Welcome to The Wednesday Dig…let’s dig in.
The best way to get rid of pests in your garden is to discourage them from being there in the first place. Researchers at the University of California, Davis developed a method of pest control called IPM or Integrated Pest Management that devised the most environmentally friendly way to protect plants. IPM basically has three tenants:
- Companion Planting (putting plants near each other that either strengthen each other or repel pests of one another).
- Environmental Management (pruning and placement that discourages bugs/encourages the plant’s natural defenses).
- Introduction of Beneficial Insects to Eat the Bad Bugs.
Companion planting is the easiest of the IPM methods. Here’s a helpful chart to show the correct way to plant:
One of my favorite legends about companion planting and a very cool look at how our ancestors discovered many of the things we’re just verifying with science is the legend of the Three Sisters:
The three sisters in this story are: Corn, Beans, and Squash. In Native American legend, these three plants are gifts from the Great Spirit and are watched over by three sister spirits called the Sustainers. In the legend these three plants are so interrelated that in order to get a good healthy harvest out of any of them, they need to be planted together.
Modern horticultural science gives some good reason to support the legend:
- Corn grows quite tall and can be easily blown over; it also saps nitrogen from the soil.
- Beans, particularly pole beans, replenish the nitrogen stolen by the corn. As they entwine the corn stalks, they act as a natural anchor for the vulnerable corn.
- Squash is planted surrounding the beans and corn and acts as a natural mulch, shading the ground so weeds don’t spring up. It keeps away predators with its spiky vines.
- At the end of the growing season, all these crops can be composted back into the soil to enrich it for next years crop.
For pruning, always remember the three D’s: Cut anything that is Dead, Diseased, or Damaged. This will help keep air flowing in and around your plants and prevent any moist dark conditions that lead to disease. Oh and don’t leave pruned leaf litter on the ground surrounding your plants–if it wasn’t good enough to be on your plant, it’s not good enough for your soil.
Introduction of Beneficial Insects to Eat the Bad Bugs
Beneficial insect introduction is the fun part: who doesn’t love ladybugs (and they’re easily available at your neighborhood home improvement store). Remember to water thoroughly before you release them so they can be tempted to stay for a drink (ladybugs only stick around if they think there’s water abundance). I’ve always been told to release them just before dusk so they’re inclined to stay the night.
Another fun bug to introduce is the praying mantis–these little ninjas are renowned for eating all kinds of bad bugs!
Next week, we ‘ll go into immediate organic fixes for the pesky diseases that make it past your three sisters…stay tuned!