How Do You Deal with Garden Pests?
This is one of the most common questions I'm asked about my kitchen garden. Everyone is so concerned about eradicating them. It might come as a surprise, then, that one of the ways I deal with pests is to actually attract them to my garden.
Hear me out.
Pests are a normal part of the garden. Every garden has them—you could even think of gardens and pests as package deals. I don't really stress if I have pests in the garden, but I do want to keep them away from the plants that I intend to eat and enjoy for myself. The way I do that is by intentionally planting certain crops that attract pests.
These crops are my sacrificial crops. They pull the pests to them and keep them there. These are trap crops, and they have three pretty amazing benefits for your garden.
What's a trap crop?
It’s just what it sounds like. It’s a crop you plant to trap pests intentionally. It attracts the pests to it and keeps them away from the plants you care about more. The crop I used this year was calendula. My calendula stems would be covered in hundreds of aphids, but my Swiss chard leaves, which were right next door to my calendula, were doing beautifully. Their leaves were healthy and free of holes, and their stems were pest free. Just what I like to see.
3 benefits of growing a trap crop
Here are a few reasons why I think trap crops are a great addition to any kitchen garden:
Benefit number one of planting a trap crop
It’s an organic way to deal with pests. No sprays or expensive setups required.
Think about nature. Your garden is a little ecosystem. It doesn't exist in isolation. If these aphids hang out in your garden long enough, a predator will come along and take care of them for you—perhaps a ladybug, a bird, or another animal that likes to eat small insects.
Benefit number two of planting a trap crop
It lets pests do their thing while keeping your favorite plants safe. So long as they’re not migrating to other plants in your garden, you can let the pests live their pesty little lives while your other plants thrive. Again, I'm okay with my flowers being covered in pests as long as my leafy greens are untouched.
Benefit number three of planting a trap crop
It keeps the pests in one place for easier disposal (if you want to do that—it’s optional!)
Some gardeners will say to spray your plants really hard with water to get rid of them, but all that does is scatter the aphids (or other pests) all over your garden when the whole point is to keep them contained in one area. Instead, I recommend two options, which I'll outline below.
What should you do with a trap crop covered in pests?
You've got a trap plant swarming with pests that you've attracted to your garden. Now what?
Like I said, you can leave them for nature to handle on its own. Natural predators will come eventually. They'll be attracted to the pests, just as the pests were attracted to your trap crop.
There are a couple of other options to organically deal with them, as well.
Here are my recommendations for your next steps:
Cut the infested stems
Drop the pest-covered stems into a bowl of soapy water immediately after you've pruned them, before the pests have time to scatter into your garden.
Treat the trap crop on its own
Instead of having to treat every plant in your garden, you can just treat your trap crop. A diluted neem oil spray will kill pests like aphids on contact.
The message I'm really trying to send here is not to stress about pests! Stressing takes the joy out of kitchen gardening, and joy is what it’s really all about. Pests are a normal, everyday part of the garden. If you're growing an organic garden, you're going to have pests. It's just part of the deal.
However, planting a trap crop like calendula can help pull pests away from your other plants and leave you free to enjoy the harvests of all the yummy stuff you want to eat.
Now, go out and enjoy your garden, pests and all!
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