© Scott Hitchins
Note: ‘Bug’ specifically refers to sucking insects, but we are using it here in the general sense to cover all insects, arthropods, arachnids and so-on.
First, a little garden philosophy:
In the past, most people’s attitude to gardening seemed to be “If it moves, kill it. If it doesn’t, mow it or cut it down!” We have now come to realise that everything in our gardens interacts with everything else: If you spray to kill a pest, you are leaving an ideal niche for another pest to come along. It’s just like pulling out a weed and leaving bare soil where, very soon, a new weed will grow because most weeds are adapted to take advantage of freshly disturbed soil. These days, we try to look at the garden as a whole ecosystem, trying to help bring about a balance so that no one Bad bug dominates because it is being controlled by the Good bugs that we have encouraged to stay.
Observe first, act only if necessary:
Unless your garden is a poisoned wasteland, you will find bugs on your plants. STOP! Watch what they are doing: Can you see any damage? Are these the bugs which did the damage? Is the damage really affecting the plant or is it only cosmetic damage? What sort of damage is it (chewing, sucking, shrivelling, swelling)? Are there other bugs present? –What are they doing: Helping or harming the bad bugs? –Who seems to be winning?
Stage 1: When in doubt, do nothing but keep observing.
Stage 2: If there seems to be rather a lot of bad bugs, apply Rule of Thumb: squash as many clusters of bugs as you can mange in a few seconds. This way, you have temporarily reduced their numbers to a level where any damage is minimal. However, you have left enough to feed and attract predators to continue to keep them in check. If they are tiny flying bugs like Whitefly, give the plant a shake every time you go past. This will disturb them and expose them to predators and the weather.
Stage 3: If stages 1 & 2 don’t do the job or if the bad bugs are widely dispersed or the damage is becoming severe, then it may be time to carefully use a ‘safe’ spray or other methods.
“The cheque is in the mail”, “‘There will be no increase in taxation”, “This spray is safe”, and other untruths:
When DDT was first released, schools would dust the kids with it to control head lice, Asbestos was hailed as being safe for hundreds of uses, Glyphosate (Such as Roundup) has long been claimed to be safe but has since been shown to kill frogs, to last a long time in the environment and has been linked to kidney cancer and other medical problems. So accept any promises from off-the-shelf sprays with caution.
Spraying is Bee leaving: Even ’Safe’ sprays like pyrethrum will kill the good bugs as well as the bad. It will also kill pollinators such as bees. Also, make sure that you read labels carefully: Many preparations proclaim their natural, ingredients in large, flashy writing but in the fine print, you’ll find all sorts or additives and poisons doing much of the real work,
The Good, the Bad and the Bug-ly:
There are an endless number of bugs and many more common names for them: Try this website for photo I.D. and descriptions of their habits & diet:
Slugs & snails:
Bill Mollison, co-developer of Permaculture, when advising a woman about dealing with the many slugs which were destroying her garden, said “You don’t have a Slug problem, you have a Duck deficiency” In other words, the problem is not the pest itself, but an imbalance that allows it to reach problem numbers.
The most effective way to reduce your slug & snail population is to get out there on a wet night with a torch and a bucket. You can seriously reduce the breading population and the snails can be fed to the chickens as home-grown protein or squished and added to the compost. Follow-up with beer traps at strategic places to keep the numbers in check (and to provide the chickens with an occasional meaty soup).
Beetles and other hard-shelled bugs:
Harlequin bugs, Earwigs, Aphids and even Scale insects all breath through holes in their shells called spiracles. Spraying with soapy water or, even better, White oil, blocks these holes and makes the bugs suffocate as well as dispersing the natural lubrication between the shell sections so that they grind themselves to death if they don’t suffocate first. –So, good fun all-round.
Persistent bugs like Harlequin beetles will require you to keep at them to reduce numbers, sometimes over a couple of seasons. Spraying during the mating season will allow you to kill them two at a time but it is well worth searching out their winter hide-outs as they will often gather in their hundreds under rocks, piles of bricks or timber or behind downpipes and fence palings. Track them down and have a squish-fest!
Combine 1 cup any vegetable oil with ~ 3Tablespoons of liquid soap. Store in a jar until needed. To use: Add about 2 Tablespoons of the mixture to a litre of water in a spray bottle. Shake well and spray on any bugs sucking the goodness out of your plants. Shake occasionally while using.
Chewing Bugs like caterpillars and some types of beetles are repelled by spraying their food source with a Chilli spray: Boil-up in a stainless steel saucepan for 30 minutes: 1 litre water, 2 large onions chopped, several hot chillies and several cloves of garlic,. Allow to cool and then strain into a screw-top bottle or jar. To use: Add 100ml to spray bottle with 100ml full cream milk and 800ml water. Use on any plant-chewing bugs. This also works well on mould and fungal diseases.
The Good bugs: These include Lady Birds (aka Ladybugs), Praying mantises, Dragon flies & Damselflies, Hoverflies, Robber flies, Lacewings, Predatory wasps and of course, our good friends, the spiders. Most of the predatory bugs spend at least one of their life stages as a nectar feeder. For this reason, it is great to have flowering plants scattered throughout your garden. This will attract such beneficial bugs as Hoverflies, while also attracting bees to pollinate your crops. The easiest way to have flowers in your veggie garden is to allow some of your edible plants to flower and set seed, giving you the added advantage of producing home-grown seed for your next crop. Some of the best bug-attracting flowers are those of Parsley, Coriander, Carrots and Parsnip but, as a flowers role in life is to attract insects to pollinate it, any flowers will help.
Create confusion: Another good reason for putting flowering plants and herbs amongst the veggies is that it confuses the Bad bugs when they are trying to find their favourite plants to munch on. Most pests find their food by recognising the plant’s silhouette and other plants in amongst them gives the bugs an unrecognisable outline. For the bugs which find their food via smell, it does much the same thing with masking those yummy cabbage smells, for example.
Where the wild things are: Another way of attracting predatory bugs to your garden is to set aside some parts of the garden as ‘wild’ areas: Let some of the grasses grow, plant lots of things that will flower and self-seed, toss in some coarse mulch, rocks, branches, logs, bark etc to create some habitat. By all means, set up a Bug Hotel to attract the bugs, but a little wild area will provide a much more balanced and varied range of habitat niches. –and it’s not like you have to lose valuable garden space: Set it up around an established fruit tree or other tree and get wild in three dimensions
A year of organic pest and disease control for Fruit trees
Pear & Cherry Slug (also on plums): Dust the tree liberally with sifted wood ash or brickies lime. If you can’t get these, flour is fairly effective if the problem is urgent.
Codling moth (apples, quince and sometimes pears): Wrap a piece if corrugated cardboard around the tree trunk and dispose of it weekly over spring and summer.
Curly leaf (peaches and nectarines) Spray after leaf-fall and again just before budburst. Spray with a copper-based spray if curly leaf has been a problem or with 1Tbl sodium bicarbonate per litre of water if there has been little or no curly leaf.
Mix brickies lime (not garden lime) and water to the consistency of paint. Paint all trunks to about 500mm high. This will prevent fungal diseases form being splashed on the trees when rain hits the soil. Spray the rest of each tree (except peaches and nectarines) with white oil to kill any over-wintering bugs and their larvae. Wear rubber gloves and eye protection while mixing and applying.