How to get rid of insect pests in the garden
You’ve nursed your plants from seed, planted with care and watched them grow. The reality is that a range of insects have also watched them grow and fruit, and they’ll come at them ready to feed! Insects in the garden are here to stay, and not all of them are bad. I recommend having a bit of an open mind about what’s living in your garden through each season, and I’d encourage you to think through ways to manage what’s happening in your space (rather than a total eradication at all costs kind of plan). Here’s what I’ve found works for me.
Companion plants and flowers
The more diverse the planting in your garden space the better. A variety of different flowers attracts different pollinators and predator insects that can do the eradication work for you. Having a mix of different vegetables, flowers and herbs in each space creates different scents and growth layers and can hide some of your more prized crops from insects you don’t want on them. My favourite flower in the vege garden is Alyssum. It easily fits along the border of the garden and attracts hover flies, who’s larvae eat the aphids that go for broccoli.
Covering seedlings can be a real saver for you. Brassica seedlings like broccoli and cauliflower benefit from being covered when they’re small to keep white butterflies away while they establish. Depending on where you’re based other crops can benefit from being covered like carrots and potatoes. The smaller the mesh the better for your coverings, lots of insects are tiny! I recommend the cloches and netting from Growing Things NZ.
Harvest often and early
Some crops are prone to being munched, picked at, or sucked to death right about the time they’re ripe. One way to avoid this is to harvest a little early, and let things ripen in the safety of your fruit bowl. I pick my larger tomato varieties when they have a decent amount of red on them, but they’re not fully ripe. This way the stink beetles (Nezara Viridula) won’t get the chance to do too much suction damage.
There are a couple of go to organic solutions that have worked for me.
Home Made Insect Spray
If you want to use what you already have available, you can make your own. Here’s the recipe I use:
2 Tablespoons baking soda
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Teaspoon dish liquid
2 Litres of water
I make this up in a two or five litre spray bottle. I spray a light coating on the top and underneath of plant leaves.
If you can afford to buy an organic product, I recommend Neem. It’s gentle on beneficial insects so it’s a good solution. To work, Neem must be eaten by your pests, so you’ll want to spray your plants where the pests will eat. You can find it for sale in NZ here
If you spray, do so in the early morning, or later in the evening, when the bees are at rest and not pollinating. You will need to repeat your sprayings every three days or so if you have a real insect pest outbreak, then I’d check once every week after this.
Other helpful reminders
A newer garden is still building biodiversity so if your vege patch is relatively new and laden with insects be patient, things will improve in your future seasons in the garden.
I do my best to pick my ripe crops every day. A quick flick through the garden first thing is a great way to start my morning. A few deep breaths of the fresh garden air and the joy of ripe pickings before they’re munched by something else is well worth it for me. (The odd early morning squish mission of stink beetles and white butterfly caterpillars – depending on the season, never goes astray).
A basket for harvest and one for the compost is a good rhythm for me in the garden. When I pick, I shove any dead or decayed leaves or rotten fruit into the compost bucket as I go. This removes a home for any unwanted insects and saves new lifecycles beginning all over again.
I’ve found from experience that planting and growing in season is best, unless you can grow under cover. Try not to extend what you are growing earlier or beyond their normal growing time as your vege plants are way more susceptible to pests when they’re trying harder to grow for you at what’s not their optimal time.
You can see that there’s not one quick solve all with insects in your patch. With a variety of different plantings in your garden, covering some of your crops, harvesting often, and using organic sprays only when you need to, you’ll be well on the way to growing a resilient garden with less pests, full of nutritious food to enjoy.