In vegan organic gardening, it is important to accept that many pests will be competing with you for your tasty plants, and that you’ll have to share some of your crops with them. Pests are an essential part of a garden ecosystem designed by nature to exist harmoniously in a healthy system. In a thriving balanced garden, pests exist but not in plague proportions. These visitors usually won’t eat much, and losing a leaf of lettuce here and there, is to be expected in any natural ecosystem.
Healthy plants are rarely completely annihilated by pests or disease. Pests and diseases are nature’s way of removing the weakest individuals – those that are poorly adapted to thrive in the prevailing environment of soil, climate and season. If you are having pest problems, put your energy into your growing conditions, not the pests.
With some knowledge and planning, you can prevent most harmful pests away from your plants, thus making toxic sprays and deadly traps unnecessary. Just like most recipes can be turned vegan, most problems in the garden can be solved cruelty-free.
Buddy System Planting
Avoid crop monoculture: planting large areas to one type of crop. It might look neat and tidy but can be a disaster for pest management.
Plants like other plants for a lot of reason — for friendship, for love, and also to better fend off tough gangs of pests. Without their diverse plant friends, crop monocultures are a beacon to pests and diseases. Growing a variety of plants in your garden not only keeps your plants happy and strong, but would also discourage and confuse pests or provide shelter and support for predators.
Adopt a mixed or companion planting pattern by interspersing a range of crops as well as herbs and flowers. The result is much like a natural ecosystem. The different foliage patterns and smells confuse pests and make it harder for them to zero in on susceptible plants. Certain plants drive bugs away. Borage, yarrow and marigolds repel various insects.
Other plants can act as “decoys” that attract harmful insects so that they don’t bug your more precious plants, or attract and shelter beneficial insects. For example, nasturtiums provide hiding places for beneficial spiders while luring harmful caterpillars away from your other plants; they also provide edible flowers for your salads.
Some plant combinations may simply encourage one another to grow. For instance, beans add nitrogen to the soil, which is great for spinach, lettuces, strawberries, and other nitrogen-loving crops.
Ladybugs: If you have aphids, you will probably have ladybugs in the proximity. Most of the time, they will migrate to the affected plants. However, if your plant is covered in aphids and no ladybugs within sight, just take a look around for them elsewhere in your garden and carefully transfer a couple. These freshly fed ladybugs will soon send out the appropriate signals and others will come. Most aphid problems would disappear after a few days.
Birds: Some birds are omnivorous. If you provide their plant foods, they’ll hang around for a main course of insects. One small bird can consume hundreds to thousands of pests in a single day.
Frogs and Toads: Frogs and toads relish on fares of slugs and ants. Put a small pond in your garden and surround with rocks, logs and plants to encourage them to take up residence. Throw a handful of grass clippings into your pond to give them something to eat.
Spiders: Spiders of all kinds are great insect eaters. Provide rocks or logs around the garden to encourage them to take up residence.
Wasps and Hoverflies: There are many species of wasp and hoverfly that as adults are nectar feeders, but as larvae are carnivores. Adults in this group will hunt food for their young including caterpillars, spiders, aphids, earwigs, tomato worms and grasshoppers. Encourage them by letting parsley, carrot and fennel flower, and having nectar producing native plants near your garden.
The easiest way to make sure your plants don’t get eaten is to use physical barriers to keep bugs and other hungry pests away. Once mature, most plants are quite resistant to bugs, but fragile young seedlings can be wiped out by snails and slugs. To protect your seedlings, slice a plastic bottle up to make rings a few inches high. Place these protective guards around your seedlings, pushing them a little way into the ground, until they are established. These will stop most slugs or snails from getting to the seedlings as it’s uncomfortable for them to climb over the jagged top with their soft bellies. Alternately, you can line planter boxes with strips of copper wire, which gives snails and slugs an electric zap as they crawl across, warning them to stay away.
If you’re worried about more than ground insects, you can cover entire rows of young crops with transparent plastic or fine mesh supported by a frame. These hanging row covers are available at most garden stores, but be sure to remove them once the crops start to bloom to let in beneficial pollinators like bees, flies and wasps.
If at all possible, build your garden beds up with raised beds. You can make them out of second hand cement blocks which are very inexpensive to get. The slugs and snails don’t like crawling up them, they are simple to keep weed free, and they are easy on your back. Other products you can use are recycled tin, reclaimed wooden train sleepers, or old bricks which are free or don’t cost too much money.