Tips From the Potting Bench (Pests)

By Rita Jacinto, Two Rivers Tribune Contributing Writer

Here it is almost the end of May and the forecast calls for ‘frozen mix’ by the end of the week! The weather sure did change with the new moon solar eclipse, although truth be told I’m looking forward to a little cooling off, it means I don’t have to spend so much time watering giving me more time for planting. The temps in the green house will only be in the 90s instead of over a 100, which the plants and I will appreciate.

We have been talking a lot about ‘what’s it time for?’ and the short answer to that question right now is, everything. So go for it. Another question we get repeatedly is, ‘what do you do about _________?”  You can fill in the blank. Mostly these are questions about pests that are eating, munching, sucking or otherwise harming the plants.

For the most part the questionnaire wants me to tell them what to spray to kill the pest. Even people who grow using organic methods want a quick fix and there is any number of organic solutions that you can use. What sometimes gets ignored is that pesticides, organic or chemical, are largely non-specific. Which means they will kill good bugs as well as bad bugs. In my mind they are a last resort and should be used with great caution. Spray only when you know bees and other beneficials aren’t flying. Spray only the plants affected and use low dosages.

The past few years we have been letting our front lawn go un-mowed. Actually the first year we did this was not by design, we just didn’t get around to mowing. There are all sorts of grasses, docks, plantains, clovers and other stuff that grows up and is allowed to go to seed. We have been calling it our old growth lawn. What we discovered was an amazing variety of insects and critters, especially ladybugs. That first year I noticed that the usual aphid and white fly population in the greenhouse didn’t exist.  This is a great example of creating a habitat where there is enough diversity to keep things in balance. It has now become our standard lawn practice, at least until everything dries up.

For those of you wanting to take your gardening skills to the next level you are invited to deepen your relationship with your garden. Observe all the critter activity and which bugs are where. Become familiar with the good bugs and learn to attract them to your garden and yard. Most of the beneficials feed on pollen or nectar of flowering plants and by planting certain flowers you can target which beneficials you draw in.

It is estimated that a healthy and diverse garden will have five to 10 percent of its area planted to flowers. Planning the flowers, both annuals and perennials, for as much diversity as possible and sequential flowering times ensures that there is always something for the good bugs to eat. By creating a diverse habitat harmony and balance can be maintained in the garden. Yes, you will still have pests, however they will be kept in check by the good bugs if given the time and opportunity. It’s another exercise in patience and letting nature take its course.

Many of the companion planting pairings are about one plant attracting good bugs to help protect the second plant. One of my favorite companion planting pairings is tomatoes and buckwheat. Once your tomatoes are planted scatter buckwheat seed around them and lightly scratch it into the soil. Keep it moist until they germinate then watch it grow. In as little as four to six weeks you buckwheat will grow 3 to 4 feet tall, you may want to cut it down before then so it doesn’t get all tangled up in your tomatoes. Use the fresh cut buckwheat as a mulch around the tomatoes. The benefits of buckwheat are many. It grows so fast it quickly out competes weed seeds. It attracts bees and other beneficials, improves soil biology, adds carbon to the soil and improves its structure. Buckwheat accumulates calcium and makes calcium and phosphorous available to the tomatoes. This works with cucumbers and squashes too.

here are any number of books and web sites with lists and charts of what attracts what and what it is good of. My favorite book is by a local author Peter Haggard and his wife Judy. The book is Insects of the Pacific Northwest. The photos, taken by Judy, are amazingly clear and make it easy to identify the bugs. Two great web sites are and, which even has an app available.


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May 5th, 2012

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