PHOTO CREDIT: Lois Elling/Flick

If you spend any significant amount of time working on cultivating a garden, you are bound to encounter a host of garden companions: beneficial collaborators as well as unwanted guests.

Doing your best to understand these neighbors will go a long way to benefit yourself, your garden and our world as you learn to welcome the helpful co-creators and discourage uninvited space invaders.

Step One: Embrace Imperfection

We have become far too accustomed to seeing nothing but perfect produce piled high and without blemish in our stores and supermarkets, but the reality is that we share this planet with many other species and an incredible variety of insects. These insects all play a different role in our ecosystem, and they need to eat, too.

Allowing for some amount of damage to our crops is a way of embracing the world we live in, and making space for others to play their part in the process. Decide what amount of loss you are willing to accept, and follow these steps – don’t just skip ahead to the nuclear option.

Step Two: Properly Identify

When you encounter an insect in your garden (or the evidence they have been at work), don’t react and don’t group them all together (“bugs = bad”); take the time to properly identify what it is you are looking at. Sometimes all you have are traces of damage and the mess they might leave behind, sometimes you can see the visitor. Use these clues to do some research; they might be doing you big favors in the garden without being asked. What a shame to swat, smush or spray a friend confused for a foe!

Step Three: Access Denied

There are methods we can employ to deny access to our crops once we’ve realized we have an undesirable insect problem. We can make adjustments to the crops we choose (resistant varieties) and/or their location in the garden (crop rotation) to dissuade, confuse, or otherwise stop feeding an established pest. Another good option is using a simple barrier, like floating row cover (pictured) to block access to our crops from those who would be interested in a little buffet action.

Step Four: Keep Your Friends Close….

The insect kingdom is seriously incredible, and unfortunately under threat because of human activity, notably our impulse to spray poison on anything we don’t want around. But we can choose to work with nature instead, and employ a host of beneficial insects in our gardens to keep things in check. No joke. Lady bugs, parasitic wasps, assassin beetles….. there are many friends available for recruitment (purchase) online to help seek and destroy bugs that would harm your crops.

Step Five: ….But Keep Your Enemies Closer

You can get up close and personal with many garden pests without fear of reprisal. Going into your garden armed with nothing more than a cup of soapy water (the soap breaks the water tension, making a very sinkable substance), you can spend some time tapping or dropping pests into the cup. Problem solved!

Step Six: Organic Controls

Using any kind of substance to control a pest issue should be the last resort for any conscientious gardener/homeowner/human. Not only is it a little bit lazy, it also has the potential for serious and unintended consequences, like killing friendly and helpful insects (think: honeybees) alongside the unwanted ones.

There are indications that the insect population has decreased by as much as 60% since 1985, which has implications for all life on planet earth. For the sake of our shared world and future, please use only organic substances carefully and judiciously after other efforts have been exhausted.

Organic controls are fundamentally pesticides, though some are naturally occurring substances and others are synthetic in nature. Some target only specific pests, while others are broad spectrum with potential harm to a variety of insects. When purchasing and employing such substances, please do your homework, apply responsibly, and always look for the letters OMRI on the label, indicating the product has been certified for organic use.

Products Trellis for Tomorrow uses carefully and on a limited basis in our organic gardens include: Pyganic, Spinosad, Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis), Neem Oil, Diatomaceous Earth, and Sluggo.

For a copy of Trellis for Tomorrow’s comprehensive guide for pest identification and control, contact David Ryle at dryle@trellis4tomorrow.org