In urban vegetable gardening, as with in large scale farming, insect infestations can wipe out your entire crop. In most of the conventional large scale farming operations pesticides are used to address these infestations. In more recent years even large agribusiness has moved towards using organic pesticides in order to tap into the profitable organic produce market. While many of these organic pesticides have now become available to home gardeners, I thought it would be more interesting to use old fashioned techniques and household remedies for any pest problems that arise. These are remedies that I have learned from the older generation Italians in the neighborhood, as well as from my Mum and Grandma.
The first important thing to figure out is which bugs are pests and which are beneficial to your garden. Worms are beneficial, that is obvious, we all know that worms help to aerate the soil and provide waste to keep the soil healthy. Ants are a trickier insect to determine as beneficial or harmful to the garden. They worry me with their scurrying up and down the stocks of my tomato, sunchoke, squash, and cucumber plants. But apparently, they are merely helping to open the buds, and performing general investigation of their landscape and doing no harm to the plant. Ants are also helpful in destroying aphid and fly larvae, as well as aerating the soil. Although if your garden is overrun with ants it can become an issue. One insect that gave me a fright was the alarming amount of earwigs that were on a recently harvested crop of spinach. To be fair the "alarming amount" was only 5 or 6 earwigs, but they creep me out, and so I was alarmed. Earwigs are of no concern, except for the occasional sting that a gardeners hand may receive, and are actually helpful in similar ways to ants.
The major pests that I have been told to look out for are slugs and aphids. One way to address these pests is through using the preventative measure of planting protective botanicals. I incorporated this into the planning of the garden and planted marigolds and cilantro along the boarders.
Despite the use of these protective botanicals I found some slugs creeping through the garden while weeding the other day. Instantly I called in the big guns, asking Franka, our next door Nona, what should be done to eradicate this problem. Her first bit of advice was to use the egg shells from our three lovely hens. She advised me to crush the shells into smaller pieces and spread them throughout the garden. Apparently the egg shells will cut the soft flesh of the slugs which will dehydrate them to death. Franka's other weapon of choice is spent coffee grinds. Caffeine is a deterrent for slugs and if scattered around the base of your plants will keep slugs from destroying them. My Mum and Grandma's arsenal for warding of slugs has always been using a small container of beer placed strategically in the garden. The slugs, attracted by yeast, will venture into beer for a drink and be killed by the alcohol.
I do find it amusing that the three items in my armoury against slugs are three of my favourite things, coffee, beer and our backyard eggs. If I were a slug I would be in heaven. What I don't find amusing is that the biggest threat to our garden has been our three hens, who we had originally hoped would eat the pests. One of whom, Baylik, ate an entire F@#%$* cabbage the other day.