Healthy Gardens and Low-Maintenance Pest Control

Mort Mather discusses controlling insects, healthy gardens and low-maintenance pest control, includes descriptions of beetles, their damaging behaviors and how to protect gardens from them.


| April/May 1997



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Flea Beetle.


ILLUSTRATION: MARY JO KOCH

Learn how Mort Mather combats beetles and explains how healthy gardens and low-maintenance pest control can keep your garden produce protected. (See the beetle illustrations in the image gallery.)

In my last article I covered eight of the 17 insects that have made themselves known to me by damaging crops in my garden. Though this is the second in a two-part series, I must go over the philosophy and some basic facts that I believe should guide every gardener who wants healthy gardens and low-maintenance pest control. Without this, a discussion of insects has the potential for becoming a handbook for war, "There are bugs in my garden! They must be eating my babies! Kill! Kill! Kill!"

In 25 consecutive gardens in the same spot I can't recall ever having a crop completely wiped out. Sure, I got a lot less turnips than I planted one year, but I had planted too many anyway. We never would have eaten the crop that 100 feet of turnips would have yielded. The aphids did me a favor by cutting the harvest down to something much more reasonable.

I ran out of potatoes in January this year. In a good year I have enough potatoes left in the spring for the next planting. It was rodents rather than insects that damaged that crop, and I do need to figure out a way to deal with them. I'm currently trying to befriend a homeless cat that has been hanging around the house. I hope by providing it milk it will provide some mouse and mole control. But back to insects.

Public Enemy No . . . 1.7%?

I want to do everything possible to get people to think positively about insects. The vast majority of them are, at worst, benign. Consider this quote from my favorite insect reference book:

No one knows exactly how many kinds of insects there are, and figures vary widely even on the number already described. The fourth edition of Destructive and Useful Insects (Metcalf, Flint, and Metcalf, 1962) gives 686,000 as the estimated number of described living species of true insects with perhaps 100,000 of these in North America. A Field Guide to the Insects (Borror and White, 1970) gives 88,600 as the number of species in North America north of Mexico and estimates that perhaps 1,000 insects may be found in any fair-size backyard.





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