Plants have surprisingly efficient and sophisticated defenses against insect attack, especially when they are kept strong and healthy with sufficient amounts of food, water, and sunlight, and have enough room to grow well. Weak plants, like people, have less resistance than healthy ones and can even attract insects.
Some things we can do to help plants defend against insects are:
—Maintain Balanced Growth by incorporating liberal amounts of organic matter into the soil and feeding every 3 or 4 weeks with liquid seaweed, dilute fish emulsion or homemade compost/manure or urine “tea”.
–Diversify – grow a large variety of plants. We are just learning some of the more useful relationships of various plants and insects. Experiment and be observant of natural balances.
–Never use strong chemicals on your property: they may kill predators and stimulate resistance in pests.
–Encourage predators – Wasps, birds, spiders, dragonflies, frogs, etc. A bird bath or small pond is good for attracting helpful wild critters.
ABOVE ALL – Recognize that the more loving and harmonious an atmosphere we create in our yards, the less imbalance will occur. Keep in mind that all living organisms have their place (that spider you may be tempted to kill works hard to keep the pest population in your yard and house under control).
REMEMBER – returning your home grounds to a natural, balanced state does not happen overnight. It may take two or more seasons to accomplish, depending on what conditions you are starting with and how quickly you are able to add to the environment those aspects necessary for balance.
Dealing with an Insect Invasion…
Should you be subject to a heavy insect attack of some kind, try not to panic. It happens now and then in the most balanced environments. Insects can eat a lot before they do any real harm. Therefore:
Feed your plants – A compost topdressing and a foliar feed will help a plant’s resistance.
Feed the bugs – If only a small percentage of your crop is affected, leave well enough alone and give predators time to colonize. They may take care of the problem for you.
Focus on the problem – many larger bugs and caterpillars can be controlled by hand-picking for a few days, and the smaller insects can often be discouraged with sprays of water applied every day or so.
“Natural”, Organic, Botanical Insecticides – The problem with even the most “natural” insecticide is that, if it is effective at killing the critters you want to kill (aphids, mites, etc.), it will also kill all insects. These things don’t discriminate. Consider carefully what the overall effects could be before using anything other than a water spray. Substances like BT don’t discriminate between a cabbage worm and a monarch or swallowtail caterpillar.
I understand the challenge in dealing with insect invasions of your favorite food or decorative plants. At the end of summer all the cabbage family plants (kale, broccoli, collards, cabbage) can be devastated by aphids. Try cutting off the effected sections – even cutting the whole top off if necessary (it will usually grow back fairly quickly). If you don’t have chickens to feed them to – bag them up and leave them in the sun for a day or two before composting. And like the first in the list of things to do – Feed the affected plants some good homemade Kickapoo Joy Juice or diluted urine!
Above all, learn to tolerate some insects in your yard. Concentrate on building healthy soil for healthy plants and an environment that invites and encourages all the creatures whose diet consists of insects!
Bats, birds, lizards, frogs, dragonflies, wasps, spiders, beetles, earwigs (yes earwigs – they eat aphids!). See a more complete list here.
And understand that sometimes even your well-balanced environment is hit with weather that creates stress in plants no matter what you do for them. Weakened, stressed plants are then good candidates for insect attack. The best thing you can do, besides all of the above, is relax and roll with it… That’s the nature of gardening.