The Case for Doing Nothing about Pests

| 12/2/2011 9:13:40 PM

Tags: pests, insects, gardening, organic, ladybug, aphids, lacewings, pesticide, Jason Akers,

The highest form of generalship is to balk at the enemy’s plan.  The next best is to prevent junction of the enemy’s forces.  The next in order is to attack the enemy in the field and the worst policy is to besiege walled cities.  – Sun Tzu 

I see a problem with the way pests are handled in the garden.   

The question that is too frequently asked is:  What can I spray on my garden like magic juice that makes pests just – POOF - disappear?  Hardly ever does one ask if they should do anything at all.  I contend that in most cases you don’t need to do anything!  Sometimes it’s better to let nature take its course.   

We are too quick to use the nuclear option.  We spray everything in the garden with our favorite organic spray and hope it works.  I call that “spray and pray”.  The organic label allows us to retain an air of nobility and justice.  That’s a little like beating someone with a stick and telling them they got an organic beating – at least I didn’t use an aluminum bat.  That would be unnatural! 

There’s an irrefutable law in nature that most people seem to overlook when dealing with pests.  The things lower on the food chain are greater in number.  I call this the rabbit to wolf ratio.  There will never be more wolves than rabbits in a given area for a sustained time.  The population of prey must support the population of predator.  Thus, anytime you spray a pest you – by proxy – get rid of a few beneficial insects.  It doesn’t matter if they even come in contact with your “remedy”.   

This is the logic.  Some people will point to the fact that they used an organic spray that doesn’t harm beneficial insects.  But you are depriving them of a food source.  And if you remove their food from the equation you will either starve them out or give them the message that they aren’t welcome in your garden. 

jason akers
12/8/2011 1:14:57 AM

Todd - I spent a few years worrying that companion planting wasn't working. It took a few years. I'm glad you replied. Some people think I'm a pesticide prude. When the june bugs are eating my grapes where I haven't started companion planting I will use something organic on them.

todd reece
12/7/2011 4:40:19 PM

The only thing we ever use is Sevin. We do not sprinkle it on our crops other than the grapes. We don't use any herbicide or pesticides in any type of amount. We've always had a hands off approach, thiknking that some crop is better than none. We try to companion plant as much as we can.

jason akers
12/6/2011 4:15:58 AM


john sealander
12/4/2011 5:55:37 PM

Excellent practices Jason! Cigar smoke is an outstanding fumigant in the grape arbor, just don't get up wind of the Tomato patch (tobacco mosaic, or so I hear). It's also an excellent repellant for pesterferous children and meddling women! Actually, I have no idea if it would hurt the vines, but heck, with a sip or two of Jack occasionally it certainly is good for the soul. Bask in the beauty, brother.

jason akers
12/3/2011 5:16:05 PM

T Brandt - Thanks! Totally agree. I forgot what this stuff was even called - I'll have to research it deeper bookwise now that I've observed. By the way - no mint juleps but plenty of plain ole bourbon, rum and a few cigars!

t brandt
12/3/2011 4:25:51 PM

Great article, Jason. You described well the science of population dynamics without even resorting to calculus. It's one thing for the professional farmer to spend an extra buck per acre on chemicals to increase his yield of corn by 3% (an extra 5 bu/ac), gaining him almost $19,000 profit for a 640ac field, but for us hobbyists, who cares about maximizing yield? BTW- how many mint juleps did you go thru sitting placidly collecting data for this article? ;-)

jason akers
12/3/2011 3:01:16 PM

John - well said! Unfortunately I just learned my lesson about 5 years ago. But I was the same, my garden was white with Sevin once I was done. I never could figure out why as soon as it rained everything dined!

john sealander
12/3/2011 6:00:09 AM

Jason, Sun Tzu would be proud of you! I learned this lesson decades ago when, in frustration over insect damage, I dusted my little vegetable garden liberally with Sevin. Yes, I had some damaged veggies and greens, but I forgot about the Lady Bugs, Lace Wings and Praying Mantises. For two weeks my little Eden was insect free and picture perfect and then the 'munchers' came back with a vengence...but the predators were all gone....and eventually my garden was completely destroyed. I had a friend years ago that always planted three times as much as he could use personally and when I asked him about it he said, "one third for the deer, one third for the birds and bugs and one third for me. And seed is cheaper than fences, chemicals and ammo. My yield per sq foot sucks, but everybody eats at my house...including me." Welcome to the lazy man's garden of peace.

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