A gardener’s worst nightmare has to be seeing a beloved veggie patch destroyed overnight by an army of invisible pests. If this has happened to you, you’ve probably found it immensely frustrating and somewhat discouraging. When I first started gardening, my garden would suffer badly from pest attacks. Sometimes it was the aphids munching holes in my fat cabbage leaves. Other times it was the snails doing the damage. Occasionally, the chickens got out of their coop and ate my spinach and tomatoes. Once, the goats escaped and ate nearly the entire garden!Through these trials and errors I have learnt some natural pesticide remedies. Our garden is entirely organic, so I’ve worked hard at understanding what deters the unwanted creepies naturally. Now, our garden is entirely pest free.Here are some tips to help you avoid further heartache and frustration.
Short Term Solutions
Make your own organic pesticide spray. This is easy, cheap, and effective against aphids and a variety of flying insects. While commercially made organic pesticides are available, I like to make my own; there is immense satisfaction in doing and you can even use some of your vegetables as the ingredients.
The recipe is very simple:
Mix together 5L of warm water with the following chopped veg: two onions, four chillies and four cloves of garlic. Add 50ml of liquid paraffin, which is readily available at most pharmacies. Let this stew for a couple of days and then strain into a spray bottle. I use one of those bags used to hold oranges as a sieve. After that, use bar soap to create a lather with your mixture. Spray directly onto plants every seven to ten days or as needed. The strong smelling ingredients are what act as a repellent.
For snails and slugs there are a couple of very simple solutions. Firstly, for those who don’t know already, these little critters cannot resist a drop of beer. To catch them, place a small beaker in the ground and fill it half way with beer. The snails will be drawn to this and will be unable to get out of the beaker.Because of their soft underbellies, snails and snugs need a soft surface on which to crawl. Covering your soil with crispy and sharp mulch is an excellent way of deterring these pests. Use crushed egg shells or sea shells. A dry and crispy leaf, e.g. oak, will also work.For the snails you can also try running a piece of smooth pipe, such as those used for irrigation. Place it on top of your soil and the snails are likely to enjoy the smooth plastic and travel along the pipe, away from the plants. At the end of the pipe, place an upturned pot. The snails will hide in the dark and damp pot, ready for you to collect each morning.
Long Term Solutions – Intelligently Designed Gardens
Far more effective and sustainable than the short term remedies are long term solutions. An intelligently-designed garden will be naturally pest repellent. If you design your garden wisely and plant species that are complimentary and naturally pest repellent, your garden will become pest free without the need for any pesticides. It requires careful planning as well as patience for the garden to mature.The key principle with this approach is ‘companionship’. Very simply, some plants are ‘friends’ and others are ‘enemies’. Some vegetables help others to grow. Some plants should be included in your garden solely because they are pest repellent. The rule of thumb is that whatever smells strong to you will also smell strong to the pests. Here are three easy steps for designing an intelligent garden:1. Create a ring of defence
2. Use different structures and shapes
3. Plant companion crops
Ring of Defence
Around the edges of your garden, plant strong-smelling plants. Edible plants include the onion (allium) family – grand onions, spring onions, chives, garlic, shallots, and leeks. Non-vegetable plants can be placed around the edge of your garden too. These include lavender, nasturtium, geranium and marigold. Wormwood is another useful plant. It is a very strong herb, has medicinal properties and is renowned to repel all sorts of pests. Plant this at the edge of your garden, well away from any other crops as it will also deter their healthy growth!
Use Different Structures
As pests attack at different levels, a variety of structures will prevent a build-up of one specific type of pest. On my farm we’ve got climbing plants against the wall, standard flat beds, a raised circular brick bed, a raised oblong tyre bed, and a variety of different height and shape trellises.Another key repellent is mulch. It is absolutely imperative that an organic garden has a thick layer of mulch on all the beds. In short, exposed soil is bad. Mulch is a top cover that protects and insulates the soil. In an organic garden it can be made of anything natural as long as there are no seeds. Try woodchips, bark, small twigs, dry leaves or dry grass clippings.Mulch decreases water evaporation by up to 60%. This is a massive cost and environmental benefit. Mulch also decreases soil loss caused by heavy rainfall or strong winds. In winter the mulch keeps heat in. Lastly, the layer of mulch is like one enormous worm farm and a blanket of compost. The worms love the warm and dark layer beneath the mulch. They also eat and process the mulch and enrich the soil.Lastly, the most important ‘structure’ in the garden is the soil. The stronger the soil, the stronger the plants will be. And strong plants will be more able to naturally repel and resist pests. Improve your soil quality by adding compost, worm castings, and mulch.
Plant Companion Crops
As I’ve mentioned above, some plants are friends and others are enemies. Those that are friends help each other to grow strong, to produce larger fruit, and to resist pests. Those that are enemies have the opposite effect and will inhibit the healthy growth of each other. Some common plants and their companions (enemies in brackets) include: