Bug Off!

I have been having the worst time with pests in the garden lately! Any organic gardener will occasionally have to deal with a pest infestation, but things have been crazy lately. It all started with something as simple and seemingly harmless as a hummingbird feeder, and let to a very frustrating domino effect.

I started out hanging up a pretty blown glass hummingbird feeder on a shepherd’s hook, near some of my roses. We already get tons of hummingbirds and butterflies in our garden because of the flowers I have planted, but I wanted to try to lure them a bit closer to E’s play house so he could see the hummingbirds a bit closer. After filling the feeder up and letting it hang for half a day, I came out later that evening and realized the feeder had an awful design and had slowly leaked the sticky syrup all over my roses. I tried to rinse the syrup off the roses, but it was a pretty impossible task.

Sure enough, by the next day, the area was swarming with wasps, coming in for the easy snack of that sweet syrup that was now all over my roses. We cannot seem to find a wasp nest anywhere on our property, so I have no idea where they were coming from. I used a store-bought wasp trap in the past (when we didn’t realize we had a wasp nest at our old house), and that thing caught zero wasps. I looked online and read that you can use savory lures to trap wasps, such as tuna or meat, which won’t interest honey bees (I definitely don’t want to kill off all of the beneficial, non-violent pollinators that are so essential to a successful garden!). I put together a trap with some tuna and water. You can make a trap by cutting open a plastic bottle, and turning the top inside the bottom like a funnel, taping the two pieces together. A lot of those things that you read on Pinterest are flat-out lies. Tuna DID NOT LURE ANY WASPS! It did however give us a temporary fly infestation and a horrible stench, both of which were really fun to deal with.

Next, I tried another bottle lure with some fermented honey. I read from a more reliable source that you can take one part honey and one part water, mix them and let it sit for 24 hours to create fermented honey. The mixture will attract wasps but honey bees will have no interest in it. That trapped four wasps, but did not really make a dent in the overall numbers.

By now, the stupid syrup on my roses had trapped a bunch of moisture on the rose leaves, bringing on a bad case of white powdery mildew. I always water my roses just at the root base, early in the morning to prevent getting powdery mildew, so it was pretty disappointing. I have started treating the mildew with neem oil (great for so many uses in organic gardening). If you are unfamiliar with neem oil, it is an organic oil made from a tree nut, and is used for pest control and disease treatment. It is available diluted or in the pure, concentrated formula. I use the pure neem oil, dilute it down, and put it in one of those big sprayers that you carry over your shoulder. Never use it undiluted since it will be too harsh for your plants undiluted.

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I started getting frustrated with the lack of results from my wasp trapping experiments, and went on Amazon and ordered a couple of Waspinators (found here). They are designed to look like a wasp nest and scare off wasps since most types of wasps are territorial and won’t hang out where they think another nest is already located. The first few days, I was pretty angry. I didn’t see a bit of difference. The wasps were happily flying all around the Waspinators. However, the past few days, I haven’t seen any wasps suddenly. I am not sure if the neem oil has countered the syrup enough so now the wasps are no longer interested, or if they eventually got scared off by the Waspinators. I am going to be keeping a close eye on things, but I think we may be in the clear! I am very relieved since I am highly allergic to wasp stings! I don’t know for sure that the Waspinators did the trick, but if you have a wasp problem and no nest in sight, it may be worth a try!

Below, this is where the hummingbird feeder originally hung. Now the Waspinator is hanging there.

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Another frustrating discover that I found yesterday morning was an infestation of black aphids on one area of my nasturtium flowers. 😦 I treated them with a heavy spray of neem oil as well. E and I are crazy about these edible flowers, so I may have gone a bit overboard in planting them. They are starting to take over the back garden, and I may need to thin them out a bit anyway. They never got this large where I planted them in our front garden or at our old house! The difference in the micro-climate from our front yard and our back yard is pretty remarkable…the front yard has shade from the pine trees, the ocean breeze, and the backyard has no shade (yet) and gets extra hot from the way the cement retaining walls trap the heat.

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The most frustrating pest experience of the week was with my little tomato seedlings in my greenhouse. I saw a bunch of grasshoppers one day, and the next day, all 30 of my seedlings were completely gone. I have had the greenhouse partially open so it doesn’t get too hot in there. Those things are voracious eaters, especially with veggies! 😦

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Free Ladybugs for Organic Gardening!

I love encouraging my readers to get interested in organic gardening methods, and I had to share this upcoming free event! Armstrong Garden Centers will be hosting a free ladybug weekend all across the nation, April 26th & 27th. They will also have some free gardening classes as well. I have used ladybugs in my gardening since I was a child and they have done wonders for my pest control. For more info, visit http://www.armstronggarden.com/pages/ladybug-weekend/

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Gardening Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Aphids

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Most gardening enthusiasts know that aphids have a tendency to attack roses.  I have been fortunate so far in my rose growing experience, both at this house and our previous house, that I have not had to deal with aphids on any of my roses.  I do take preventative steps to keep them away though.  I regularly purchase and release ladybugs into the garden.  I also regularly spray the roses with a soapy water mixture, with phosphate free dish soap.  Lastly, I spray the roses with a seaweed extract and add compost and fertilizer regularly to keep them healthy.

One evening last week, I noticed that my corn was suddenly infested with aphids.  I was a little panicked since I had never had to deal with them up until now.  I had no idea that aphids will also eat corn.  I used my air pressurized water sprayer to spray my soapy water mixture on them, and it killed them all, plus has been preventing new ones from coming around.  I sprayed all of my corn, even the non-affected ones, just to be safe.  My corn is a reasonable distance away from my roses, so I also picked up and relocated a few ladybugs over to the corn area as extra protection.  So far, this simple method has been working amazingly well!

My Method of Pest Control: Befriend the “Garden Pests”

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Most people see crows and squirrels as unwanted garden pests since they tend to eat up quite a bit of the garden.  When I recently read that squirrels eat up all the potential fruit crops, I felt bad trying to chase them away since they are so cute!  I debated covering everything with bird netting, but that seemed like it would be a huge pain to do.  I have always put peanuts out for the local scrub jays, but then I started noticing that one of the squirrels and a crow took a liking to the peanuts as well.

My cats had chased both the squirrel and the crow out of my vegetable beds enough times that they were starting to seem a little scared of eating my vegetables.  Once I started putting peanuts and a bird bath of fresh water for them, I noticed that the crow and the squirrel were not bothering anything in my garden anymore.  The cats can sleep in a little now each morning and not worry so much about chasing off the crow and the squirrel anymore. 🙂

The best unexpected bonus of befriending the crow and the squirrel:  they are actually helping me keep out other unwanted pests!  If you have read some of my other recent posts, you know that one of the neighbor’s cats has been causing a lot of trouble for me.  The other day I heard a lot of noise in the backyard early in the morning, and went out to see what was going on.  The crow and the squirrel were actually chasing the neighbor cat out of my yard. 🙂  I was so happy.  If that cat was not so aggressive toward my own cats, perhaps he would be welcome around here too.

On a side note, there were originally two squirrels living in our yard (a male and a female), but sadly the female recently got decapitated in our front yard by one of the local dogs (I am assuming that is how it happened anyway).  It was a pretty upsetting thing to find in my front yard garden.  Her “husband” was sitting nearby screeching little squirrel noises.  It was heartbreaking.  The cutest part is since that has happened, somehow the squirrel and the crow have become best friends and are now inseparable.  I have never been a big fan of crows, but this one is special. 🙂

My Methods of Organic Pest Control

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I have been gardening on and off since I was a kid and I had my first vegetable garden with my dad at our old house in Long Beach, CA.  Some places I’ve lived did not accommodate for much gardening, but I made do with a few potted plants, herbs in containers, etc.  The house where my husband and I lived last had a decent sized yard, but not nearly as big as our house now.  Since we have more space to work with here, it has brought some interesting bug prevention problems that I didn’t have to deal with in the past.  I also feel that since the yard was so neglected and overgrown for a while before we moved in, it created the perfect environment for bugs to go wild.  I have definitely had a lot more work with pest control here than I have ever dealt with in the past.

There are many theories and varying opinions about the best ways to deal with pest control in an organic garden.  I am not claiming that my methods are the perfect solution, but they are what has worked for me over the years.  Here is a list of all the methods I use!

1.  When it started to warm up here at this new house, I noticed that we were getting tons of mosquitoes coming into the house and the patio.  I have a theory that one of the neighbors must have a bucket of stagnant water around or something because there were more than I have ever seen in my life.  I can’t burn a citronella candle 24/7, so I found something even better.  I got a citronella plant (shown in the back in the teal vintage planter) and placed it on our patio table.  I haven’t seen any mosquitoes around since!

2.  Most people know that cedar lined closets deter moths, and I have found that cedar wood chips used as mulch have really been helping me keep pests away from my delicate plants.  Added bonus:  mulch always helps with water conservation by limiting the water evaporation from around the plant.

3.  I have been using Sluggo to get rid of slugs and snails in my garden for years.  It is approved for organic gardening, and I have had great results with it.  I sprinkle the little pellets around most of my plants, and have always seen a great reduction in snails and slugs when I do.

I have tried to “bury a cup of beer in your garden” method with horrible results, and I do not recommend it at all.  Not only did the beer attract a few snails, but it also attracted wasps in swarms.  It was not a good experiment, and now I only use Sluggo.  I do not recommend Sluggo Plus however since that version kills bees unfortunately.  Sluggo Plus also gets rid of earwigs (a.k.a. pincher bugs), but I have found better ways to safely get rid of those.

4.  When we moved in here, the planters in our patio were overrun with earwigs.  I noticed all of my artichoke plants were getting eaten to within an inch of their lives.  They were all hiding in the overgrown and dead ivy that was in one of the planters.  Trimming back the ivy and eliminating their hiding spot and breeding ground helped a lot.  I also started trying to train our cat Pearl to hunt the bugs, which also started to help.  The cedar mulch helped as well, but I think the thing that has helped the most is a mixture of about 1 tablespoon Ivory dish soap and water in a spray bottle.  I spray the affected plants in the early morning and late at night.  I have noticed very few holes in the leafy green plants since I started doing this.  No one wants to eat soap, not even bugs!  The dish soap is safe for organic gardening, and if you have to get a little on something you will eventually eat, it just rinses off. 🙂

5.  When I installed the raised beds in one area of my garden, I bought a lot of bags of rich organic planting soil.  The soil was so rich with nutrients that for some reason it started attracting a ton of ants.  I found where they were coming in, and poured some boiling water on them (being careful not to pour any on my plants in the area).  I then sprinkled the area with cinnamon, and after a few days, my ant problems were over!

6.  When we moved in, the existing roses had been suffering with some aphid problems.  I bought a container of ladybugs at the garden center, and the problem solved itself. 🙂  Added bonus: now I get to see cute ladybugs all over the garden!

7.  One of my favorite methods of pest prevention in my garden is the concept of companion planting.  Planting garlic near things like roses and lettuces deter pests with their strong odor.  One old time known favorite is basil near tomatoes.  I also plant marigolds near my eggplant, squash, and tomatoes since their scent also deters pests.  Added bonus:  marigold petals are a great addition to salads!  I highly recommend the book Soil Mates for more ideas on companion planting.  The concept also helps the plants flourish to their best ability by finding plants that work well together.

8.  My favorite means of pest prevention is employing the help of our cats and our dog.  They help me scare away the crows that are intent on raiding my garden, and cats are great for eating bugs.  I would love to have a couple of chickens to help eat the bugs around, but since I am allergic to eggs, my husband thinks that idea does not make much sense. 🙂

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9.  We are planning to start covering all of our fruit trees with bird netting to try to keep out the squirrels and birds from stealing all of our fruit.  The green netting was sold out at our local store, so we haven’t gotten around to it yet, but once we do, I will post an update!

I hope these tips help inspire you to grow your own chemical-free garden!  It isn’t as hard as most people think. 🙂

*A side note:  None of the products mentioned in this post (or any of my posts actually) are sponsors or have requested to be mentioned.  These are just honestly all of the products that I have found to be useful to me over the years.