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Controlling Garden Pests

Learn the truth about controlling the major pests to a garden, from bugs to birds and everything in between.

| May/June 1971

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    The House Wren feeds its young up to 500 bugs on a daily basis.
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    The Praying Mantis eats many pests that are harmful to humans, including lice.

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Shortly before the turn of the century, advertisements for pest control appeared in scattered news sheets. They were short and to the point: Find two smooth bricks. Pick one or more potato bugs from the potato patch. Place bug on one brick and smash it with the other. Since then, advertisers have gone in for more subtle chicanery . . chemical cures for all that ails the garden . . . with built-in residual problems at no extra charge.

Unfortunately, today's promoters of the "quick cure" for every gardening problem have—by the very force of their multi-million dollar advertising campaigns—collectively convinced large segments of the population that insect pests can be controlled only through the use of manufactured chemical poisons . . . and that's simply not true. You can stay ahead of harmful insects in many non-violent and nonpoisonous ways. To name only a few: companion planting and natural repellents; natural sprays and dusts; evasion and deception; intoxicants; "good" microbic agents, insect predators and parasites; birds, poultry, reptiles and small animals; and resistant varieties of plants.


Some of those gentle perfumes which drift up from the garden are noxious repellants to the insect freeloaders that zero in on the vegetable patch. So planting certain "smelly" flowers like Marigolds to stand as border guards and in ternal sentries is the first—and easiest—step in organic pest control. French or African marigolds do an excellent job of keeping bean beetles on the other side of the fence. I find French Dwarf marigolds very effective with bush beans and beetles stay clear of my bean rows when every third plant is marigold. For larger plants which are appetizing to beetles, I use the taller African marigolds. Marigolds are also credited with destroying Verticillium wilt on potatoes and for making the soil in their root area uncomfortable for wireworms and eel worms. Yes, marigolds will do a good job in the vegetable patch.

Other flowers which make suitable garden sentinels (all terrible stinkers as far as the enemy is concerned) are asters, calendula, chrysanthemums, cosmos, geraniums, nasturtiums and tansy. Undoubtedly there are many others. I find it handier to start my guardian flowers in flats or a row of their own and transplant them (as you do cabbage plants) to their final location in the garden. You may, however, seed such flowers directly into the vegetable patch if you prefer. Of course, flowers are not the only repellers of garden pests. You can noticeably diminish insect attacks on your vegetable plot merely by the way you arrange it. If you alternate a row of green beans with a row of potatoes, for instance, you will get a cooperative effect. The green beans will repel the Colorado potato beetle . . . and the potatoes will repel the Mexican bean beetle. Potatoes will also stay healthier when you plant horse radish or flax nearby for potato bugs never stay around these plants.

Tomatoes planted near asparagus, create an atmosphere inhospitable to asparagus beetles. A few plants scattered through the asparagus bed, or along the edges of the plot will do the job. We've found the early, short stalked tomatoes most suitable because we can mulch them heavily and then let them grow with no more attention. Other kinds of tomatoes will do as well, but you would either have to stake or sucker them to keep them from wandering all over the area. In any case you can use the tomatoes when they're ripe: it's the plant—not the fruit—which does the repelling. Touch a tomato vine sometime and then notice how long the scent lingers on your fingers. It's powerful stuff!

We've also found that sage planted with cabbages will repel the moth whose eggs hatch into the little green worms that gobble the cabbage before you do. Even radishes make good companions for some plants. If you drop six to eight melon or cucumber seeds into a shallow hole about the diameter of a tea cup and plant a few radish seeds around them in a slightly larger circle you'll protect the emerging melon and cucumber plants from beetle foraging. In this case, of course, you must leave the radishes in the ground so plant your table supply elsewhere.

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