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June 23, 2011

Plant for pest damage

I am a huge fan of Eco-system gardening: I like my vegetables organic and I do not want to do any additional work, such as spraying insecticides if I can help it. An Eco-system will not happen by itself and it will not happen overnight. But it is not an unattainable goal either. I have been gardening on our property for almost two years now, since we moved, and I can attest that not only I do not use any pesticides, even organic ones such as BT or soap spray, but I also have minimal pest damage.

I am a follower of John Jeavons system, detailed in his book "How to grow more vegetables". He states, and I have proven it in practice, that pest control starts in the soil. I am double-digging my new beds and adding a lot of organic material to the new beds when I am building them. After I plant, I mulch heavily, and then dig that mulch in after the harvest. I usually plant more than we can eat, so some insect damage to the fruit is not a big deal. It also helps, as Jeavons suggests, to plant in season and give plants proper care, e.g. watering.

Here's a swiss chard leave eaten by some insects. It is not the plant's fault, this plant should have been cut to the ground and watered every day to allow only new leaves, because swiss chard is a cool season vegetable and can only stay in "maintenance" mode during the summer:



Something chewed a hole through this tomato:

and this one:

Why? Because these roma tomatoes are done fruiting and should have been harvested, as well as kept being watered and shaded during our hot and dry season in May and June. 

There are some chewed holes in okra leaves:

But it is not really a big deal. Okra grows in it's proper season now and is cared for, so it will be fine. John Jeavons rightly suggests that pests should be dealt with control, not death and poison. If I sprayed these tomatoes or okra plants with some pesticide, chances are the leaf-chewing insects would be dead, but beneficial insects that eat them would be dead too. Then, the next higher up insect or animal on the food chain will not have enough of food and go elsewhere, which can lead to some other insect over-populating the garden.

John writes in his book that they did an experiment, where they planted a bed of green beans and let insects have at it. Some thirty percent of the leaves were eaten by pests, but bean yield itself increased, compared to the controlled bed. Interesting...

Garden Eco-system is delicate, but also very robust; my garden is a testimony to this practice. If you are interested in John's work, here's the book that is prominent on my bookshelf:

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