Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Quit Buggin' Me

We rarely have an insect problem at The Rosemary House. The herbs are their own defense, protecting each other from predators quietly and efficiently.  When we decided to tanbark mulch the floor of our high rise low maintenance garden, we had an army of earwigs climbing the 18inch raised beds and decimating everything they found edible.  Suddenly! Our pretty new gardens were chewed and ratty looking.  The thick bed of tanbark was their haven – we did this to ourselves.  What to do?   Our problem was quickly and easily solved with cayenne pepper liberally applied.  Just as suddenly all the earwigs marched elsewhere.  I guess the hot pepper burned their little feet! 

There have been a few other times I have turned to herbs and natural home remedies to aide with garden pests.   One old timer in my garden club swears by Epsom salts as a spray for everything, especially her roses.  It is not only a bug killer, it feeds the plant with an essential element – Magnesium.  Use 1 t per quart or 1 T per gallon of water to foliar feed (a technique of feeding plants by applying liquid fertilizer directly to their leaves) your plants.  It is her “secret” ingredient to many prize winning roses.  Bear in mind that healthy plants have a stronger system to naturally repel attacks of insects or diseases.  In addition Epsom salts is known to produce sturdier stems and stronger fragrance in roses.

Our favorite spray is easy to make: simply steep 1 T each dried tansy, rue (above right), wormwood (above left), 1 garlic clove and 1 dried chili pepper in 1 pint of water.  Strain and add that to a 2 gallon watering can and apply to everything outdoors.  If you plan to use it indoors or in the greenhouse omit the garlic.  This will fight red spider, white fly and aphids of all colors. 

Soap is another big help in discouraging plant pests.  My mother always used fels naptha soap which is still available on grocery store shelves in the laundry soap area.  I use the shavings from our homemade soap.    Soak ¼ C soap shavings in 1 quart of water.  Mix thoroughly and store in a lidded jar or in a spray bottle.  Shake before use.  It is easy and effective especially for white fly and scale.  Another old timer who tipped me off to using this soap spray for white fly said in his deep PA Dutch accent “It gums their wings together now– no fly, they die”.  We have the largest citrus grove in Mechanicsburg, PA and occasionally have to have a mid winter battle with scale.  This soap spray with 3 T of cayenne pepper added is our top gun of natural weapons in a fight with scale.  The trick is to spray the scale twice. Spray once to soften the shell and then 24 hours later spray again to kill the critter inside the shell.   
The highly aromatic leaves, stems and flowers of Nasturtiums (pictured above) and add an equal amount  of boiling water (to cover) and infuse over night.  Strain, pour into a sprinkling can, fill with water and use on infected plants.  This is especially good against white flies, woolly aphids, squash bugs, potato bugs and beetles on radishes. 

The effects of marigolds (Tagetes spp., not Calendula) upon nematodes a destructive invisible soil organism that causes great losses, was observed in the great bulb fields of Holland where, after one year of growing the spicy marigold (Tagetes erecta) the fields were found free of this dreadful pest for seven years.  We rotate plantings of this colorful plant in different sections of the garden as a cheery preventative measure against nematodes.

Thinking back to my childhood, I remember that after a rainfall the sidewalks would be covered with earthworms.    When we ate our family dinner we would sit near a sliding glass door with a beautiful view of the bird feeders.  We had so many kinds of birds we kept the binoculars and bird identification book handy for quick reference.  As a child I frequently saw find other predator bugs; lady bugs, praying mantis, spiders, bees of all kinds, all good bugs who benefit the organic gardener.  Noticing that the bugs, birds and worms that were so prevalent in my youth have gone missing, I have worked diligently to invite all these lovely bugs and their winged counterparts who delight us at the feeder, in the birdbath and with their singing while we work.  One day, one of my then eight year old daughters pretty little friends  came in and said “You have so many bugs in your yard.”  “I know” says I “isn’t it great!”


GardenofDaisies said...

I love this post! Organic solutions for common garden problems. I love nasturtiums, so it was nice to learn that they are helpful in controlling pests.

Lady Linda said...

Oh oh....always work for the gardener.

Angela McRae said...

Now this was fun and educational! I will be getting some Epsom salts for my roses!