Living with Pests

The question we get asked more than any other is “How do you stop the (insert name of pest) from eating your (insert name of vegetable)?” Often we’re asked this by people who are just starting out, are trying to grow their food organically, and who are distressed because their plants are being eaten by bugs. Sometimes we’re asked this by people who have been gardening with pesticides for many years. Either way, they usually find our answer hard to believe.

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Japanese beetle eating an okra blossom

We’ve never used any pesticide of any type, whether organically approved or not. Aside from rotating our gardens, trying to keep our soil as healthy as possible, and squishing bad bugs when we find them, we don’t do anything to keep pests off our plants. We rely on nature to keep pest populations under control. I suppose I can’t rule out the possibility that we’ll have to change our ways someday, but after 13 years here we’re feeling pretty confident that our chemical-free method works.

Sure we’ve had problems with bugs. This year for example the Mexican bean beetles were the worst we’ve ever had. They did a lot of damage to our beans. In other years we’ve had terrible infestations of aphids, Japanese beetles, Colorado potato beetles, cabbage worms, etc. But we’ve discovered that if we take our lumps for a season, nature will react to the imbalance and the pest problem will cure itself.

For example, one year pea aphids suddenly appeared on our peas, for the first time ever. They’re very difficult to remove by hand and they seemed to be decimating our garden. But after a couple of weeks ladybugs started showing up. Before too long the garden was crawling with ladybugs and the aphid problem was solved.

Just about every year flea beetles descend on our eggplant seedlings, skeletonizing the leaves. To all appearances it seems the plants are doomed unless we spray something to kill the flea beetles. But what we’ve learned is that the plants always survive the onslaught, grow through it, and end up just as healthy (perhaps healthier) than if nothing had happened.

Last year we had a terrible problem with potato bugs. This year, despite no chemical intervention, we had hardly any. I don’t know how that problem was corrected naturally, but it was.

So I’m predicting that next year we won’t have much trouble with bean beetles.

Sure organic pesticides are preferable to the more sinister poisons. But we can’t kill the bad bugs without killing the good bugs too. And we don’t want to do that. We prefer to try to live in harmony with nature and trust her to work things out.

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Pollinators on an okra blossom

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