Daphne Gooding-Grow Appalachia Big Ugly
When the word “pests” comes up in our Grow Appalachia meetings, everyone perks up to listen for new ideas. Our pests fit several categories: insects, mollusks, and higher mammals. That doesn’t include the broader definition of pests—like crazy, hundred-year storms, climate change and other disasters, natural or unnatural.
We think about the old horror movies when we hear the word pests and insects. Those movies should have included “The Revenge of the Giant Ladybug!” and other stories. In my old lasagna gardens I really didn’t have lots of insect problems; some but not too many. An occasional bout with squash bugs or a once-in-a-while horn worm might spoil the picture. Somehow the natural balance provided protection from excessive damage. However, in the new space that I was attempting to bring into cultivation, the insects were amazing! I had never seen so many Colorado potato bugs. Every leaf had several of the larvae gorging away. I started on a quest to deliver us from bugs.
I began the search with the least harmful alternatives. First I tried diatomaceous earth. I sprinkled it over the entire garden. While it may be helpful in light infestations, it had only minor impact on the potato bugs. Marcelle hand-picks the bugs twice a day and dumps them into a container of water with dish soap. I just didn’t feel that I had that much time each day. So I kept trying solutions.
My next attempt was with a product called TriTek. It is a solution of mineral oil and surfactants. It can be used as a dormant oil spray on fruit trees. While it did not inhibit the bugs on the plants, one of our rain barrels at the community center had mosquito larvae in it. I stirred about 1/3 cup (80 ml) into the 55 gallon barrel and let it sit. It took care of the mosquitoes. If we can get to work on fruit trees this fall, I will definitely try this to control some of the fruit tree invaders.
Meanwhile, the bugs were having an all you can eat buffet in the garden. I finally decided to get out the hard stuff. I got Neem oil extract and PyGanic (a brand name for Pyrethrin). Neem oil worked moderately well and the Pyrethrin spray worked really well. However, both of these are non-specific insecticides which kill all the insects, both good and bad. While neither of these persists in the soil for a long time, they are not helping to restore natural balance. When David Cook came for our site visit, we learned a lot. He introduced us to Spinosad, a bacteria which kills more pests than BT but doesn’t harm many of the beneficial predatory insects like lady bugs and predatory shield bugs. While it can harm bees (the literature says that it is harmful to bees for 4 hours after application), spraying it late in the evening when bees are no longer active protects those important pollinators.
Oh, did I forget the Japanese beetles? They were not terrible, but Marcelle had problems with them. She tried a trap (see photo). The trap worked.