Tuesday, March 16, 2010

To Spray, or Not to Spray...

If you plant and then find that something else ate most of a crop before you got there, you won't be the first person this has ever happened to. The number of possible plant diseases and plant-devouring insect species, to say nothing of fungi and garden-munching mammals, is legion. People try everything: from pesticides, to bug vacuums, to ground up municipal waste. However, before you consider spraying, check out this argument against the use of chemical fertilizers.

* Plants don't distinguish between organic or inorganic nutrients, but their impact on soil health is critical.

* Chemicals are injurious to soil microbes that naturally produce plant food, creating a sterile environment that must constantly be artificially replenished.

* Water-soluble chemical fertilizers leach and contribute to ground-water contamination, and the quick burst of food they do provide does not last for the entire growing season.

* Most artificial fertilizers are petroleum based.

* Chemical fertilizers do not improve soil texture and water-holding capacity the way mulch, compost, manure, and cover crops do.

You might have to get creative, but it's very possible to mitigate the effects of pests organically. For example, when you're working to protect your leafy greens, consider trying these methods. You can banish bugs using herbs!

Scatter dill seed among young cabbages or plant a row of thyme alongside to repel insects. A mixture of boiled onion and garlic sprayed on the plants will also deter bugs. To control root maggots, spread wood ashes around each plant, digging some into the ground at the roots; replace the ash after heavy rains until maggot season is over at the end of June.

And when the those pesky pests are thwarting your every effort, be sure to consult these helpful tips from Carla Emery.

Basic Organic Gardener's Plant Defense

1. The best defenses against bacterial and fungus problems are well-nourished soil, plenty of sunshine, and plenty of water.

2. Consider companion planting with these plants, which have pest-repellent talents and/or attract pest-eating bugs: marigolds, alliums, evening primrose, wild buckwheat, baby blue eyes, candytuft, bishops flower, black-eyed Susan, strawflowers, nasturtiums, angelica, and yarrow.

3. To combat greenhouse insect pests, careful screening is the simple, basic answer.

4. In urban areas, the "plant doctor" is the equivalent of the rural vet. You can get a beloved plant diagnosed and treated by the doc's house call, although it costs. It's more likely to need more or less water or more or less light than to suffer from a disease.

5. Move each vegetable's planting place around in your garden every year. This helps avoid a build-up of one kind of pest or pestilence in a part of your garden. Don't let them just lie in wait to eat the same stuff next year. Move the target!

6. Buy resistant seed varieties.

7. Use diatomaceous earth to combat slugs and snails. (It must be dry to work.)

8. Use beneficial insects: ladybugs, predatory mites, praying mantis, beneficial nematodes, parasitic wasps, mealy bug destroyers, etc.

9. Set traps for larger pests.

10. Use sprays of environmentally safe (biodegradable), natural (plant-originated) material such as garlic, hot pepper, pyrethrum, nicotine, or rotenone as a last resort. Or mulch with coffee grounds, etc.

11. Don't leave disease-infected plants in the garden, and don't put them on the compost pile. This goes for clubroot, late blight in tomatoes and potatoes, and any other soilborne contagion. Put them on a separate trash pile or burn them.

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