Protect your gardens naturally

It is heartbreaking to wake up one morning and find your precious beans or corn nibbled to the ground, or to discover aphids munching on your tomatoes. Most of us want to garden with as few chemicals as possible. We need the beneficial insects that pollinate our fruits and vegetables and we do not want to introduce chemicals that upset the pH balance of our soil. There are a number of chemical-free things we can do that will give us a harvest and prevent pests from considering this their personal buffet.

Garden fences aren't always effective

Fencing the garden is the best way to keep wildlife from eating your vegetables, however, it may not be the most practical. Rabbits can be kept at bay with just a short fence of three feet or less. However that isn't nearly high enough to keep deer from jumping in and helping themselves. They need a fence at least eight feet high to be effective. Raccoons can climb anything, so a fence is useless in their case. Unless you have a large budget, fences can get pretty pricey so they are my least favorite method of pest deterrent.

rabbit eating  garden

Hot pepper sauce helps repel animals

The best method for keeping critters away from your vegetables is to make them think your gardens smell or taste bad. Deer, raccoons and rabbits all avoid hot chili peppers, so use that to your advantage. Just remember that if you spray your vegetable garden with a hot chili pepper mixture, you'll be spraying your own vegetables that your family eats. Even if you peel the vegetables, you can get the hot pepper on your hands, so wash the produce well and don't rub your eyes. The best recipe is about a tablespoon of hot chili powder (or the hottest hot sauce you can find) and mashed garlic cloves that you put in a quart of water and let it sit for 24 hours. Strain well and add a couple of drops of liquid dish soap. Test a few leaves on the plants you wish to protect to make sure the pepper spray doesn't harm the leaves. Some plants may be sensitive, so let it sit on the test leaves a couple of days before dousing everything. This works well for ornamentals, however the pests may eat the leaves that aren't sprayed, so be sure to be thorough.

Animals are repelled by certain scents

Deer, raccoon and rabbits also avoid what they consider unpleasant or dangerous scents, so you might want to try some smelly stuff. Things that you find agreeable, are often just what you need to repel pests. Most wild mammals do not like cinnamon, mint, citrus and cloves. Mixing the essential oils with a bit of dish soap and water often does the trick. Soap with a strong scent is often used as well. You'll just need a lot of it. Cut the bars in half and hang around your garden in mesh bags. Deer and other animals often move on when they smell it. You can also purchase predator urine. Yes, that's a thing. Prey animals fear the predators, so if they think fox, bobcat, coyote, wolf, cougar and other fierce animals are in the vicinity, they beat a hasty retreat. Soak a cloth in the urine and put it in a plastic container with holes punched in it. Place several around your garden to keep critters at bay, even mice and rats tend to avoid the area once they catch the scent. There are even commercially available urine containers you can purchase as well.


Natural controls for insects

Insects are a different story, since each species needs a different kind of control. If caterpillars are eating your gardens, Bacillus thuringiensis , or Bt. It is a naturally occurring bacteria that attacks immature insects and infects their digestive system. The caterpillars literally starve to death. It is completely harmless for humans and bees. However, butterfly caterpillars are at risk, so it isn't a wise choice for butterfly gardens. Aphids can be controlled by spraying them with soapy water. Castor oil soap is an excellent soap choice. Neem oil is also effective for aphids and a number of other insects. Squash bugs and army beetles can be controlled with a dusting of flour. That's right, flour from your pantry. My grandmother used flour in her garden long before the term organic was coined. It was cheap (the main attraction) and effective. Sprinkle the bugs with a liberal coating of flour and it gums up their legs and heads, so they fall off the plant and die. Neem oil works for Japanese beetles too. Bt works on the larvae that live in the soil, so that would help curb the numbers of adults you see. Japanese beetles have no natural predators since they are an introduced, invasive species. Birds do not recognize them as food and birds are a wonderful weapon against insects. Making your property more bird-friendly helps cut down on the insect population. Predator insects such as praying mantids and ladybeetles are also good choices and there are a number of companies you can purchase egg cases from to get the population started in your garden. Just remember, if you run out of pest insects, the predators will move on to other areas. They will always need something to eat.

praying mantis

Sensible choices are healthier for everyone

Natural pest control is more involved than spraying toxic chemicals on everything, however it does force us to pay attention to the health of our gardens. A healthy garden has a combination of pests and beneficials. Wildlife get hungry as well. You'll just have to encourage them to choose another buffet. Natural pest controls makes your gardens safe for all who enter. It doesn't matter whether they are ornamental or food-producing, both types require educated and sensible choices that are low risk to the environment, pollinators and your family.