How’s summer in Vermont so far? Biblical. First, it rained for nearly 40 days and 40 nights. Then came sun-fire and brimstone, and heat met water to spawn a plague of insects. Now they’ve made our garden their lunchroom and are devouring our harvest before we can.
This particular summer has delivered a bumper crop of bugs, and I don’t just mean mosquitoes. There are swarms of Japanese beetles munching our soybeans, hordes of squash worms gobbling our beloved delicata, and a zillion other intemperate invertebrates digging into our garden like it’s an all-you-can-eat Vegas buffet.
That’s one bounty we can live without, but reaching for the chemical weapons is not an option. Instead, we’re exploring organic pest controls and battling the bugs without turning our garden into a Superfund site. If you’re facing the same foodpocalypse,
here’s what’s working for us:
- Pheromone traps. We’ve had good success with Japanese beetle traps. They have to be changed frequently (wash and reuse the bags) but they’ve caught literally thousands of bugs and stopped the horticultural horror show. There are traps for other species, too.
- Sticky traps. These are simple squares you can make yourself, paint, wrap in plastic wrap (for easy cleaning) and coat with a product made for the purpose. Stick them amidst plants and bugs will walk on but not walk off. The ideas is to use colors that attract whatever insects you’ve got. For example, yellow draws mealybugs while white attracts cucumber beetles.
- Bacillus thuringiensis (BT). Different varieties of this natural soil bacteria kill different insects. Spray or dust your plants and when those plants get chewed, the bugs become infected, stop eating, and die. Since BT typically only works on larvae (think caterpillars), not adults, timing will be everything and you’ll want to anticipate pests’ arrival or strike at the first signs of trouble.
- Insecticidal soap. These sprays aren’t really soaps but solutions of natural fatty acids that kill bugs they contact. That means you want to spray the insects themselves and not just plants. Soaps can burn some plant species so test a leaf or two and wait a couple of days to make sure your target crop can handle it before you start spraying.
- Neem oil. This natural oil comes from neem tree seeds and controls both insects and fungi. It doesn’t kill bugs outright but instead repels them and interferes with reproductive and developmental processes. Neem won’t harm plants, which is good because you need to spray them thoroughly in order for the product to be effective.
- Barrier cloth. When all else fails try a fabric cover, a see-through white fabric that lets in light and rain, but keeps bugs out. Hang it over wire hoops, wrap it around tomato cages or just drape it over whatever’s being eaten. The only disadvantage? Pollinators can’t get in either.
Remember that these and other organic pest control methods can also kill bees, earthworms, ladybugs, and other beneficial insects. Just because they’re natural doesn’t mean you should use them without care and compassion.
Lastly, never forget that I am not a horticulturist. Before you use any of the above methods do your research and make sure you do it right!
Photo: Thomas Redican
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!