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Pest control

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Like death and taxes, there is something utterly certain about organic farming: the arrival of bugs. Together they may impact your joy in organic farming. As the weather will, particularly in Ireland.

Just like the arrival of them here in FL on my bell peppers, and even Brussels sprouts, within a screen room that's supposed to keep bugs out. There are a couple of ways dealing with different type of bugs, only few "chemicals" of an organic nature are allowed. I set out to find the one we mostly used in Ireland yesterday: Pyrethrum is the Latin name for chrysanthemums, an ornamental plant. It has been used for hundreds of years as a natural insecticide and a lice remedy. The insect repellent ingredient is taken from dried flower heads.

The best way to deal with bugs is to avoid them in the first place. That can be done at the planning stage of your garden by deliberately choosing which plants to grow together. John Seymour offers a list of solutions in his book, our Bible. To give you a few examples: grow carrots with onions, plant marigold, rhubarb or coriander between vegetables. Their smell deters bugs, allegedly. The main aim is not to grow the same plant in the same spot every year. A change of location, rotating the plants in a four year rhythm is recommended. The creation and improvement of soil is the prime foundation for a productive and healthy garden. This is done through proper techniques of composting and cultivation. Besides, a deep and humus rich top soil produces strong disease resistant plants whose deep roots will survive drought.

Another method is to use ladybirds (ladybugs in America) as natural bug eaters. Alas, they just wouldn't do it for me. I picked them from one shrub and carried them over to the infested vegetable. They just sat there, lazy, looking bored, and had no idea of what their job was. I see them for sale in a jar here in Florida. Good luck with that method!

I had mentioned planks before that Mac had put between the rows of veggies for convenience of walking, squatting and kneeling while weeding, and also for keeping the weeds down. The downside was that under these planks slugs found a cozy habitat. You simply have to turn over the planks and can pick up the slugs by hand or scrape them off with a tool. Rumor has it that slugs like to drink beer. If you put out little dishes with beer they climb in"and die a nice dead. Ours didn't comply. Unfortunately the y weren't of the variety the French like to eat. And I have reconsidered that gourmet option since my farm experience, trust me.

One of the last resorts to get slugs and black bugs out of Brussels spouts was to examine each plant one by one and flick the bugs of by hand or a little knife. A tiring procedure and prone to mistakes. In spite of my best efforts of examining broccoli and cauliflower this way and soaking them in hot salty water for some time, some made it to the plates. My kids have been traumatized this way by finding cooked slugs on their dinner plates. Up to this day many years later, I'm not keen on cleaning fresh Brussels sprouts, peeling off layer after layer of the green overlapping leaves. Not that I'm afraid of finding insects, but it's a tedious process if you do it conscientiously given my farming background when I buy them organic.

John Seymour further recommends a nicotine solution against bugs or lice: Use 100 cigarette stubs without filter, bring them to the boil with 4 liters of water and let it simmer. Not everybody is a heavy smoker though and I wouldn't recommend starting it. It's supposed to work against beetles and caterpillars.

Lime rings prevent an ant infestation on fruit trees. You can keep millipedes from getting in the way if you dig tin can, riddled with holes, into the ground but you must fill it with potato peels. Never tried that since we didn't have a problem with them. Let me know.

Overall good advice for the protection of your garden: Walls or rabbit fencing should be in place on your boundary. You should have nets, fleece and wire available to protect brassicas, fruit, and peas from birds. You should get keep your garden free of hiding places for slugs. You should encourage beneficial predators such as hedgehogs and frogs. You should make sure there is diversity in your vegetation, including wilderness areas and flowers which harbor beneficial insects and beetles. Hedges will protect your garden from wind and give shelter to beneficial insects over winter.

And don't forget to swing that hoe regularly between the rows of veggies because the weeds won't forget to grow in the meantime.

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Ursula Siebert, originally a German teacher & lecturer turned businesswoman, lived in different European countries before coming to the USA. She is now a free-lance writer. Often tongue-in-cheek, she sees life and politics in the USA from the (more...)
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