Monday, July 06, 2009

More about the Garden

In the July 2009 garden update, Alice asked "How do you organically control bugs from eating your tomatoes and crops?" I wish I could say I have some magic silver bullet, but I do not. I will list a bunch of my thoughts on the matter, since I do not have the attention span to organize them all into a coherent, flowing narrative. Just because I list it doesn't mean that I strongly believe it is the cause of our lush garden.

We're Just Lucky?
We haven't really done much to prevent pests. Have they just not found us yet? Are we in an ideal ecological environment? Who knows?

No Pesticides, Organic or Not + Beneficial Insects
Whether out of laziness or being too cheap, we have not used any form of pesticides this year. The driving factor behind this policy was because we wanted lots of beneficial creatures in our garden this year. Perhaps the beneficials are doing their job? I have seen hoverflies, ladybugs, soldier beetles, praying mantises, anoles, skinks, braconid wasps, ouchy stinging wasps, leafcutter bees, and honey bees in our yard this year. I do not believe the last two on the list actually do anything to control pests. Anyways, who knows how many more beneficial creatures there are that I have not seen..

Not Hard to Keep Bugs Off Tomatoes
We have had limited success in growing heirloom tomatoes from seed ourselves. But once a tomato plant is established in our garden, it usually lives out a relatively long and healthy life. We have not yet encountered a bug that will completely decimate an entire tomato plant in a very short time span. In fact, we have observed (in our short gardening career) that tomatoes just aren't very threatened by bugs.

I can recall three pests attacking our tomatoes: tomato hornworms, leaf-footed bugs, and aphids. I don't know if there's much you can do to prevent hornworms, but they are easy enough to hand-eliminate. Leaf-footed bugs, I don't know. They only appeared at the end of the season last year, when the tomato plants were already on their way out. Aphids were not as numerous as they are on bean-type plants and did not cause any noticeable damage. If a plant is hardy and established, a few aphids will not hurt it too much, I think.

What I am afraid of though, is squash vine borers. We had a pumpkin plant that was growing nicely last year. Then we noticed some holes in stems, and then within a couple of days, it was dead. I don't necessarily mind that much if bugs eat some of my vegetables. But taking a whole plant? That's not cool.

Healthy Plants to Start With
We have applied fish emulsion sprays several times, as well as mixing in organic soil amendments before planting seedlings out. I had also intended to spray plants with compost tea, but we sort of had a baby and then while my dad was here, he dumped out the tea brewing bucket. (a small price to pay; all he did while he was here was work work work and now our house is probably worth $200 more) It seems likely that healthier plants will stand up better to slight incidences of bugs and disease.

Pest Threat Overinflated?
In our very short gardening career, we have noticed we are either really lucky, or the pest threat is overinflated by biotech companies. Aside from the one squash vine borer incident, we have not had any decimating failures due to bugs. Aphids get quite numerous on legumes, but they are always still edible.

Not to say that we never have problems...
Of course, this is not to say that we never have problems; it's just that bugs themselves have not caused us much heartache yet. We still do have thrips, aphids, squash bugs, etc. I would say that our problems come more from "failure to thrive." Many times, we have planted seedlings, and many end up staying really small and not doing anything, or they end up dying. Perhaps it's soil- or seed-borne disease, perhaps we do not water enough, perhaps we water too much. Perhaps we just don't have enough experience to even know what the problem is.

We are also growing more new things this year, such as corn, potatoes, and strawberries. Perhaps these will be more troubled by bugs. I believe that corn and potatoes are susceptible to everything and will probably die if we look at them wrong.

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  • Ginny

    I must agree that, to me, the pest threat seems greatly inflated. We spray, with organic stuff, every couple of years, maybe once or twice, on the occasional crop. We just don't mind not having picture perfect produce.