Less Noise, More Green: Organic Pest Control Part 1: slugs, aphids and flea beetles - the axis of evil

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Organic Pest Control Part 1: slugs, aphids and flea beetles - the axis of evil

Slug on cabbage, organic pest control
How great would it be to not have to worry about pests in our gardens? I find it the most disheartening part of gardening. Just this week I had the joy of seeing all my sunflower seeds emerge, to then go back the next day and find every single one eaten by birds.  Sigh. As an organic gardener, spraying everything with pesticides is not an option or, in my option, a smart thing to do as those chemicals kill the good bugs along with the bad. We don't have to lie down and take it, however! Here are some of the remedies I use.

Slug eaten strawberries, organic pest control
Slug damage

The rains we've had over the last couple of weeks have been great for the plants, but it has also made the slugs very happy. They've been holding slimy social gatherings all over the garden and guess who has been supplying the catering - me. Cabbages, broccoli, strawberries, zinnias, green beans, rhubarb and radishes - quite the buffet!

Sluggo, organic pest control
Sluggo pellets
After trying my usual tricks - hand picking (they are the best players at hide and seek- ever!), beer traps and crushed egg shells used as a barrier around the plants, all to no avail, I have resorted to the harshest treatment I've ever used in my garden. I bought Sluggo. Sluggo is certified OK for organic use  and is safe around pets and children, but it is still poison. These little pellets are sprinkled around the plants being munched on. The slugs eat the pellets and crawl off to die. You reapply every couple of weeks.

Slug damaged zinnia, organic pest control
This poor zinnia was victim to a slug attack.

I will still hand pick as I check my plants. Early morning and at dusk are the best times to find them and after it rains. Beer traps, which are bowls full of beer left amongst the plants, do catch some slugs but they need to be changed frequently. The crushed egg shells are supposed to cut the slug's sensitive bellies as they move over them, acting as a barrier, but I found it completely ineffectual.

Aphid adult and young, organic pest control
A mommy aphid with her babies, how cute - NOT!

In all my years of gardening, this is only the second year aphids have appeared on my tomatoes and they seem quite at home. I first see them on the stalks of the plants. Turn the leaves over and there are the eggs and the young. Infestation.

Aphid young, organic pest control
OK, maybe the babies are a little cute.

I crush them as I see them and you can spray strong bursts of water to try and dislodge them but the only real way to get rid of them is to spray and keep spraying.

Neem Oil Extract Spray, organic pest control
Neem Oil Extract mixed with water and ready to be sprayed.

I use neem oil extract, which is a safe organic treatment. It comes in oil form which you mix with water and spray onto the front and backs of the leaves and stems. Once I see them, I spray every two weeks.

Lady bug larvae, organic pest control
A lady bug larvae eating an aphid.  Eat as much as you want!
Interestingly, with the arrival of the aphids, came the arrival of the lady birds (bugs). My plants are full of the larvae and even though the larvae are no where near as cute as the adults, I am very happy to see them. Lady birds love aphids and they are eating machines. Many garden centers will sell lady bugs to be released in your gardens as a form of pest control.

Flea Beetles, organic pest control
The little flea beetle 'artists'. Find another canvas!

Neem oil spray will also work on flea beetles who are turning my eggplant leaves into intricate, lace inspired works of art, which are actually quite beautiful until the leaf turns yellow and dies. I also have these beetles on my carrots and tomatoes. They don't seem very picky.

They sit on the fence, chirp and flick their tails at me as I garden.
I wish these were the only pests I have to deal with! In a post next week I'll show you the damage done by cabbage white caterpillars, vineborers, leaf miners, birds and my favorite neighbors- the tree full of squirrels, and how I'm trying to hold back the tide of enemies hell bent on sending me over the edge. Gardening is dirty in more ways than one!

How are you dealing with your uninvited guests?


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  1. Thanks for the ideas! I have just finished building a fence around my veg. Patch to keep out the rabits. But I am still to beet the slugs. I'll have to find out if I can get sluggo here in Germany.

    1. One advantage to living in an urban setting is no rabbits! I hope your fence works.

  2. Caroline it is sold as Ferramol or Biomol Schneckenkorn. The important thing is that it uses Eisen(III)-phosphat as this is harmless to almost all other animals except slugs and snails who dry out and die.

  3. Thanks, Anna! You are right, iron phosphate is the main active ingredient.

  4. many thanks for sharing Sue will look into getting some ladybirds and Neem Oil Extract

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