Protect your vegetable crops from pests

<p><em>From GARDENA and YATES Brand Ambassador Sarah the Gardener</em></p><p>The best thing about growing a vegetable garden is the harvest. Growing delicious things to eat, that are so fresh, crisp or juicy in a way that can only be experienced by the home grower. It can almost be too much to wait the weeks and sometimes months until the crop is ready.</p>

In the meantime there are a whole range of creatures that also appreciate your vegetable garden and will attempt to eat it before you do. From the tender tips of young seedlings through to the just ripened fruit that you were on your way to pick but were beaten to it. The garden can become a bit of a battlefield and as it is all about protecting food it is important to do so in a safe way, not only for you and your family but for the beneficial insects in the garden.


Sap suckers

These insects pierce the plant and suck the life out of it as they tap into the juices that form the lifeblood of the plant. Some of them can introduce secondary problems that cause infectious diseases that harm the plant further. This includes insect pests like aphids, scale, mites, thrips, Tomato Potato Psyllid, whitefly, green vegetable bug, passion vine hoppers and mealybugs.

Chewers and munchers

The actions of this group are more immediately noticeable as they eat the plant, from delicate nibbles to great chunks. In this group are slugs and snails, caterpillars and armyworms, leaf miners with their intricate patterns within the leaf, bronze beetles, who come at night, cut worms, pear and cherry slug, corn ear worms, birds, rodents and possums.

Preparations to avoid problems

The most important step to keeping your garden free from pests is to get to know your garden. Spend as much time in there as possible and get to know the plants so you can recognise straightaway if there is a problem.

Plant the garden into a well prepared soil to suit the plants, and keep them well watered and well fed as they grow, as healthy plants are less vulnerable to pests, who can spot a weak plant a mile off.

Familiarise yourself with common pests so you know what they look like, but also what they look like in the different stages of their life cycle. Know what their eggs, juveniles, adults and pupae look like.

If there is a specific risk you may be expecting, take preventative action. Bird netting will protect ripening fruit – although make sure it is tight to avoid birds getting tangled in it. A net will also keep brassica safe from the Cabbage white butterfly and an insect mesh can keep the Tomato Potato Psyllid out of the tomatoes and potatoes. For crops that need pollination, make sure the friendly pollinators still have access or there will be no harvest.

You can also create a wildlife area with plants that will attract beneficial insects to help restore the natural balance within the garden and keep the pest numbers in control.

Dealing with pests

Inevitably problems will arise, and in some seasons there can be an explosion of one pest or another that goes beyond anything normal defence techniques can keep up with. They can penetrate barriers that may have only been open for a moment, there can be too many to make catching and squishing effective, and the beneficial insects are doing their best but can’t keep up. Often it is environmental conditions that allow the large pest populations where the conditions suit them perfectly or the winter was mild and so the cold weather wasn’t able to effectively control the overwintering stage of the lifecycle.

Sometimes there is no choice but to reach for a spray, but in this situation not just any old insecticide will do. You need something that will be safe for use on edibles, gentle on the plant and will target the pest you are dealing with. It is sensible to avoid indiscriminately using a spray that will kill everything in its path as good insects become unintended victims.

Check the labels of the spray to find out not only what it will kill but also how it will do it. The best methods to take care of pests in the vegetable garden use natural ingredients:

  • Pyrethrin – an extract from the pyrethrum daisy and disrupts the nervous system of both sucking and chewing insect pests such as aphids, leaf hoppers and caterpillars. Yates Nature's Way Organic Citrus, Vegie & Ornamental Spray includes Pyrethrin and Oil as well as seaweed to support the plant in a stressful situation.
  • Oil – generally a neutral oil like vegetable oil that acts as an insecticide by smothering sap sucking and soft bodied insects. OCP Eco-oil includes the compounds that plants give off when they are under distress that attract a range of beneficial insects to help fight the battle.
  • Neem – made from the fruits and seeds of the neem tree, Azadiracta indica, native to India and controls sap sucking and chewing pests like scale, aphids, and caterpillars by suppressing their appetite so they starve to death and restricting growth so the juveniles are unable to moult successfully. For the safest option select a neem where the active ingredient Azadirachtin is extracted naturally by distillation rather than with toxic solvents. OCP Eco-neem is a certified organic option.
  • Soap – controls insects by disrupting their cuticle layer, which protects insects from damage and water loss so they dry out. It is good for soft bodied insects like whitefly, aphids and mites. Avoid using liquid soap as this is detergent not a soap and will strip the oils and wax coatings from the plant causing more problems. Yates Nature's Way Vegie Insect Spray Natrasoap is made from natural vegetable oils.


Tips for effective spraying

  • It is always best to spray first thing in the morning or late in the evening when there are no bees about.
  • Alternating between sprays with different actions can help defeat insect pests with a short life cycle which can quickly develop resistance to a regular treatment.
  • Thoroughly spray upper and lower leaf surfaces.
  • Wear gloves, goggles and a mask.
  • Avoid spraying in windy conditions.
  • Don’t spray when soil is dry and plants are suffering from moisture stress.