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As much as I love my vegetable garden, there are nasty little pests who like it just as much. Here is a list of some of the more common vegetable pests and some suggestions as to what to do. Because I am an organic gardener, all of my suggestions will be organic.
Light to dark gray and look something like a stinkbug. Stink bugs prefer tomatoes, however, so if they’re on your squash plants, are squash bugs. The best defense is to keep gardens free of weeds and debris. Trap by laying newspapers on the ground during the day. Squash bugs will congregate underneath where it’s shady and damp. Early evening, you can toss.
Check leaves often for reddish-brown eggs laid in clusters of 10 to 15 and use sticky tape to remove. Tansy, borage, radishes, and nasturtiums may help to repel them. If you choose to treat, Neem oil, pyrethrins, or Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew (yeah, funny name, good product) are effective. Be sure to apply very early morning or just before dark to avoid killing honeybees.
Resemble squash bugs but prefer tomatoes and fruits. Keep gardens free of weeds and debris. You can hand pick or treat as for squash bugs.
Yellowish-green with dark stripes. They can spread plant diseases so keep them under control. Inspect cucumbers often. Cucumber beetles hatch mid to end May. If you plant the first week of June, you can miss them altogether. Dipel is effective against the young or you can hand-pick. Radishes, rue, and tansy may repel them.
Caterpillars that bore into the stem, which then begin wilting at the tips. Spray stems with Dipel or insecticidal soap weekly (to kill any eggs that have been laid) or wrap the stems in strips of foil or muslin. If you had borers last year, plant squash in a different area this year—as the borers pupate underground over the winter and hatch late spring/early summer to lay eggs.
3 to 4” long green caterpillars that feed voraciously on tomato family members. The best control is to hand-pick, using gardening gloves (they can sting). If the caterpillars have little white ovals on their backs then just relocate to the bottom of the plant. These host the eggs to parasitic wasps that eat tomato hornworms. On the other hand, take the time to look up what a tomato hornworm turns into…I now plant an extra tomato and move the caterpillars to “their” plant.
Both are caterpillars that prefer cabbage family members (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage). They are easily picked off. Check backs of leaves periodically and destroy eggs when you find them. Oregano, thyme, and mint may repel them. If an insecticide is necessary, Neem oil is very effective.
They resemble yellow/brown ladybugs (they are related). The larvae are yellow and spiny. Check backs of leaves for clusters of 20 to 30 yellow eggs. Handpick adults and use sticky tape to remove egg clusters. Neem oil is effective (remember to apply just before dark). Bush beans are less likely to get them.
Small oval insects in assorted colors that congregate on new growth and/or flower buds. Aphids can transmit diseases and are extremely prolific—they not only lay eggs but give birth to live young, too—and they’re born pregnant! Luckily, they can be easily washed off with a garden hose or can be treated with a mild organic pesticide. Garlic, onions, basil, and marigolds may repel them.
The best offense is a good defense. If you had insects last year, rotate crops this year. Keep gardens beds free of weeds and debris always. Check susceptible plants weekly, looking for foliage damage or eggs on the backs of leaves.
I tend to use hand-picking whenever possible. If I feel overwhelmed, I reach for Neem oil or Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew. Yeah, funny name. Very effective product. Timing is really important. DO NOT spray during the day when bees and butterflies are about. They tend to go home about eight or eight-thirty at night so that’s when I spray.
Interestingly, that’s also when most of the bad guys come out to feed—they wait until almost dark when the birds have gone back to the nest. So spraying just before dark, you’ll not only get more of the bad guys, but you’ll give the good guys a chance to get the heck out of Dodge!
If you’re having a problem with four-legged pests, like deer or squirrels, here are a couple of tips. For deer, plant herbs in and around your vegetable garden. Deer don’t like the strong fragrance of herbs—and some herbs may help to deter insect pests, too. And, of course, there are a number of effective deer repellents on the market.
If squirrels are eating your green tomatoes, they’re looking for the moisture content (that’s why you find the tomato on the ground with one bite taken out of it). Spray green tomatoes with a repellent called Hot Pepper Wax. Then place an easily accessible water source 10 to 20 feet away—a birdbath—even a plastic saucer filled with water. You must do BOTH the spray and the water source. If we’re in a dry spell and the squirrel needs water, he’ll tolerate the pepper spray anyway. I have the best results when I do both.
If you’re having a problem with your vegetable garden, come in and let us help you decide what to use.