Natural Vegetable Garden Pest Control

by Don Trotter

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Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome to another episode of "What's Bugging My Veggies". In this discussion we'll be touching on some natural pest control methods for the vegetable garden that will also work on the rest of your plants. So let's take a stroll out to the garden together and figure things out together.

Pest control in the natural/ organic garden is more straightforward than when using potentially harmful chemical pesticides. It's simpler because we gardeners are not asked to become household chemists when we approach our pest problems naturally. We become biologists instead, focusing on predator/ prey relationships within the garden ecosystem. The goal is to keep pest insects form eating all of our veggies and that's it. There is no need to apply napalm to the garden to do this, and lest we forget, pests develop tolerances to pesticides if they are applied regularly. They smell bad, they are poison to us and every other organism in the garden, and they are expensive, often requiring repeat applications. Natural pest controls allow nature to do the work leaving you and I with more free time to eat healthy vegetables that are free of pesticide residues.

When we control pests naturally we take advantage of the checks and balances nature has already had in place for millions of years. For instance, if you have lots of holes in your cabbage, broccoli, or cauliflower leaves and regularly see lovely white butterflies hovering around them, it's likely the Imported Cabbage Butterfly is rearing her children on your precious crops. The natural controls for the small, green caterpillars that are doing the damage can be to plant a few parsley, cilantro (coriander), celery, or carrot plants close to the affected plants and allow them to bloom. The nectar and pollen rich flowers of these plants will draw a wonderful little beneficial insect called Trichogramma to the area. The adult female Trichogramma will lay eggs on or in the caterpillars and once the larvae hatch they eat the caterpillar from the inside out. Another one of Nature's tools is a bacterium that paralyzes the caterpillar. Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis specifically attacks many caterpillar species and is a very effective and commonplace product in most garden centers. If you want to speed up the predation of your pest caterpillar population you can purchase Trichogramma from many nurseries and online insectaries. Trichogramma work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to keep your plants free of caterpillar pests.

Aphids on your corn, tomatoes, or squash are no problem for Nature either. A sharp jet of water will dislodge many of them, but there are a whole bunch of other insects that love to eat aphids. The most common and recognized aphid predator is the Ladybird Beetle (Ladybug). If you have aphids she'll find them and lay her eggs close to the infestation. Her eggs hatch into little black crawling insects with orange or red bands on them that have an alligator shape. These Ladybug larvae will terrorize your aphid population and eat their way right through it. Ladybugs can be purchased at many garden centers and should be released in the evening or early morning when it is cool outside. A friend of mine suggests putting them in the refrigerator for fifteen minutes before releasing them to make them sluggish so they don't fly away immediately. Release them close to plants with aphids on them and soon these predators will be munching away on what is munching your garden. Ladybugs also eat mealybugs, some scale insects, spider mites, and whiteflies.

Another of Nature's pest control methods for general population control of pests is the Lacewing. Lacewings are small, graceful, slender light green or tan colored insects that have a characteristic "fluttering" flight due to their large wings. They lay their eggs close to pest populations, and once the larvae hatch the mayhem begins. The larva of the Lacewing is appropriately nicknamed the "Aphid Lion" and eats these pests with extraordinary enthusiasm. Lacewing larvae can eat up to a thousand aphids before pupating into adults and starting the whole process over again. Lacewings are also very good controls for whiteflies, some soft scale insects, caterpillar and snail eggs, mealybugs, spider mites, and some thrip species as well. Lacewings and Ladybugs are considered to be "generalists" because of their varied taste for pests. Lacewings occur naturally in most North American gardens but can also be purchased from select garden centers, nurseries, and insectaries.

These beneficial insects are just a mere few of the dozens of buzzing and crawling helpers in the natural garden. Some beneficial insects are specific in their pest diet and some just eat bad guys anywhere they can find them. The key is that these beneficial insects do not recover very well when chemical pesticides are applied to the garden. And their recovery time is much slower than the pest's. So don't spray pesticides in your garden, plant companion plants that draw beneficial insects to your garden, and relax while Nature does her thing and keeps your vegetable plot in balance. Email me for a complete list of companion plants. Next time we'll be discussing how to keep your rose garden spring fresh during the hot months of summer coming up. See you in the Garden!

Got Questions? Email the Doc at
Check out Donald Trotter's books Natural Gardening A-Z, The Complete Natural Gardener and Rose Gardening A-Z at

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