Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bug Bytes

I know, amongst the circle of folks that consider themselves to be environmentally conscious, that the subject of pest control in our gardens can be a very touchy one and I certainly try my best to avoid the use of even natural sprays. However, sometimes there are instances when just good garden hygiene, organic compost and our best intentions don't always work. So, I wanted to show a few of my methods for not only controlling pest but encouraging my garden to flourish naturally. Now, I am by NO means an expert but this is some stuff that has worked for me and I welcome any other suggestions too.
The spray pictured above is one of my last resort tools. It is a certified organic spray made from canola oil and pyrethrins, thus the name Pyola. You mix it with water and spray on your plants. It is very effective against a variety of caterpillars, hornworms, Japanese beetles etc. I apply it late in the day after most of the pollinators have gone to sleep and even many of the plants blossoms have closed, so the bees won't be rubbing against the spray the next day. It does not affect bees and such in the same way as soft bodied insects but you don't want to spray it right on them. I order the stuff from Garden's Alive, an organic gardening company that sells a variety of products that I think are very effective. I buy very little stuff like this but when I do need it I usually go to them. They offer some great discounts on their products for first time buyers too. I also buy their Kelp meal for the garden. Now, like I said, I only use this if I seem to be having an unusual problem with insects, like squash bugs. My chickens won't eat the bugs; I think they must taste really bad because Little Bea grabbed one up one day and immediately spit it out and started wiping her beak on the ground!
The label says it is not effective against fire ants but I beg to differ. You just have to apply it differently. Now, for those of you that don't have fire ants, count your many blessings. They are a hideous curse here and will wreck a garden if left to it. They are one of the most destructive things I have ever seen and incredibly vicious. Alabama has had a significant drop in our quail population over the past couple of decades, due in part, to attacks from fire ants. Quail nest on the ground and fire ants will attack and eat the quail babies. There has also been documented incidences of fire ants attacking and destroying wild honey bee hives. They are not native to this area, or even the US if I remember correctly, so I don't want to hear any shit about my inclination to destroy a fire ant mound. I don't go around looking for them but I will not allow them to reside in my yard or around my animals. It is very difficult to find a natural product that will kill or at least repel fire ants and let me tell you, I have tried most everything; borax, cornmeal, salt, diamatious earth, you name it. This spring they got in my coldframe and were destroying the contents so, on a whim, I put a few drops of Pyola, undiluted, right on top of their mound. By the next day they had moved out. I was elated. I don't think it killed them but if it just repelled them that was enough. I finally found something I could use against them around my food crops!
I am also trying an organic copper spray, like Ron mentioned, on my wilty tomato plants. I gave them some Epsom Salts water, which seemed to help a little but didn't quite do it. Like Ron said, it's very hard to sit and watch your crops, that we depend on so much, die or get eaten right in front of you, without trying something. If people are going to criticize me for trying to salvage my labor and food, well, they can buy my groceries for the next year too.

I do however, try to make the most of natural methods. I haven't had a lot of luck with companion planting but one thing I believe does work is marigolds. I always buy a large flat or two of the stinkingest marigolds I can find to plant throughout my garden, especially around the tomatoes. Not all marigolds stink though, only the true French ones do, so you have to watch what you get. When I deadhead them I take the spent flower and tear it up and throw it over the plants. This helps distribute the smell and lets me get some volunteers! This actually seems to work and it does make some sense because marigolds are one of the plants that they extract pyrethrins from.

Now, these are my best pest control but like I said, they don't always eat everything and after a while they will tear up more than they help. I let them in before the plants start ripening much and before I do any spraying. If the chooks are in there I do not use any sprays, even natural ones. When they are out for the season, due to my tomatoes ripening!, I will then spray if needed. Then, when the season is over and sprayed plants pulled up, they can come back in.

I also plant other flowers throughout my garden, where I have a little room, to encourage birds and any pollinators. I place a couple of shallow dishes with water around the garden also to encourage frogs and I have noticed a big increase in my frog population this year. However, I have to be careful to help keep the frogs out of the chicken run as Henny thinks they are a great treat. She caught one one day and was slinging that poor thing every which way, trying to beat it apart. I ran and grabbed it from her, much to her displeasure, and took it into the garden. I was afraid she had killed it because it was stiff as a board but when I sat it down it relaxed and hopped off under my blueberry bushes.

I also let large patches of wild flowers grow in the yard. This encourages the birds, which in turn, also check out the garden while they are there and also butterflies and bees. Jack couldn't understand at first why I would let those "weeds" grow up in the yard that way. They had not bloomed yet and he couldn't tell what they were. So, the other day I was quick to show him this pair of goldfinches that were enjoying the dried seed heads of this thistle and black-eyed Susans I have growing around. I know this is a crappy photo of only the male but his mate was there too, on another flower.
So, the natural methods take time to work but this year I have seen a marked improvement in beneficial insect/ critter population and health of my garden. I also keep several bird bathes and feeders out. I have noticed that the honey bees enjoy the bird bathes as much or more than the birds. I often see half a dozen or more of them stopping for a cool drink during any part of the day.


HermitJim said...

Sounds to me like you are making all the right moves! Hey, whatever works is my motto!

Wish my garden looked as healthy as yours does!

Man, those chickens are really growing up!

Ed said...

Although we don't have fire ants, we have a black ant that is equally hard to kill. I've tried everything and have only succeeded in killing the grass over the ant hill. Two years ago I hired a pest control company that sprayed something on them that got rid of them. They didn't even come back the next year. This year I found three hills this spring and called the same company but this time they used some dry brown pellets. It worked awesome too and I'm ant free. He wouldn't tell me what the active ingredient was but perhaps it was this pyrethrin.

Anonymous said...

Here in TX. we use orange oil to drench fire ant mounds.
You can go on The Dirt Doctor's site to get the recipe.

Your garden and your 'stead look great this year!

Melissa said...

Argh... We discovered potato beetles on our squash and cucumbers just yesterday, so this post comes at an appropriate moment. Probably different pests than you deal with in the south, and I think the only reason we're plagued with them is because I'm on the same road as a bunch of potato fields.

I've planted marigolds and have cultivated an outstanding robin population (great for slugs), but you're right--when you see your plants wilting before your very eyes, the only solution is nuclear. Your experience is helpful. Any word if Pyola helps with potato bugs/beetles? What about copper spray?

edifice rex said...

Hey jim! thanks man! well, I'm trying to find the best natural way to do things!

Hey Ed! It might have been but I suspect it was probably something stronger, from the sound of it. Who knows though?!!

Hey V! thanks! I will definitely check that orange oil out!

Hey Melissa! yes, I think the Pyola is great for potato bugs! but just Google Pyola and it should tell you. The copper spray is only for plant diseases and fungus.

Ron said...

Great post, I've never tried Pyola. Just read a bit about it here and there, so nice to hear that it's an option when others fail.

I actually blended up some squash bugs and sprayed them all over the plants today. My first time trying that, so too soon to tell if it is effective, or just fun. :)

Sissy said...

Another very enjoyable post...Very, very. I could almost feel that sun and smell the aromas. I like your building's contrast of colors. My buildings look like that too. Those so lovely marigolds, Annie. I want some too - gorgeous! Fire Ants! I was attacked couple summers ago in Florida. Ye gads, how they hurt; for weeks after their assault on me. Left scars

edifice rex said...

Hey Ron! Yeah, I've heard about whirling up squash bugs but have never tried it! I'll be curious to see how it works for you.

Hey Sissy! thanks! yeah, poor Jack got into the fire ants this spring and they tore him up. I felt so bad for him. It takes a while for their bites to heal. :(

ErinFromIowa said...

This post was amazing! The details, color and variety! Thank you!

Woody said...

Fire ants suck! I spent nine years between TN and GA working for the RR. We are fortunate not to have fire ants here yet. I would use damn near anything to get rid of them.

I'm of like mind when it comes to spraying junk all over the garden. If we have a breakout of squash bugs
(we do every year) I'll spray, rub out eggs and squish the squash out of them. We work hard putting our garden in and our food up. I'll not go defenseless when dealing with critters that are in competition with this fat guy!

edifice rex said...

Hey Erin! thanks so much! glad you enjoyed it!

Hey Woody! You are VERY fortunate not to have fire ants!
Yeah, I have watched some people let their whole garden just go to crap because they were afraid to spray even natural stuff. I can't afford to do that either.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Hi Annie, enjoyed reading about your pest control methods and seeing the great garden photos. As HJ said, those chickens grew fast! We had an invasion of squash bugs last year and suspect it might have been the result of mulching (might have been in the hay we used) so this year, Grenville is weeding with no mulch and has used a natrual insecticide, but I don't know which one.

Melissa said...

We actually are using Neem, which was what was available at Lowe's and recommended by Mother Earth News. I don't know what we're doing wrong, but most of the leaves we sprayed it on have wilted and died. Argh, again. The new leaves are doing okay, but I killed 22 more beetles this morning.

edifice rex said...

Hey Melissa! Are you spraying the Neem during the hot part of the day or while the plants are in bright sunlight? Many times the Neem or other oil based organic products will blister the leaves because they magnify the sun's rays. I always spray late in the evening because of this.
Other than that, I don't know.