Managing garden pests

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

portait of Carolyn Herriot
• Nobody said growing your own food was easy and the way this year started out proved to be no exception. It was another long, cool spring, which we may as well get used to here on the West Coast, as this was the fourth year in a row of long, cool springs. It started out with bean weevils on the favas, one of the earliest crops to emerge. Notched edges on the leaves indicated a severe infestation that required action. I dissolved neem oil in warm water and coated the leaves using a spray mister bottle. The weevils don’t like the taste of the oil and leave the seedlings alone. This treatment was necessary every week for a few weeks until the beans outgrew the weevils.

I was also blessed with the first serious outbreak of flea beetles in my garden, apparently hosted by garlic mustard, a weed that came into my garden in a load of spoiled hay. It was too late to apply floating row cover over the threatened crops of turnip greens and arugula so I sprinkled diatomaceous earth liberally over the leaves and was relieved to see it deterred the flea beetles until the plants outgrew the damage they were doing.

I managed to save the gooseberries from an annual attack of sawfly larvae, indicated by defoliation as the worms chew on the leaves. Handpicking hundreds of sawfly larvae off the gooseberry plants every day for a week was very satisfying and did the trick. While all this was going on, tent caterpillars reached a peak in their cycle and it took three weeks to eliminate all the nests that kept appearing on the tips of the apple and cherry trees.

Raccoons ate all my ripe figs last year so this year I am checking my fig tree daily. I am relieved that I can sleep safe in the knowledge that the entire property is fenced to keep the deer out, but this year we have a family of white bobtailed rabbits (cute) who have decided they love the tender tips of emerging bean seedlings. Consequently, chicken wire has hastily been deployed as a barrier over the bush beans to save the day.

Worst of all of the problems this cool, wet year were slugs! We have splendid banana slugs that visit from the surrounding forest and sleek black slugs that slither up from the creek. This year, we also got large brown slugs and all three species were thriving on the rows of spinach, lettuce, chard and turnip greens in my garden. When you see their size and appreciate their voracious appetites, you know drastic action is called for. At dusk, I patrol the garden with a bucket and spoon in hand determined to save my veggies. Yuck.

This all probably sounds horrendous to you, but this is the reality of growing your own food. The main thing is not to despair, but to pay attention to what’s going on and intercept a problem before it becomes a crop failure. Now I am busy picking cherries (before the birds get them) and freezing raspberries and strawberries from bumper harvests. In the end, all the fresh salads, leafy greens, beets and turnips we eat more than make up for the work of outwitting, outlasting and outplaying all the pests.

Carolyn Herriot is the author of The Zero-Mile Diet: A Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food. She is currently writing The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook (fall 2012 release, Harbour Publishing).


photo © Julie Feinstein

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