May 2007

It is great to have spring here again. The change in the growth of the garden is so dramatic now. But with the growth of the plants is also the emergence of many garden pests. They want to munch on your food plants too. Here are some of the ways you can control those garden pests.

First we’ll talk about slugs. They feed mostly at night, so they can be removed from the garden by going out with your flashlight and collecting them. It would be best of you could then feed the slugs to a friendly duck. But many of us have to kill them by squishing, chopping, asphyxiating, freezing or what ever you prefer to do. Salt does work to kill them, but don’t let the salt onto your soil.

Slug poisons are common, but you must be careful not to kill the main predators of slugs also with that poison. Ground beetles will eat slug bait so don’t use that. Also, most slug bait is lethal for dogs and birds. The other “poison” and a very effective one is in beer traps. Slugs like cheap beer and will travel great distances to enjoy beer briefly before falling into the beer trap and drowning (passing out?). Because we have so much rain, keep the beer trap covered and just have entry points for slugs to crawl in. I use cottage cheese type containers with lids, and I cut out door ways on the side for the slugs to climb in. It is yucky but be sure to empty the traps after a day or two and then re-fill until you notice a real decrease in the population of slug visitors.

Removing all the places the slugs will hide, like under wood, rocks or cardboard. Or take advantage of knowing where they hide; leave out some cardboard for them to hide under, and then go out and pick off the slugs during the day while they are hiding. Generally I plant lots more seedlings than I need and end up sharing too much with these sluggy pests.

For some reason, slugs cannot crawl across a band of copper. Many gardeners buy copper strips to line their raised beds and this effectively excludes the slugs. They can find a crossing point if a leaf falls over the copper though, so keep watch for ways to keep them out of the garden beds.

The other major garden pests are the insects. There are several that can be controlled by excluding them from the plants they require. There are leaf miners that tunnel into spinach, beet, sorrel and chard leaves. The adult is a fly that lays its eggs on the underside of the leaf and the larva then enter the leaf and make lots of tunnels. Inside the leaf, the larva (maggot) is well protected from lady bugs, ground beetles, wasps or other insect predators. To keep from losing your leafy crop to these pests, use floating row cover to exclude the adult flies. This row cover is a spun polyester (like interfacing if you happen to sew clothing) and can be left on your plants without staking and actually works like a mini-greenhouse too. Sun and rain go through it. It warms the soil and improves germination. Just be sure to keep the edges well secured with rocks or soil to keep the adult insects from crawling under. Be sure the row cover is large enough to allow the plants to grow.

Floating row cover also keeps the carrot rust fly out (the pest that tunnels through carrot roots) and the cabbage root fly (which tunnels in radishes, turnips, broccoli, cabbage and related vegetable crops). I was reluctant to use a fabric to cover my beautiful vegetables, but I love eating these foods except when they are full of maggots! So, I have come to enjoy the row covers and feel like I am tucking my plants under their protective blankets. Garden stores should carry these row covers, but I usually order on line through Territorial Seed Co. or call 800-626-0866. I like Remay brand and have some 6 feet wide for short crops and then some 12 feet wide to cover the large crops, like broccoli. Remay will also exclude the cabbage butterfly from laying eggs, thereby avoiding those green caterpillars from hiding in the broccoli heads.

This may have been discouraging to read so much about vegetable pests. Keep you plants healthy and well tended and you will have fewer pests. Encourage your predator insects (aka beneficial insects) like Lady bugs, ground beetles and hover flies. Keep improving your soil, water often enough, meet the sunlight needs of each specific crop and observe the health of your plants, and you may not have these pests. Next month we can focus on aphids and correct watering. Email me if you have other garden pests you want to learn about.

Enjoy your gardening. You will be picking your peas soon. Yummm.

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