Less Noise, More Green: Organic Pest Control Part 2: Leafminers; cabbage worms; squirrels and birds, oh my!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Organic Pest Control Part 2: Leafminers; cabbage worms; squirrels and birds, oh my!

cabbage worms, organic pest control

Everywhere I look in the garden right now, there are living things trying to eat me out of house and home.  This year seems particularly bad. I'm being attacked from above, below and from all sides. If the squirrels were as obsessed with cabbage worms as they are with strawberries I wouldn't have a problem, but that would be too easy. Instead I have more pests to add to the "most wanted" list and some solutions I am trying.

Squirrel, organic pest control, urban farming

One of the benefits of living in an urban setting is not having to deal with the larger unwanted "guests" such as deer or rabbits. There are a few party crashers that are higher up the food chain than slugs, however, namely squirrels and birds. I have an ongoing problem with the local squirrels who literally sit on the fence and wait for me to be done planting something before they go and dig it up.

Netting over strawberries, organic pest control, urban farming

The most enticing plants for the squirrels and birds are the strawberries, blueberries and the peanut plants. I use netting over the berries which is mostly effective. I have not had problems with animals getting caught in the net but I know of friends who have. You can buy netting that is supposed to be safe for wildlife.

Row covers, organic pest control, urban farming
Row covers over squash seedlings

For the peanuts, I cover the bed with a row cover until they flower. By that point they seem to be safe from the squirrels. Row covers are a great solution for preventing flying insects from laying their eggs on your plants. I cover all my squashes until they flower to fend off the vineborer.

cabbage worm, organic pest control, urban farming
Row covers can also work with the cabbage white moth. The adult lays her eggs on the underside of brassica leaves. Hand picking works but if the problem is really bad,  Bt, which is a biological pesticide certified for organic use, can be sprayed at night, once a week. The natural bacteria ruptures the guts of the caterpillars when they eat the sprayed leaves. It is safe to use around beneficial insects such as yellow jacket wasps that love these caterpillars! In my experience, red cabbage does not suffer from this pest like green cabbage varieties.

Leaf miner damage on beet leaf, organic pest control, urban farming
a combination of leaf miner and sun damage.

Do you get leaf miners on your swiss chard and beets? The adults are little flies that lay their eggs inside leaf tissue. The larvae eats its way around the leaf, leaving a trail. When ready to pupate,  the worm falls to soil and buries a couple of inches down where it stays for a couple of weeks only to emerge as a fly and start the cycle all over again. I struggle with this pest every year and it seems to me I have to break the cycle. I can use row covers at the start of the cycle in April, use sticky traps to catch the adults, then remove infected leaves, use neem oil to stop the larvae from maturing and cover the soil under the plants to prevent the larvae entering.

Using organic methods to combat pests is a lot of work. It takes time and vigilance to be effective but the more time I spend in my garden understanding how my little ecosystem works, the better gardener I become.

How do you deal with these pests?


If you missed my first post on organic pest control you can see it here: Organic Pest Control Part 1: slugs, aphids and flea beetles- the axis of evil

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