No matter whether you have a restaurant size kitchen garden or a compact container garden, pests are likely to plague your carefully planted produce. We asked Cape Town-based vegetable box provider OwnGrown to share their tips for keeping destructive creepy crawlies from your veggies. What pest problems are small space gardens like vegetable boxes susceptible to? Like all gardens, small gardens and veggie or herb boxes can attract a variety of pests and diseases that need to be controlled to ensure a productive harvest. Some pests to watch out for: slugs, snails, shield bugs, aphids, white fly, caterpillars, beetle larvae and nymphs, mielie bug and mites. What pest control methods does OwnGrown use? Pests are a sign that, one way or another, the system is in a state of imbalance. As with most things, prevention is better than cure so keep your veg garden well-balanced through diversity in planting and the upkeep of soil fertility. We use a variety of methods including:
- Companion planting: Simply defined, companion planting is the planting of a variety of different plants in close proximity to one another so that they can assist each other with nutrient intake, pest resilience and pollination. The use of sacrificial plants is also a companion planting technique – slugs for example love Marigolds, keeping them away from your other veg.
- Integrated pest management: Creating favourable conditions for beneficial insects and other organisms to eat and control the populations of pests will mitigate harmful effects.
- Removing problem pests by hand: This is a very effective way of dealing with critters. A caterpillar can increase 270 00 times in size in a few short weeks – that’s a lot of lettuce! Get outside on an evening with a head torch and remove slugs, snails, caterpillars, shield bugs and other offenders by hand (into a bucket or similar) and either destroy them or take them far, far away.
- Application of mild forms of topical foliar sprays, which – through scent or otherwise – help repel harmful pests like white fly. Garlic and chilli are great examples here.
- The use of Diatomaceous Earth as a foliar spray to control populations of soft bodied pests like aphids.
- As a last measure we find the need to sometimes use a product like Biogrow’s organic Bioneem formula to control heavier infestations of white fly and other blights. The Biogrow range is certified organic and stated to be softer on beneficial insects. Bioneem is a biopesticide which contains neem oil, a natural extract from the pressed fruits and seeds of the neem plant, Azadirachta indica.
Why is this effective? A multi-faceted approach to pest management covers all your bases. Keeping your system healthy first and foremost really does reduce the need for interventions. However, sometimes, when we are growing multiple food crops for our own consumption, keeping the pests at bay is the difference between retaining or losing our crops. Why should people be wary of other pest control methods? It’s important to remember not to use the most hardcore pest control you can find. You’ll not only wipe out your pests, but the beneficial insects and micro-organisms in the soil too. These are the guys that your plants can’t live without, literally. What else can first time gardeners do to to prevent ongoing pest issues? Plant a poly-cultural system. Introduce plants into your veg patch that will attract bees, butterflies, hover flies and praying-mantis. These plants may not be plants that produce fruit, veg or leaf for our consumption, but go a very far way to keeping the system balanced and healthy. During spring and autumn, get tactile. Get out into the veg patch and have a look under leaves, in the soil, around your plants and get a sense for what’s going on. What services do you offer to help first time gardeners keep their OwnGrown vegetable boxes healthy and pest-free? OwnGrown offers an integrated capacity building element into our maintenance visits. If it’s just one extra visit you need to learn more about your veg box or a recurring weekly, fortnightly or monthly maintenance visit, we help at every level. Also, with every garden you get from us, you will receive a clear instruction sheet of do’s and don’ts to help you. We also offer an integrated blog and facebook page where people can ask any question at any time regarding their garden. For more information on container gardens and to order your own vegetable box, visit Owngrown.co.za.