Nothing is more frightening than seeing strange bugs crawling all over your precious vegetable garden. A pest infestation can do considerable damage in a short period of time. But there is no way to “prevent” insect damage. Bugs are inevitable, and it’s unrealistic and actually can be dangerous to have a “zero tolerance” policy for insects of all kinds.
Ninety-percent of bugs are good bugs – they are either harmless or beneficial – doing good things for your garden, or actually attacking the “bad” bugs. Trying to kill everything by using chemical pesticides is expensive, complicated, and harmful to your family and pets, and also to the life in your garden. Many pesticides get into the soil and kill the organisms there – and the key to a healthy garden is healthy, living soil.
Once you accept that some insect damage is inevitable, it’s comforting to know your garden plants are “over-engineered.” That means they can tolerate some insect damage without any consequences at all. In fact, healthy plants can lose up to 50% of their leaf surface with few problems to the harvest.
So how do we REDUCE insect damage? It helps to see bugs as wolves and your garden plants as sheep. A wolf only attacks the old, sick, weak or young. The same is true with most garden insect pests – they attack plants that are weak. So your first step is to have a healthy garden. That means doing everything right – the right amount of sunlight (at least six hours a day), fertile, properly-drained soil, and planting the right plants at the right times of year. I advocate organic fertilizers instead of synthetic ones, because they allow the plants to grow at a proper pace.
Keep your garden well-watered, but keep your leaves dry by watering the base of the plants with a water wand. Water seldom and deeply so your garden has a chance to dry out. Arrange for proper spacing to get good air circulation. This helps the leaves dry and also allows easier access for predator bugs.
Practice good sanitation. Remove any diseased plants or leaves and pick up any fruit that falls to the ground. Dispose of these in the trash instead of your compost pile. At the end of the year, pull up your old plants and discard them as well. This will remove the eggs of next year’s pests. Keep your garden well-weeded, so pests don’t have good places to lay eggs and hide.
Compost tea is a great solution to keep your plants healthy and happy, and also acts as a fungicide, fertilizer and insect repellant