Pests are part of the whole gardening experience. Learning about them and what to do to once you have them is especially important if you want to have healthy herbs and vegetables. One of the main reasons I like to garden is to produce food that is free of pesticides. The vegetables written about below is what I have grown or am currently growing, and pests that I am dealing with or have dealt with in the past.
Hornworms and Tomatoes
As I have been working hard to get my new garden landscaped and ready for next year, I have neglected my tomatoes in the raised garden beds. We got hit hard with a tropical storm and strong winds blew over the tomato cages. It was now time to assess the damage done to the tomato plants and prune off any broken branches and dead leaves.
While pruning the tomato plants, I saw these white specks that almost look like rice granules. As I looked closer, I could see that it was a caterpillar, specifically a tobacco horned worm, where a wasp lay its eggs and spun tiny cocoons on the hornworms back. They eventually hatch and eating it the horned worm from the inside out. The best thing to do is just leave the hornworm as is and let the wasps take care of your problem. They will eventually hatch and find a new host.
These pests are hard to spot because they are green and blend in with the stalk. I was hoping that after pruning off the broken branches, branches touching the ground, and dead leaves that they were gone. Just to be sure I checked one more time, but I waited until after dark and used a black light to inspect the tomato plant. Sure enough, I spotted another one. Unfortunately, no wasp cocoons, the leaves were devoured, and consequently the tomato branch needed to be removed.
The best way to get rid of these pests is to remove them by hand. They look scary but are harmless to humans. To prevent them from feeding on your tomato plants make sure to till your soil in the spring before planting and again in the fall when the crop dies. This will kill up to 90% of the larvae in the soil.
Seems every year we have at least one basil plant that gets attacked by pests. Three culprits like to munch on basil: Japanese beetles, slugs, and aphids. Identifying which one is eating your plant is important because there are some different methods of defeating them.
Beetles are the easiest to identify. They are about ½ inch in length, with tan wings, and a metallic blue-green head. You may have seen them swimming in your pool, they like to eat algae.
If you only have a few you can pick them off and dispose of them. If they are a constant problem, you can buy a Japanese beetle trap. They work great and there is no need for pesticides or other chemicals. We used to use them all the time around our pool with great success.
Slugs like to eat at nighttime and hide in crevices during the day. Depending on if you are an early bird or night owl there will be two different spots to look for them. At night is when slugs feed so you will find them chowing away on your basil leaves. Daytime is when they hide, away from the sun in a darker cooler place so you will need to look for them under a branch or in the soil staying cool and wet.
The best non-toxic way to get rid of them is to pick them off and cut away the damaged leaves. If you are still unable to find them then try sprinkling some diatomaceous earth around the basil plant. This will scrape along the slug’s skin and dry it out. Wear a mask when applying and make sure that it is food grade diatomaceous.
These small creatures are smaller and are located under the basil leaves. They are too small to pick off and will need to be eliminated with an insecticide spray. Neem oil is one of the best methods to rid these pests. I look for 100% pure Neem oil because it is organic and there is only one ingredient, no chemicals.
I like to start broccoli inside, mid-summer, from seed. They will be ready to transplant at the end of August, right around the time when the last of my squash is done, freeing up some room in the garden. Last year was a disappointment as cutworms completely mowed down my broccoli plants.
This year I am more prepared with some knowledge to grow big healthy broccoli. The first step is prevention, I saved some toilet paper rolls that will be placed around the transplants to stop cutworms from crawling up the stalks.
Cutworms are large enough to see and pluck off, but they only come out at night. The best way to get rid of these pests is to spray them with a product that has Bacillus Thurngiensis. It is a naturally occurring bacterium. Look for a product that contains this bacterium with no other harmful chemicals
Garden to Table
This is the first year that I paid closer attention to pests. In the past, I would pretty much just water and pray. Some years turned out great and others were a flop. However, my family has gotten accustomed to some of the delicious dishes that come right out of our garden. Some of them include mozzarella, tomato, topped with basil and olive oil. And of course, pasta and pesto sauce, with a side of salad and tomato wedges.
Hopefully, you have a successful gardening season with no major pest problems. If you do, try the most natural way first. If you must spray an insecticide, use a natural one with no chemicals. Use organic pest control for vegetable garden.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or thoughts I would love to hear them.