In The Garden With KokHeong: Integrated Pest Control

Los Alamos

t’s really discouraging when a plant that I’ve started from seed and nurtured for months is destroyed by pests before it matures. I’m willing to share my fruits and vegetables with other life forms, but when one of them gets out of control, I consider it an invasion!

 The best way to control pests is, of course, by establishing an ecological balance between predators and preys. This, however, cannot be achieved overnight. Bird feeders bring in all kinds of birds to keep worms and insects under control. Growing herbs that attract ladybugs keeps down aphid population. Even my cats are responsible for keeping away the bunny rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and gophers by their scent. I use a pine-based compostable cat litter and jealously hoard the resulting urine-soaked saw dust to sprinkle around areas where I want to keep these critters away. My garden is a certified wildlife habitat, providing food, water, shelter, and places for wildlife to raise their babies. I know to tread carefully around my periwinkle patches and clumps of red-hot pokers because these are habitats for garter snakes that keep mice and other small rodents in check. By creating different kinds of habitats for wildlife, I hope that my visitors can come to a balance in their co-existence.

Physically removing the pests, if possible, is my preferred way of controlling them. At the peak of the growing season, I inspect my garden on a daily basis, picking off cabbage worms and squishing harmful bugs before they do too much damage. A concentrated stream of water from the “jet” setting on my garden nozzle will knock off much of the aphids from my cherry tree. A solution of 1 teaspoon of sodium bi-carbonate (baking soda) in a quart of water raises the pH enough to control downy mildew on my roses and other plants. An emulsion made from a few drops of hot Szechuan chili oil in a spray bottle of water gives enough pungency to my salad greens and other leafy vegetables to discourage flea beetles, leaf miners, and other small insects. Many gardeners use garlic water to control small insects and other pests but I prefer to eat the garlics. In places where slugs are a problem, gardeners leave cans of diluted beer by their plants to trap them. Personally, I don’t keep beer around, but if I did, I would rather share it with some friends than get some slugs drunk. Let them try my obstacle course of pulverized eggshells instead! If earwigs are out of control, I make up a tasty concoction of bacon fat, soy sauce, and some water in a small tub (like those that come with hummus) covered with a lid punched with big enough holes, and leave it out for them to find. They crawl into the tub and drown.

 I love having deer visit my front yard where I can watch them from my kitchen as they graze on clovers and other sustainable wildflowers, including fallen apples and apricots. However, they are discouraged from visiting my backyard where most of the vegetables are grown. I don’t have an 8’ tall fence, but I have planted bushes and prickly perennials on the outside along the fence so that the deer can’t see what’s in the backyard. An arched pergola with grapevines further obstructs their view. The one vulnerable spot is the gate where occasionally, a deer would jump over into the backyard and cause some damage. Since I’ve installed a wind spinner on the outside, this has not happened. 

Erecting a physical barrier is an easy way to keep some pests away. Growing vegetables in raised beds keeps the damage from creepy-crawlies to a minimum. Covering young seedlings with frost covers not only keeps them warm, but also protects them from cabbage worms, flea beetles, grasshoppers, and small rodents. A fence around tender greens keeps rabbits away. Wrapping bunches of fruits where I can reach with organza bags or a fine mesh before they ripen ensures that I will enjoy some undamaged fruits while still be able to share some with the birds, squirrels, and deer. A strong mesh wire sunken basket keeps gophers from getting into my potatoes. Planting lavender, verbena, oregano, thyme, marigold, and other plants with strong scents keeps some pests away.

 When all the above measures are not enough, I will resort to buying and using bio pesticides like neem oil and food-grade diatomaceous earth. Mother Earth News has published a very good list of natural remedies for garden pests. Simply google “Organic Pesticides” to access the publication online.

What other forms of pest control do you use?