Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Green in the Garden

Our gardens are thriving! But one thing you can count on when you garden; everyone wants a share. That includes white flies, aphids and caterpillars. Most gardeners believe in sharing the bounty, but we want some for our own tables too! So how do we discourage the wholesale destruction of our plants by little critters?

Insects are a vital part of a healthy garden. We can never completely eradicate them nor should we try, since the ecosystem is first of all a system, in which every species plays a role. The belief that insects and weeds must be totally eliminated from our gardens has led to the acceptance of the use of poisons which are ultimately harmful to our own vitality. Pesticides contribute to an increasingly toxic environment marked by rising rates of autoimmune disease and even cancer.

Maintain a Healthy Garden

Healthy plants are resistant to insect infestation and disease, so consider these tips for keeping your plants healthy.

1) Don't wash cars or trailers on the grass or garden areas, as soap and waxes contaminate the soil.
2) Add compost to your soil in the spring and fall.
3) Don't use too much fertilizer, as insects love the fragile leaves produced by plants which are overfed.
4) Mulch plants to keep roots cool and conserve moisture.
5) Keep plant roots moist but not saturated, and don't allow plants to dry out and wilt.
6) Water early enough in the day that leaves have time to dry off completely before dark.
7) Avoid crowding plants together, as they need air circulation to avoid fungal diseases.
8) Remove tomato branches which touch the ground, as they are a pathway for soil-borne pathogens.
9) Remove any diseased or dying plants immediately before they infect the plants around them.
10) Pull weeds when they are small.
11) Rotate families of vegetables; for example, don't plant members of the cabbage family in the same space or soil two years running.

Some of these things we can do now, like pruning low hanging branches and mulching, but others will have to wait for next season. In the meantime, how do we cope when white flies, aphids and caterpillars are eating their way through our tomatoes and cucumbers, ants are marching by the hundreds across the kitchen counter and the weeds are taking over?

Think Yellow

Aphids and white flies are attracted to the colour yellow. Smear a thin layer of Vaseline, vegetable oil or Crisco on yellow cardstock and tie them to plants to attract and trap these insects.

Ants in the House?

Ants invade our homes only during a short period in early summer as they get ready to launch a new generation of queens. To discourage ants store food in sealed, air-tight containers. Wash away even the tiniest spots of all sweet foods like juice and fruits, and wipe down counters with vinegar and water to destroy the ant's scent trails. Sprinkle cinnamon, cornmeal, baby powder or black pepper over and around their entry point.

When ants stay outside they need no "controlling" unless they move a herd of aphids onto your plants. Ants “farm” aphids like we farm dairy cows, and it is the aphids which do the damage. So we target the aphids. But whatever we use eventually ends up in the the soil and ground water. Take responsibility for the environment around you and don't use toxic chemicals. There are many economical non-toxic ways to protect your garden from pests.

To reduce insect infestations first remove any leaves which are more than 50% damaged and discard them in the garbage (not in the compost pile). Then spray a fine mist of one of the following non-toxic sprays over the leaves and stems, twice, completely covering them each time. Repeat this treatment every three-four days for 12-14 days. You should see a reduction in the number of pests within a day or two after each spraying. Always spray in the evening when beneficial insects like bees are less likely to be affected.

Natural Citrus Spray – Kills aphids and discourages ants

Ingredients: 2 cups of water and the grated rind from one lemon.

Bring the water to a boil. Remove the water from the heat and add the grated lemon rind. Cover and allow to steep overnight. Strain the mixture and pour it into a spray bottle.

Apply the citrus spray to both top and bottom of plant leaves that are under attack by aphids or other soft-bodied insects. The spray must come in contact with the insects' bodies to be effective.

White Flies

White flies are so small you can hardly see them but they can suck a plant of its life in a few days. White flies evolve from egg to nymph, to pupa, to an adult fly in 8-10 days. No method of control will kill all four stages with one application. Repeated application every 3-4 days is needed for 12-14 days to ensure that eggs do not mature to start the cycle all over again.

Onion Juice and Peppermint Spray - Effective on ants, caterpillars, aphids and white flies.

1/4 tsp dish soap; 1 litre of water; 2 drops peppermint essential oil; one large onion

Instructions: Juice the onion or blend it with ½ litre of water, and strain through a fine strainer or cloth. Put the onion juice in a one litre spray bottle, add water to almost fill, then add the dish soap. Stir gently. Add one or two drops of peppermint essential oil (peppermint essence or flavouring won't work) into the mix.


In the garden there is no alternative except to pull weeds, preferably when they are small, and before they have set seed. But if there are weeds growing in your gravel driveway, or along the roadside, use this non-toxic weed killer.


Into a one litre spray bottle pour:
1 cup of vinegar
½ cup of regular dish washing soap (not dishwasher detergent)
Fill the rest of the bottle up with water.

Shake well before each use. Spray mixture directly on the weed; be careful not to spray any other plant material! The vinegar is what kills the weeds, but the dish soap holds the vinegar in place so it stays on the plant instead of running off. Best time to spray is in the middle of the day when the sun is beating down.

Under no circumstances should you put borax or chlorine bleach on weeds or soil, as this contaminates the soil and ground water, and kills adjacent plants.

New Compost Project

The two compost bins we have going now are doing so well that Cat and Jed are going to set up a larger bin exclusively for lawn clippings. Please read the signs and add only approved items. Kitchen trimmings may be added to the green compost bin at the back of Deb's site near the hose for the Community Garden. Please cover your scraps when you add them. There's a small hoe by the bin. :)

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