Friday, 4 January 2013

Garden pests of 2012

Our spring garden started out well ...

Spring back garden

Spring kitchen garden
... but little did we know there was trouble brewing for our young vegetables. A variety of pests and critters would descend on our garden and we were hard pressed at times to manage them with our limited knowledge and commitment to organic practices. 

Here are the list of invaders we encountered in this past year:

1. Leaf Miner
The Problem - Leaf Miner causing spinach leaves to yellow and die.
Leaf Miner damage

The Solution Pick infested leaves and throw in garbage.  Do not compost.  Continue daily picking until no evidence of infestation.  Problem can be solved within a week.  We had a similar problem with the beets and I solved it the same way.

 Healthy spinach growing after pruning off infested leaves.

2. Cabbage Loopers
The Problem - Cabbage Looper caterpillar eating cabbage and broccoli leaves.

This is the caterpillar that grows from the larvae of the white cabbage moth.
The Solution - Hand pick caterpillars, encourage bird predators, catch white butterflies before they lay their eggs.

3. Flea Beetles
The Problem - Flea Beetles eating tomato plant leaves and stunting their growth.  The Flea Beetles are the small silvery black specks on the leaves.

Tomato plant ravaged by Flea Beetles
The Solution - I received a variety of advice from my online gardening friends and I tried them all.  I disturbed the soil by howing then mulched around the tomatoes to disrupt the flea beetle life cycle.  I then planted lovage, parsley, marigold and basil to act as trap or repellent crops.  Other suggestions were vacuuming them off the plant,  applying diatomaceous earth around the plant and spraying horticultural oils. I am not sure which intervention worked but the tomato plants recovered.  

Healthy plants after a variety of treatments.
4. Slugs
The ProblemSlugs are probably our greatest challenge. They can consume a whole cabbage and strip the leaves from bean plants.  Here are the small ones that we hand picked at night with head lamps and a drowning jar.

After a night of slug hunting!
Imagine our shock to find this monster in our garden.
This guy is scary!
I did not realize slugs this size existed.  Not sure if it was the size but I could not bring myself to drown these mammoths so I practiced catch and release and let them go in the local ravine as I walked to the subway.

The Solution - We have tried numerous strategies including hand picking with headlamps at night, orange peel traps, watermelon peel traps and beer traps.  The orange peels seemed to work the best as a passive trap.  
Giant slug in orange peel trap at night
Other organic suggestions to try are diatomaceous earth, coffee grounds, egg shells and attracting frogs and toads by digging a pond (I’m still working on Timea for the pond option).  Still debating whether to use what is reputed to be organic slug bait but not sure about the ingredients.

5.  Ground Hog
The ProblemThere are ground hog holes under our neighbours' sheds and garages adjacent to our property.  We were the most vulnerable from the west side where the fence does not go right to the ground. Here is some of the damage to the broccoli; they ate it right down to the stem!

Broccoli plants chewed down to the stem
The Solution -  We bought some chicken wire and dug a 1 foot deep trench under our west side fence.  We attached the chicken wire to the bottom of the existing fence then buried the chicken wire.  

It felt like we were digging in for an enemy assault, but it worked.
6. Squirrels
The Problem - Squirrels love to dig holes in the garden in spring often digging up recently planted seeds and seedlings.  

The Solution - I found that sprinkling bloodmeal over the garden stops this activity really well.  Yes, it is dried pig’s blood.  Cayenne pepper sprinkled or sprayed can also work for the vegetarian purists.

The Problem - Squirrels were eating all the seeds from our sunflowers.  

The Solution - Cover the sunflower heads with chicken wire.  Ensure that the chicken wire is attached securely as the squirrels managed to remove the wire from some of the sunflower heads.  Next year I will attach  the chicken wire more securely and pick the sunflower heads sooner.

Make sure to secure the chicken wire well as the squirrels are adept at removing them
The Problem - The squirrels are also prime suspects, along with slugs and earwigs, in chewing off the first leaves of the bean plants leaving only a stem.

The Solution - The only solution I found for this was to plant mature seedlings rather than seeds.

Our mudroom grow-op
Despite the plethora of pests, we had a great harvest this year with minimal interventions.  Overall, pests had only a minor effect on our crops; the drought, over-intensive planting and lack of time were bigger factors. I have determined that the approach with pests is not extermination, but keeping them and the garden in balance.  Pests can devastate a crop but they can be managed effectively with eco-friendly methods.  It has been a fun challenge, kinda like Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf at times, but in the end we had a great crop.

Summer back garden

Summer kitchen garden

... and we are still eating kale from the garden!
Still picking and eating the wonder kale on January 1, 2013

We look forward to planning our garden for 2013 and exploring new organic pest management practices.

Lessons Learned:
  • Plant seedlings instead of seeds when possible to give plants a head start. 
  • Plant companion plants and decoy plants to keep pest from your crops.  
  • Plant a variety of vegetables in your garden to avoid over population of one pest.  
  • Keep plants healthy with good soil and adequate watering.  
  • Rotate crops each year.  
  • Visit your garden regularly to catch problems early.


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