To spray or not to spray?
Jessica Walliser's Good Bug Bad Bug answers the question.
When lily leaves are chewed and the squash vines wither and die, chemical warfare comes to mind as the only way to rescue your hard work. Many products are available for wholesale attacks on insects but maybe that's not the first approach to try.
Jessica Walliser teaches organic pest management and has a new book out, Good Bug Bad Bug, in which she identifies the difference between the good and the bad. The weather protected, laminated pages of her book describe and picture 24 destructive pests and 14 of the most beneficial insects.
"This book has been a dream of mine for years," Walliser said in a telephone interview. "Students in my classes asked for an easy to use, affordable bug guide and St. Lynn's Press was willing to work with me to produce exactly what they need."
Walliser said that the book is geared toward anyone who is looking for safer and more natural solutions to problems in the garden. When people realize how many environmental issues a product like Sevin actually causes, they want to find something less harmful.
Each page contains a color photo either of the insect and or image of the damage they cause. You’ll also find its scientific name, lifecycle facts, tips for spotting the damage, a list of susceptible plants, what biological controls and preventive actions to use, and some organic products you can use safely.
"Only 10-percent of insects are actually harmful to your garden. The other 90-percent are either benign or beneficial," Walliser said. "People should ask for organic pest control products in their local stores, so managers know there is a market for them."
Many of the insects destroyed by a blanket of insecticide are pollinators, decomposers, or food for someone higher up the food chain. For example, baby birds only eat insects.
To move toward a more organic approach, eliminate chemical synthetics in the garden and put in plants that attract beneficial insects.
The task of planting things that attract beneficial insects is fairly easy since the list includes many common garden plants. All flowering herbs (thyme, dill, fennel, oregano, sage, cilantro, and basil for example), Shasta daisies, asters, cosmos, Joe Pye weed, brambles (berries), alyssum, lemon balm, goldenrod, yarrow, feverfew, and flowering buckwheat are all great choices.
The book is loaded with practical information to help identify insects and provides realistic and proven techniques to control and prevent them along with safe and natural products to manage them.
Four steps of pest management: 1. Identify the pest and the plant host. 2. Use preventative and cultural methods first. 3. Use beneficial insects to consume the harmful insects. 4. Use organic controls only when other methods fail
Stressed plants are more vulnerable to insect infestations because their immune systems are failing. Unlike healthy plants, which emit odors to let insects know that they are not a good place to feed, stressed plants send chemical signals alerting insects of their vulnerability.
The book has some fascinating information about insects. For example, beneficial wasps will not go onto plants where ladybugs have been for fear that their eggs or young will be eaten along with the pest. The ladybugs' feet emit an odor that the wasps can detect.
Another great tip: use floating row cover on young plants. Since younger plants are more susceptible to pest damage, the covers keep them shielded from pests and allow them to reach maturity pest-free. Peaceful Valley (groworganic.com) sells floating row cover as well as insect control products used by organic growers, seeds, etc.
And, rotate where you put plants from year to year.
For example, flea beetles emerge as adults from the soil where they grew last year. If eggplant is put in the same place with row cover over it, the insects are trapped under the fabric as they emerge. Put the eggplant someplace else next year.
"Nine billion organisms live in every teaspoon of garden soil, helping plants access nutrients and fight pests and disease.” Walliser noted. “Adding organic matter to your soil to keep the soil organisms healthy is a must. Organic matter includes compost, leaf mold, well-aged manure, mushroom compost and other organic material."
Walliser writes for Organic Gardening, Hobby Farms and Popular Farming magazines, along with several newspapers. She co-authored the 2007 book, Grow Organic.
Good Bug Bad Bug, published 2008, $16.95 at your local bookstore and St. Lynn's Press (stlynnspress.com) and $11 online.
Podcasts of Walliser's "The Organic Gardeners" radio shows are available for computer listening at www.lime.com/radio/the_organic_gardeners/podcast.