Growing your own produce can bring with it some unwelcome pests. Katie Irwin from Waste Not Collective shares organic pest control to save your precious fruit and veggies, while being kind to your local critters.

Head to any gardening Facebook group and you will see question after question on how to deal with pests in the edible garden. Pests are everyone’s numbers one problem! After all your hard work preparing the soil, planting seeds, watching them germinate and keeping them fed and watered through to fruiting, it is heartbreaking to see pests take over.  So what can you do about it?

I’ve been an organic gardener since the beginning and have never really considered the option of using commercial sprays which means I’ve had to get creative with how I manage pests in the garden. These ideas are a bit out of the box and will hopefully provide you with a few more strategies to add your collection.

1. Healthy soil. This is always number one in our garden. Healthy soils means healthy plants and healthy plants are more resistant to pest attack.  Make sure you’re adding organic matter to your soil each season in the form of homemade compost or composted animal manures. I also use layers of comfrey and chop and drop mulch from other plants, worm castings and rock minerals.  Keep the soil covered and well mulched at all times to protect those beneficial microbes.

2. Choose the right plants. This is really important for so many aspects of gardening. Research your local climate in depth – minimum and maximum temps, frosts, humidity, daylight hours, wind and rainfall. Do not try to grow veggies that grow in Victorian winters in a Queensland winter. They won’t thrive and pests will sense their weakness and find them quickly! For Brisbane, choose plants that are grown in hot and humid countries. Vegetables that are more common in South East Asia for example grow beautifully here.

3. Camouflage and disguise. I like to ‘hide’ all my more tender plants with other more distracting plants. Plants with strong smells can help to confuse pests, such as nasturtiums, society garlic or scented geraniums. I’ve also used physically spiky plants like Mexican coriander to deter possums from eating my leafy greens. Planting close together (less so in summer) and in random patterns also seems to help. Planting a straight row of lettuces screams ‘come and eat me!’

4. Plant multiples. For all of my favourite plants I plant one for me, one for the pests and one for the kids.  It’s true, toddlers can be some of the worst pests in the garden!  This strategy works really well though, as I plant them in different parts of the garden so if the growing conditions aren’t perfect in one spot, the other spots are likely to be doing really well.  Or if grasshoppers find one plant and devour it, they don’t often find the others.

5. Encourage beneficial insects. The aim in the organic garden is to find a happy ecosystem balance, where good bugs and less good bugs help to keep each other in check.  Great insects to have in your garden include lacewings, ladybugs, bees, wasps, predatory mites, spiders and praying mantis. To bring them into the garden, you have to have food, which means letting the less good bugs do a bit of a damage first rather than eliminating them with sprays. Plant beautiful flowers and allow vegetables and herbs to go to seed – insects love these flowers! Leave your garden a bit messy, fallen leaves and branches create a safe haven for many insects. Permission not to clean up granted!  I have also had great success dealing with spider mites on my eggplants, by purchasing live predatory mites from ‘Bugs for Bugs’, a Toowoomba based company.

6. Sacrificial plants. This is a strategy that works for me all the time.  If I see a plant becoming invaded by aphids, but the aphids aren’t wide spread, I will leave the aphids to destroy that plant for the sake of the others.  Ladybugs will find this plant, devour the aphids and begin breading on it. You may lose one plant, but the others will likely be spared.

7. Barriers. Physical barriers are sometimes necessary out of desperation. The Qld Fruit Fly comes to mind here, but this is also useful for possums and caterpillars. I cover all my sensitive fruits (tomatoes, strawberries, chillies etc.) after germination has occurred with organza party bags that I reuse over and over each year. Make sure the bag is large enough so the fruit won’t be touching the bag, as fruit fly will sting right through otherwise.

I trust this have given you a few new ideas if you’re at the end of your tether.  The Brisbane summer is a really rough time to garden from a pest point of view. Take comfort in the fact that winter is coming and pests will start to die back.  Happy gardening!