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.

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