There’s a pest in the garden!

I thought it might be fun (and informative!) to start a new little series here on the garden blog. An organic garden is full of drama. Weeds, pests, diseases… all of these issues rear their ugly heads each year. Rather than grab that toxic spray off the shelf, we’ve chosen to take a slower and safer approach. Organic methods require a little more patience and observation, but will ultimately yield better results in the long run. And so, my aim is to explore some of these common garden issues here, and show how to manage them using non-toxic methods.

First up, a pest! Introducing the aphid. This little guy comes in a variety of colors and has an appetite for all sorts of things. They are small, soft bodied, and suck the sap and life out of many different plants. Not only do they eat away at the plants, but they also spread plant diseases as they go along.

Pictured here is one of my favorite “weeds”. It’s the delicious and nutritious lambs quarters -also sometimes referred to as “wild spinach”. This stuff is so resilient, I’ve never seen it munched on by a pest (other than me, of course). This year a lot of it is affected by these little gray/black aphids. You can see above how the sucking of the sap makes the leaves curl. Below you can see the underside of one of the leaves. They can really make their mark!

Each year, aphids make their appearance. This year they showed up in our hoop house first. Conditions seemed to be just right, with the hoop house’s soil warming up earlier than the outside garden. I saw aphids on my cabbage and broccoli seedlings. Pictured below is a red cabbage seedling covered in aphids. The organization we share the hoop house with saw the little buggers on their pepper seedlings.

Since we use all organic methods, we have to approach these problems judiciously. Since the organization we share the hoop with had seedlings that were for a plant sale, they felt they needed to take more drastic measures. They simply dipped their seedlings in an organic insecticide (a soap solution), and that cleared up the problem. They wanted to be sure their seedlings didn’t needlessly infect someone’s new garden. But for us? We opted for a less time consuming approach. We simply transplanted them out into the garden!

You see, pest insects love weak and vulnerable plants. They tend to gravitate towards plants that are suffering in one way or another. So, the first route I chose was to simply give those plants the best chance at health, transplanting them into the garden with plenty of compost. They are looking just great so far- big and happy.

Now I am observing them out in the garden, and it seems our old friend the ladybug is helping us control the situation even further! They are everywhere, munching away on those aphids. One of the reasons we try to postpone the use of even the organic pesticides is because it can disrupt the balance of the ecosystem- which, in a really ideally designed and well-managed garden will be thriving and diverse and balanced. Thankfully, a lot of the  more invasive organic options don’t upset the balance too much. However, every intervention carries with it risks and benefits. Our first choice is to wait and see how nature and good stewardship can keep things under control. So far so good!

Stay tuned for more posts about pests and diseases and how we deal with them throughout the season.

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