. As I stroll through the garden admiring my plants, I keep an eye out for anything that doesn't look quite right; wilted leaves or stems, off-color foliage, or holes in leaves are all causes for closer inspection.
My overall plan is to learn about the destructive pests and their life cycles so I know when they are most vulnerable to control, and to exercise enough patience to allow natural predators to restore a healthy balance in my garden. I tend toward cultural and mechanical pest control strategies, and rarely resort to chemicals. However, when things get serious, I go to the pantry and whip up something special for the troublemakers.
I think one of the most basic home remedy pest controls is a strong stream of water from the hose. I've been successful in defeating spittle bugs by thoroughly hosing off the affected plant twice a day for about a week. The spittlebugs vanish without a trace.
When plain water doesn't work, I turn to homemade hot pepper spray. There are commercial products available, but I like making my own using hot pepper and garlic. I use 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper and 2 cloves of garlic, a dash of liquid soap and 1 quart of water. I pop everything into the blender and mix well, then strain and pour the mixture into a hand sprayer. Spraying this mix on soft- bodied insects, aphids in particular, makes the pests leave in a hurry. Caterpillars and beetles usually avoid munching on leaves sprayed with a hot pepper solution, as well.
Not all of my sprays are homemade. Different strains of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) will help control chewing pests. Bt is a bacterium that must be ingested, so some chewing is necessary, but it's very effective against cabbage worms and Colorado potato beetles. I spray this biological agent in late afternoon to avoid leaf damage from hot summer sun and I add a dash of liquid soap to help it stick to the leaves. Insects eating treated plants will die within a few days. This is a great control because it only affects targeted insects and is harmless to beneficial insects, animals, and humans.
I think monitoring the garden, identifying the pests, and using least-toxic control measures are important elements in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. I actually enjoy the challenge of trying to outwit pests in my garden. As a matter of fact, at the moment, I'm working on a few new recipes.
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