Those veges are a bug’s banquet
The weather is warming up, fruit and vegetable plants are beginning to produce – and so the feasting begins.
But it is not only us who doing so, as insects by their thousands take their place at nature’s table, making the most of the seasonal abundance.
The age-old problem of keeping chewing, sucking and boring insects at bay in our food gardens continues each year.
Fortunately, there are more environmentally friendly options when it comes to buying a spray off the shelf nowadays and there are others you can make at home.
One of the easiest and cheapest is a spray for aphids.
Mix up a soapy water mix and keep it in an old milk bottle, clearly labelled ‘‘ spray for aphids’’.
Then all you have to do is pour some into your recycled spray bottle and apply when you see aphids building up on your plants. It is just a squirt of dishwashing liquid or dissolved soap in water.
For extra power, add baking soda to the mix.
The nice thing about a build-up of pests in the garden is the corresponding build-up of insect predators, too.
When you see a number of ladybirds and praying mantis around, you know you have your own army of helpers and your garden is reaching a natural balance.
Spiders and predatory mites have their place too, so be careful about not annihilating these guys.
Growing certain plants, such as wormwood, is said to help to put off insects. It can be grown as a hedge around the vegetable garden, but be aware that other plants do not particularly like growing near this shaggy member of the artemisia family.
Known for its strong insect-repellent properties, it can also be dried and put in sachets to ward off fleas and moths in linen cupboards and drawers.
Robyn Paterson’s book, Tips from your Nana, recommends putting coffee grounds alongside baked-hard broken-up egg shells, to protect young seedlings from slugs and snails. She also says coffee grounds make a good compost addition as they are a source of slow-release nitrogen.
These are also favoured by worms so can go in your worm farm, but place them in one spot so the worms can moderate their intake.
The green vegetable shield bug is a scourge of many vegetable gardens. Nicknamed the stink bug because of the acrid scent emitted when handled or squashed, these bugs are said to be deterred by planting cleome.
Another practice is to grow a mustard crop as a catch crop – that is, to attract the bugs away from your vegetables and keep them occupied in the mustard instead.
This crop can then be burned to eliminate any parts of the bugs’ life-cycle. Picking them off by hand is another way to minimise their impact and the chickens love them. Watch out for the native species of shield bug, a deeper green without white spots. It is not such a threat to the veges.
Pine needles are acidic and therefore loved by strawberry plants. They are also effective as a deterrent against soft-bodied pests, but are best placed in between veg- etable beds along paths, rather than on the soil around plants, as they are simply too strong for most vegetables’ liking.
Companion planting has long been used to enhance the health of vegetable and fruit gardens. Keeping soil healthy, moist and clear of debris helps make plants vigorous and strong.
But if plucking snails off by hand is not keeping up with the onslaught, then it may be necessary to reach for the derris dust or pyrethrum spray. Otherwise, for all your hard work, it will not be you who will be enjoying the feast.
The enemy: A pair of green shield vegetable bugs caught in the act of furthering their species on a cauliflower head.