Living with the Enemy

As the summer progresses and our harvests increase, it can feel like we’ve gone to war with the entire insect population.  Before you reach for the fast and easy solution, take a closer look at some of our most common pests who are in fact carrying out some essential and beneficial roles in the ecosystem.

Aphids and whitefly are a vital food source for other more beneficial insects such as ladybirds, lacewings and parasitic wasps.  These are necessary for pollination, and in turn provide a food source up the food chain.  Infestations can look worse than they are; check whether your plants are suffering or coping with the attack.

Some species of ants are considered Ecosystem Engineers or Soil Engineers: tilling the soil, aerating and opening up the structure, influencing the levels of nutrients present and even impacting on the numbers of other fauna present.  It’s unlikely ants will have much direct impact on crops, but they do like to farm aphids on crops like broad beans.  However, if the ants aren’t bothering you, perhaps consider a way to live with them.

And finally, gardeners’ enemy number one: slugs and snails.  Many species actually do the thankless task of clearing up all the decaying matter in the garden and don’t actively eat living material.  The larger slugs and snails we see are often not the culprits of crop damage; this tends to be due to smaller slugs which hide out of sight under plant containers and beneath the soil.  Read this for details of which are the worst offenders. As with aphids, slugs and snails provide essential food for a whole host of larger animals.  Try some stealth tactics, such as night patrols with a torch to pick off the majority, or one of the many supposedly repelling materials, such as hair, coffee grounds, egg shells, beer traps or one of the commercial organic solutions such as slug gone.  You could even splash out on protecting a prize plant and apply nematodes. Even though there are some slug pellets which are approved by the soil association currently – using iron phosphate rather than metaldehyde – there is some evidence this compound is impacting on earthworms.  Find out more here.

Often the way to tackle pests organically, is by ensuring the crops you grow can withstand attacks.  This can be done by supporting the soil, choosing resistant varieties, growing healthy plants and gardening to support natural predators.  But it’s a question of balance; if you’ve got an infestation you need to deal with now, or don’t feel like sharing your garden with your insect enemies, then we’ve got a couple of recipes for organic remedies which may help arm you in the garden for some of our more familiar foes.

Garlic spray – useful for protecting plants from snails and slugs.  It is believed that the coating on leaves causes the molluscs to secrete extra slime and this eventually dries them out.

2 Bulbs Garlic
2 Pints Water

Crush 2 bulbs of garlic
Steam or boil in 2 pints of water for 3 to 4 minutes until blanched
Strain mixture and make back up to 2 pints
Leave to cool
When ready to use, mix one tablespoon in five litres of water and sprinkle on to leaves in late afternoon (in dry weather).  Re-apply every two weeks.

Organic Insecticide – Useful against aphids – made from potassium salts of fatty soya oils derived from plants – you can by this online.  Alternatively make up a very, very dilute water and washing up liquid solution and spray directly onto aphid colonies.  Just using a powerful jet of water can also help combat aphid infestations.  Under cover, keep the humidity high by wetting paths down.

Member Jean offers this solution to ant infestations:

1 cup sugar

1 tbsp Borax

1 cup of hot water

An alternative is 50:50 solution of vinegar, which can be used as a deterrent if, like me, you’d rather not actively seek to kill ant colonies.

Check out Garden Organic for more details on a wider range of garden pests and how to deal with them organically.  And get in touch if you’ve found a harmonious way to live with your former enemies.

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