I made the acquaintance of a lovely lady tonight. I am sure we will be fast friends. I was a guest in her home and I brought her a plant from my garden for hers. She recognized a garden advocate in me and asked me about how she might control some pesky caterpillars on her Red Snow On The Mountain hedge. They have been eating it right down to the branches. She has been putting Seven Dust on them, but has not had a satisfying result.
I have been learning about a new way of gardening without turning the soil. I have been turning my soil up every season for years. Learning this new way is agonizing. I am reading no-dig, no-weed Gardening by Raymond P. Poincelot. Every new idea causes a revolution in my paradigm, I have to see my garden process in a new way, and I have so many questions as I think on this new way of not doing. I write about this agonizing experience I am having because it gives me a moment to imagine how a person who has been turning to pesticides for insect problems all of her life might feel when she is told not to use pesticides anymore to deal more effectively with insects.
I explained to my friend who I will call Diane that her Seven Dust will not only kill the insects she doesn’t want, it may also kill the insect predators who would naturally come to the caterpillar buffet on her hedge. I suggested to her that while she waits for those helpers to come she could hose off the caterpillars..which would knock them to the ground so that the ground predators could get them. We have so many little lizards here, and ants and spiders, and frogs and spring peepers. Also, knocking the caterpillars off with the hose gives the leaves some respite while those who survived the blast, and the predators on the ground, make their way back up the plant.
It is also reasonable to expect to share your garden with some insects. She hadn’t thought of that, but she was very disturbed by its denuded appearance. The bushes were very ugly. We talked about building the soil some, mulching for instance, and laying down some compost or manure so that the bushes could feed themselves well and build up their tolerance to these bugs. She liked that idea.
She has one more problem that I did not mention to her tonight. In her yard she has White Snow On The Mountain, probably a 10 foot long hedge, Red Snow On The Mountain, 15 to 20 feet of that, and a Dwarf or Miniature Leaf Snow On The Mountain hedge that is maybe another 10 to 15 feet long. That is all she has. The last two which are hybrids of the first are being eaten down to sticks. The bugs have few choices, the soil is probably depleted from meeting the narrow needs of just one type of plant, and although the hedges are kept low and well groomed I didn’t see any clippings or mulch other than wood chips at the base of the plants.
My friend would like a butterfly garden. I imagine she will have that, and she will learn to love caterpillars, and forget how to use pesticides, and her garden will balance itself out.
My favorite thing about my new friend is that all of this that I told her tonight made perfect sense to her as soon as I said it. She was ready to embrace a new garden paradigm free from the use of pesticides and chemical amendments. Bravo Diane. You have an enviable open mind.
Now if only I can take a lesson from Diane and accept this no dig vegetable garden vibe!
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In a few instances, pests are able to reproduce rapidly enough that the predators cannot keep pace with them.
Thank you for your comment Judy. The organic way to deal with such a situation is to allow the insects to run their course, while doing everything possible to improve the health of the plants that are being predated. As you read in my article Seven Dust was not having an effect on the worms, though it may have been stunting the effort of predators of which we have many. There were other circumstances in this garden that contributed to the problem like a severe lack of diversity of plant life, and a poorness of soil. I keep a natural garden just blocks away from this lady’s home. I do not have problems with insects that are unmanageable or unacceptable.