There is nothing more disheartening to the vegetable gardener that returning to your crops to find them devoured and infested with caterpillars and other pests. Unfortunately, you are not the only living organism who likes to eat home-grown fresh organic vegetables! Insects, and even other greedy creatures such as wild rabbits or deer, will gladly scoff all your effort to the roots and beyond. This not only destroys your food, but the likelihood of the your vegetable plants recovering. Nasty litter critters!
Short of enlisting the help of Ray Mears, setting traps or buying guns, controlling pests and producing healthy crops is an ongoing ordeal. But the situation can be improving by employing a variety of easy to use techniques.
Ideal pest control begins prior to planting the vegetables, with correct soil preparation, plant selection and watering practices. pH control can also help, and maintaining an ever-so-slightly acidic pH level (approximately pH 6.5) is preferred. Anything you can do to help your plants become strong and healthy, such as careful and correct fertilising, will be the best way to give your veg garden the ability to fight and recover from the presence of any pests and diseases.
Another tip is to carefully select your choice of starting stock, whether it be vegetable plug plants or seed. Some varieties are more resistant than others, and have been carefully bred for such tendencies. This is exactly what you want and a little research from the vast amount of free information on the subject which is available these days will go a long way to helping avoid “rookie” mistakes. There are even iPhone and Android apps to help make the life of the vegetable gardener more educated and organised. Have a look!
Don’t be a pest nazi!
Sure, by all means be on the lookout for harmful insects and other pests, and if you can remove them, do so. But don’t respond to every instance of an insect being spotted, with the spraying of specialised pest control chemicals. It is also worth mentioning, there are many naturally helpful organisms such as lady-bird which eat nasty aphids. Some of these friendly organisms, such as worms, treat the soil as opposed to consuming more harmful insects like the lady-birds. It’s also more satisfying to know you have dealt with your garden as organically as possibly, and using mainly biological pest control. This creates large and healthily delicious vegetables, the success of which will re-enforce your desire to grow more and more each year.
Watering in the morning is preferred, as this ensures fungus and other damp related problems to a minimum. Like with some grasses, vegetable plants are prone to growth that is encouraged by the night-time temperature, and excess moisture on the foliage. You can prevent such problem by allowing the plant to absorb the much needed water earlier on in the day, and then dry prior to temperatures decreasing. As stated before, healthy and disease free plants minimise pest damage from any infestation, that a weaker plant would not recover from.
Another tip is to space out and alternate your different varieties, so that all of one variety isn’t adjacent. By packing multiples of the same variety together, you increase the chances of a “population explosion” among the pests that like this variety, because they meet each other sooner and subsequently reproduce at a greater rate. Larger pest populations are obviously more difficult to control because they can devastate your vegetable garden faster than your ability to react to them.
At the point a plant has been damaged beyond any possible recovery, especially if you have other plants present, it is best to remove it completely. This will save the other plants from any possible contact to avoid further spread of the problem.
Obviously for larger pests, such as your friendly woodland herbivore it is best to literally separate your garden making it inaccessible. You can do this by building a simple fence and using wire mesh dug into the ground if necessary. One dear will eat the lot in one sitting, and a persistent lucky rabbit will drive you insane.
Despite preferring any form of biological pest control so as to maintain a truly organic vegetable garden, if all else fails do not be afraid to use a specialist pest control insecticide that has been approved for use with edible plants. There is now a large number of products which have been developed to be safe when using with food farming.
Perhaps our best advice is spread your eggs! By growing lots of different varieties, you will increase chances of success. No doubt you will occasionally lose the odd variety to pest problems, but you are much more likely to have more of your varieties grow right through to harvest. By doing this, you are sure to have a very successful vegetable garden.
So why not grow a little more this year and take a look at our list of vegetable or herb plants which can all be grown in the UK. And besides vegetable plants, there are also soft fruit bushes and fruit trees to choose from!