Attack from insect pests tops the problems farmers encounter frequently in vegetable production. When identified early, managing the insects can be easy.
Before you decide to use the more expensive and toxic route of chemical sprayer to control pests in your vegetable garden, first try some of these natural strategies.
Grow healthy plants
Make it a deliberate habit to select and grow healthy plants. Choose varieties that are resistant to common pests. Healthy plants are able to fight off pests on their own.
To have healthy plants, ensure they are grown in fertile soils. Many pests become more difficult when plants are grown in conditions less than ideal.
For example, if you grow sun-loving vegetables in the shade, mildew problems are often more severe.
Healthy plants are less vulnerable to pests. Stress-free plants have their own pest defences which more often than not allow them see off pests without help.
So, grow plants in the right conditions, keep them well fed and water well in dry weather. Don’t forget to feed the soil with plenty of well-rotted organic matter such as compost to promote a thriving root system that supports healthy growth above ground.
Spend a little time researching seed catalogs for suitable varieties to reduce pest problems later on. Look out for carrot-fly-resistant carrots, for example, or seek out potatoes that shake off eelworm attacks. Raising happy, healthy plants is one of the easiest steps toward preventing pests in your garden.
Use physical barriers
Install physical barriers to separate the pests and plants. Insect mesh or floating row covers will stop any pest from getting near your hard-won crops. Cover pest-susceptible plants with floating row covers.
Allow covers to rest on the plants or support them on hoops. Secure them around the edges so pests can’t gain access by just walking in at soil level. Make sure there’s plenty of slack in the cover and pin the sides to the ground to keep sneaky pests from crawling under the edges.
Covers are a great solution for caterpillar-prone brassicas and for barring entry to the likes of carrot fly, aphids and squash bugs. Remove the row cover when the plants come into flower to allow access to pollinators.
Inter-plant crops with one another to increase diversity in your garden. This confuses passing pests because they will find it harder to attack their preferred crop.
You can inter-plant different vegetables, or mix up vegetables with herbs or flowers to create a more diversified and confusing planting pattern. By inter-planting different vegetable crops with each other and with flowering herbs and annuals pests may have a more difficult time locating their host plants. Grow vegetables with coloured leaves, like purple varieties of cabbage or kale, that insects won’t expect.
Rotate your plants each year.
Avoid planting the same plants in the same location year after year, especially if you grow vegetables in raised beds. Rotation prevents pests that are specific to certain plants from building up in your garden.
[The writer is an expert on sustainable agriculture]