Garden Pests

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Pests in the garden

What is a pest?

Pests are a problem for all gardeners. But think for a minute what exactly a pest is. A dozen
greenfly in a border is not a problem, nor is three or four Whitefly in a greenhouse. They are only a problem when there are so many of them that they cause noticeable damage.

scale insects

Nature does a pretty good job of keeping a workable balance between all the various creatures that live in the wild. What is different in a garden is that we humans do unnatural things ( - no Iím not talking about what goes on between husband and wife in their own homes!).

What I mean is we plant lots of one thing on its own - say carrots or geraniums. We exclude birds by trimming everything in sight depriving them of nesting places. We cut the grass to look like a carpet so it doesnít contain the plants that other insects - the good guys - use as breeding and feeding sites.

camellia scale

Then, when a pest arrives it has a look around and thinks ďHmm, no enemies, lots of the things I like to eat. I think Iíll settle down here and get on with some serious breedingĒ. Before long you have a pest problem on your hands.

Most likely your first reaction is to pop to the store for a spray of some sort, you spray it and watch all those nasty pests die.

Well actually, not quite all - maybe 98 out of 100 if youíre lucky. The two survivors escaped because they are slightly different from the other 98 - insects are just like people - no two are exactly alike.

Pesticide resistance

So our two survivors have something that makes them immune to your spray and they set about restoring the population. In a week or two, you notice theyíre back and, happy in the knowledge that your magic bottle of NukeEm sorted them out last time, you spray them again - only this time, 20 of them survive!

aphids on apple

Now you do have a problem because you are killing all except the ones that are immune to the spray. So as the generations go on, a bigger and bigger proportion of each successive generation of bugs is immune to your spray.

Before long, they will be laughing when they see you coming with the spray bottle!

This is called Pesticide Resistance and it is the reason why the agriculture and chemical industries spend literally billions of dollars every year developing new pesticides - just to try and stay a step ahead of the pests.

Pesticides are dangerous poisons

farmer mixing spray

People who use pesticides professionally have to be trained and wear protective equipment. Why? Because these are poisons weíre talking about. Yet the exact same poisons can be bought by an untrained gardener and sprayed where the risk to people and pets is far higher than on a farm - Yes, in your garden, or even in your kitchen!

So how can I safely control pests?

Well thankfully, there is an alternative, and the ladybug or lady beetle is just one of them. Not all bugs are bad!.

In the longer term, you can garden in a way that does not encourage pests but promotes a wide variety of insects, all in balance with each other.

ladybug or lady beetle
  • mix up your planting. Plant a few marigolds in and out between the carrots
  • leave an area of grass unmown. Youíll get more wildlife and good guys!
  • donít trim hedges before birds finish nesting. Birds eat mountains of bugs!
  • try to work in harmony with nature - gardens are meant to be part of nature

    In the short term, if you have pest outbreak you need to deal with, all is not lost. There are sprays you can use which are not poisons - they work by clogging up the insects pores or their mouths, but donít poison them. The advantage is that bugs donít become immune and the spray is not dangerous to people or pets.

    You can also buy
    natural enemies, the good guys, to help restore the balance. The beauty of this approach is that your bought-in bugs will breed too and establish a natural population. Therefore, they go on working to keep the pests down to small numbers that you wonít notice. Thatís natureís way and if itís good enough for Mother Nature then itís good enough for me!
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