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Pest Control in Five Easy Steps for Safe Organic Gardening

Working with nature is a key aspect to my method of growing nutritional healthy fruit and veg for the family.

Frogs on Patrol

Frogs on Patrol

Getting the Right Balance Between Pest Control and Nature

As an organic gardener not wishing to use chemicals where possible I try to work with Nature to establish a safe organic eco-system. An eco-system that's organically safe for wildlife, pets and humans and which provides me with sufficient harvests from my back garden to feed us most of the year. This is achieved through Organic Pest Control without too greater a crop loss to those little critters that looks like little aliens when viewed under the magnifying glass.

If these little creatures, whose sole purpose in life seems to be to breed in order to eat as much of your precious crops as they can so as breed more of themselves, didn't look so ugly to us Homo sapiens we might, just might, have more qualms about trying to control them.

I feel that all life is precious, including those pesky pests (provided they don't overrun my garden), so in pest control I'm probably more tolerant than many other gardeners in allowing these little bugs their own meagre existence provided they don't take more than their fair share of my garden.

Therefore, the five methods (five simple ways) to pest control in an organic garden are highlighted and discussed in this article; these being my main weapons of pest control when battling with these creatures of nature. For organically safe pest control ways to maintain a healthy and naturally balanced organic garden in a controlled and balanced way by working with nature and not upsetting the natural eco system which over the years I've managed to create and maintain in my own little back garden.

1. Wildlife Pond

To Encourage Natural Predators of Pests

Working with Nature to Create an Eco System

This is my first line of defence, working with nature to build up and maintain an eco-system that encourages and benefits wildlife, and in return the natural wildlife helps to control my garden of unwanted pests.

When I say wildlife pond I mean a pond for wildlife rather than fish in that fish take valuable food and oxygen from the pond without contributing to its eco-system; and are rather prone to eat some of the pond wildlife anyway.

The sort of wildlife I'm interested in attracting to the pond include toads, frogs and newts as its inhabitants; and birds, hedgehogs and foxes as friendly visitors to the garden, encouraged by the pond as a fresh water source. All these beneficial creatures to the organic gardener encouraged to visit your garden or live there because of your wildlife pond, enjoy a morsel or two of what to us are pest in the garden and thus are most welcome to my garden.

Admittedly some species of birds may be more interested in your vegetable crops than the pests on them but the only problem I've had with that was the blueberry bushes, which I resolved by relocating the bushes to in front of a south facing fence; which has deterred the birds, presumably as it restricts their sight and flight in the event of danger.

Some may wonder what benefit urban foxes are to the organic gardener, but what most people may not know is that invertebrates (including slugs and snails) is an important part of the foxes diet. Studies have shown that invertebrates is over 15% of the urban foxes diet in Bristol and more than 20% of their diet in London.

Sink or Swim

Since I've created a wildlife pond for my garden, other than during long wet summers, the slug and snail population has declined to manageable levels. So much so that all the surrounding neighbours (who have informed me of a noticeable increase of frogs in their garden) have since ceased using slug pellets because they have also noticed a significant drop in slugs and snails in their gardens.

I have respect for all life so although slugs and snails can be a pest, provided they don't venture onto my vegetable crops I'm more than happy to leave their fate in the hands (or rather paws and mouths) of the beneficial creatures attracted to my garden by the wildlife pond.

However, if the occasional snail ventures onto a vegetable for a bite and snooze then I'll offer it to the tadpoles in the pond where it will either sink or swim, giving it a second chance of survival if it makes it to the edge of the pond; as some do. If it makes it to the edge and onto dry land I say 'good luck' to it provided it doesn't make a beeline for the vegetables again. Some might say I'm too sentimental, but in my view it's only trying to eat to survive and it's not its fault that we also have a taste for cabbages and Brussels sprouts.

You can read more about wildlife ponds by visiting my 'Wildlife Pond' lens, and read about the Urban Fox on my 'British Urban Fox' lens.

Wildlife Pond

Wildlife Pond

The Wildlife Pond in Our Garden

A short video I made of the wildlife pond in our back garden which with water features and night lighting is an ideal centre piece when holding garden parties or BBQs. And at the same time provides a natural habitat for all those frogs, toads and newts who love feeding off the pests in your garden.

Our Wildlife Pond Revamped With New LED Lighting

2. Washing up Liquid

A Traditional Organic Pest Control

An age old remedy for the organic gardener

Yes, a squirt of washing up liquid in some water (soapy water) is an age old remedy used by organic gardeners to control black fly for eons. It's simple, quick, cheap and effective; and above all not harmful to animals or humans.

I use it sparingly because I don't want to upset the friendly insects to much, such as ladybirds (lady bugs in American); but if the ladybirds aren't playing their role in keeping pest insects under control, mainly black fly and green fly then to save the crops I have little choice but to step in with a spray or watering can of soapy water once a week when needed to keep things under control.

When used, soapy water works almost immediately and is almost 100% effective; and is a pest control that has been advocated by most organic gardeners for eons.

Insecticidal Soaps

Made From Plant Derived Fatty Acids

If you wish to buy an insecticidal soap rather than using your own soapy water then these products, unlike many others that uses chemicals harmful to wildlife, uses natural plant derived fatty acids. Thereby making it safe to the environment and wildlife and means that it can be used up to the day of harvest; the fatty acid works by weakening the insect's waxy protective outer shell.

3. Sluggo

For Safe Organic Slug and Snail Control

Kills Snails and Slugs Organically, While Fertilizing Your Soil

I can remember, and not that many years ago either, when slug pellets was a big no for organic gardeners because of its devastating effect on wildlife, whereas a wildlife pond to encourage wildlife that feeds on slug and snails is an effective and natural line of defence working with nature. However, if you don't have a wildlife pond, or you need extra defences against this pest then this product below by Sluggo which is harmless to wildlife and pets has been approved for organic gardening. It's a blend of bait additives such as mollusk and iron phosphate which as a natural soil mineral breaks down into fertilizer for the benefit of your plants.

Unlike traditional slug pellets which are harmful to wildlife this product is not based on Metaldehyde and is safe to use around wildlife, pets and children. Unlike the Diatomaceous earth powder mentioned which would not generally be effective against slugs and snails because it needs dry conditions to work and snails and slugs thrive on damp conditions, this Sluggo product remains effective after rainstorms and is therefore an effective organic garden treatment that would certainly complement any other organic garden pest control you may use.

An Alternative to Washing Up Liquid

Protecting Your Broad Beans

I usually protect my broad beans from blackfly with regular applications of washing up liquid; applying it from the first sign of infestation; and then as advised, removing the growing tips of the plants once the pods have started to form as a means of reducing the attractiveness of the plant from the pest.

However, this year I tried two applications of Diatomaceous Earth Powder, applied a week apart from when the blackfly first became apparent; generously smothering each broad bean plant in the powder on each application.

To my surprise, the first rainfall washed the dead blackfly from the plants and I had no return of the pest for the rest of the season; so for once (in the absence of the pest) I didn't even remove the growing tips.

Therefore, it's definitely something I shall be trying again next year; to see if it's as effective again.

4. Diatomaceous Earth Powder

Totally Safe To Humans and All Other Animals

A Less Well Known and Underused Pest Control

This is one control I didn't know about until a few years ago when after the red mite spiders decided to munch on our pear tree. Initially my son, who was working part time in a garden centre while doing his degree in Media Broadcasting, took it upon himself to treat the tree chemically (with my reluctant consent). Although effective it isn't organic gardening and we has a bumper crop of pears that year we couldn't harvest because of the chemical control; it makes you wonder what's on fruits you buy in the shops.

Therefore, the following year I did my own extensive research and prepared myself for controlling the red mite spider organically. My research showed me that the most suitable and most promising organic control for red mite spider was Diatomaceous earth, particularly as it is totally harmless to animals and humans, even if swallowed or breathed; in fact it's a common oral remedy for controlling worms in domestic pet cats and dogs.

The only drawback in using it in powder form for insect control in gardens is it is ineffective in wet or damp conditions. It must be applied on a calm dry sunny day when there is little chance of rain, then (as I discovered) it is a very effective control of insect pests.

All I did, on calm dry sunny days, was sprinkle the powder generously over all the leaves of the fruit trees once every few weeks; and within months not a single sign of red mite spider. And not only that, but because Diatomaceous earth is only harmful to insects the resulting fruits (pears) were safe to harvest and consume.

If you've never heard of Diatomaceous earth you may be wondering what it is and how it works. Diatomaceous earth is a sedimentary rock made up of the fossilized remains of diatoms. Diatoms are a common form of algae that makes up a significant part of plankton that's at the root of the food chain in the sea. Diatoms outer cell is made from silica (aka Silicon) which has many industrial and manufacturing uses including the production of silicon chips for computers, and as we all know, the material used to make glass. Diatomaceous earth is a soft white to off-white rock that crumbles easily into a fine powder, which although harmless to animals and humans is deadly to insects.

Diatomaceous earth has many industrial uses which includes filtration, as a mild abrasive, insecticide, absorbent for liquids, a matting agent for paint, to reinforce plastics and rubbers, and as anti-block in plastic films, as a chemical catalyst, a stabilizing compound in dynamite, an activator in blood clotting, as cat litter and because of its heat-resistance sometimes used as a thermal insulator.

The way Diatomaceous earth works in powder form as a pest control is that it is so effective at absorbing moisture that on contact it dehydrates the insect by absorbing moisture from the insect's exoskeleton; hence why it's only effective during dry conditions.

Sourcing Diatomaceous Earth Powder

A Safe Organic Gardening Pest Control

Having found the right product next I needed to find a supplier. It is readily available from many retailers, including pet supplies, but in England at ridiculously high prices for ridiculously small quantities e.g. 6 for a small 100 gram (3.5 oz.) bottle to treat pets. So I continued my research and found that it's commonly used in the poultry trade to treat red mite spiders and consequently it's readily available from poultry suppliers for just 7.50 for 1kg (2.2 Ib.) bag (including postage and package). The only problem in buying it this way was no applicator to shake out the Diatomaceous earth powder onto the leaves when applying it; so I also indulged in buying 400 grams in a bottle shaker for a little more per gram, but it gave me a bottle shaker (with large holes in the top) which I can top up from the 1 kg bag when needed.

Although looking on the American market I notice this product is more readily available at more respectable prices from retailers so I guess that Diatomaceous earth powder is more commonly used in the domestic home in America than it is in England.

Diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth

Tips on Filling the Shaker

I bought a large bag and a shaker, but found that getting the contents from the bag to the shaker not as easy as one would think. Although it's a fine powder (like flour), because of it's properties it clings to itself when trying to funnel the powder from the bag into the shaker; in spite of the fact that I use a large funnel.

I found the trick was to fill the funnel two thirds, and then repeatedly poke a stick into the hole of the funnel to push and encourage the powder to flow.

How Much Diatomaceous Earth Powder Do You Need

Diatomaceous Earth Powder is a natural product that's very versatile in its use in the home and garden as an effective pest control that's totally safe to wildlife, animals and humans. It's only drawback being that it doesn't work in wet conditions.

Obviously buying in bulk is cheaper but if you only want it to control a few pests in the home or for treating your pets then you'll not need a great deal and you'll only want it in a convenient shaker.

Whereas if you want to also use it for pests in your garden then you'll need a much larger bag, most probably 5lbs. or for a very large garden maybe 10lb.

Diatomaceous earth powder bottle shaker

Diatomaceous earth powder bottle shaker

5. Companion Planting

Working With Nature to Control Pests

Give Your Little Helpers a Helping Hand

Companion planting is a big subject, too big to discuss here in any great detail. However, in brief, companion planting does serve two main purposes:-

  • It can help in camouflaging your crops from predators, and
  • Provide a safe haven for your little friends such as ladybirds (known as ladybugs in America).

If you plant your crops in long straight rows with nothing else around them then they are easy prey for the insects and birds alike that have a fondness for that particular vegetable. As different insects have different tastes e.g. aphids will target your beans and white butterflies your cabbages and other brassicas if these vegetables are shrouded by other plants that the pests are not attracted to then your crops become more difficult for them to detect from the air. Subsequently, any attacks are likely to be of shorter in duration and less severe and therefore easier for you to control by other means, including soapy water as a last line of defence.

Some insects find their target by sight and some by scent, either way companion plants help to hide your vegetables visually and by adding their own odours to the air making detection of your crops more difficult by hungry bugs looking for a tasty feeding and breading ground.

Encouraging native wild flowers such as poppies to grow near your crop will attract aphids to these wild flowers and in turn ladybirds; giving ladybirds somewhere to feed and bread and be ready when needed to help defend your crops.

Marigolds is also a very popular companion plant in the organic vegetable garden as their scent is known to deter (or confuse) some insects. Pot Marigolds (picture above) in particular is a good choice as they are also edible e.g. the petals make an ideal top decorative dressing for salads.

Companion Planting

Companion Planting

Books on Companion Planting

Companion Planting to Deter Pests

Why make it easy for the pests by planting a neat double row of runner beans with nothing but bare soil surrounding them, inviting every greenfly in the vicinity to a feast; or a neat row of Brussel Sprouts well spread out with loads of open space all around them so every white cabbage butterfly hovering over can spot them a mile off.

Camouflage your vegetable a bit by intermingling them with other plants, or grow a bunch of pot marigolds next to your beans to disguise their scent; although it may not deter every pest it will reduce their numbers and make them more controllable in other ways. And the added bonus is companion planting, especially when companioning with flowers, can make for a very informal and attractive vegetable garden, while at the same time still producing a good crop at harvest time; and all done naturally and organically without the use of harmful chemicals.

If you’re interesting in this style of gardening then getting books on the subject will be your great companion to good gardening.

Gardening Organically

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Arthur Russ

How do you control your garden pests? - Your views and tips welcome

Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 15, 2017:

Thanks for all your feedback, including the humorous ones, and other useful tips; all greatly appreciated.

Rose Jones on September 20, 2013:

I definitely have this bookmarked - this is really important. My worse pest is the blackberries which take over, every one always wants me to put Roundup on them.

JimHofman on May 17, 2013:

Excellent lens with great tips!

suepogson on May 15, 2013:

I can't get diatomaceous earth in El Salvador and my present battle is with ants - MILLIONS of them. Chalk and pepper are helping but its an uphill struggle. Great lens.

DarrenVeronica on January 20, 2013:

Wow, what a wealth of healthy information. We will be starting our first garden in the next few months, and we are total believers in organic non-toxic methods for everything, so this lens is a great help to get us started. Kudos :-)

casnider on November 29, 2012:

My pest is a bit bigger than yours. I have a ground hog that won't go away. Why should he leave when I have nice apples and peaches for him to gorge himself on? I've tried a humane trap and caught all his kin, but one remains that refuses to be trapped. I have deer as well... sigh.

GardenIdeasHub LM on October 20, 2012:

Great ideas for controlling pests organically!

pawpaw911 on October 15, 2012:

Companion planting is something I need to try a little more. Lots of great information here on ways to control pests.

Frischy from Kentucky, USA on October 10, 2012:

My chickens help keep pests down in my yard, but lately I have been having a problem with ants. I just bought some diatomaceous earth from you, and I believe that will help. I recommend using food grade only inside the home!

anonymous on October 03, 2012:

FB liked...time to get prepared for next season!

anonymous on October 03, 2012:

Your bountiful harvests say it all that your methods work, they may take a little extra steps but they are sure worth if you want ladybirds, then plant those poppies to attract aphids which will attract ladybirds to protect your garden. Very well presented and helpful for those wanting to take the more natural route for a healthier earth for us all, those chemicals don't just disappear!

anonymous on September 16, 2012:

Luckilly I have no problems with garden pests (excluding small bugs who ate my rhubarb leaves) but anyway I would go for organic means. Really great lens, loved it.

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