In the May edition, I made some recommendations about avoiding, or at least reducing the chances of getting, pests and diseases. The “prevention is better than cure” model! In the second part I will talk about some useful methods of Wildlife-friendly pest control. We want to adopt a “live and let live” approach where we can, but sometimes we have to take matters into our own hands, when the garden is subject to unacceptable levels of pest damage. Ideally we do this whilst still avoiding harming the environment and specifically beneficial members of the animal kingdom.
There are a number of key weapons in our armoury to prevent pest damage – at the top of the list - barriers. Covering your vegetables with a fine mesh you will stop them being attacked by flying pests.. Fine mesh over brassicas is recommended to protect from a number of flying insects, and birds of course. Other barriers include cabbage collars and bottle cloches. Placing a collar of carpet underlay around the neck of a young cabbage will prevent the cabbage root fly from laying its eggs at the base.
Placing a bottle cloche, a clear plastic drinks bottle with the top and bottom removed, over newly planted vegetables will prevent them being eaten by slugs or anything else that takes a fancy to them. Small gauge chicken-wire is useful over newly sown peas to protect from mice, or wrap it around your flowering bulbs to prevent squirrels from digging them up.
Slugs are most people's worst enemy, and I have spotted a few giants this year – Spanish perhaps? They don’t deserve to win the World Cup! Barriers of anything sharp and gritty are supposed to protect your tender plants, as is bran (apparently they eat it and dehydrate). There are all sorts of products available for slug control on the organic market now. One that springs to mind is a band of copper that gives the slugs electric shocks – works around pots. Copper mats, thick layers of crushed eggshells and even coffee grounds can deter them. If using a barrier method with slugs remember that success depends on being extremely liberal with the chosen deterrent and topping up after rain.
You can kill slugs without harming hedgehogs or slow worms by luring them to their death using beer traps. Ensure the traps are proud of the soil so beneficial ground beetles don’t fall in. Please try to avoid using slug pellets as the dead slugs and snails get ingested by wildlife and will harm or kill these gardeners’ friends. Use wildlife-friendly alternatives to slug pellets (see above), or if you have to use pellets, choose ones which don’t contain metaldehyde and pick up dead slugs and snails as soon as possible.
Of course birds love slugs and snails – especially thrushes – so put food out for them and provide nesting sites. Fruit is a favourite of thrushes and blackbirds. Scatter over-ripe apples, raisins and song-bird mixes on the ground for them. To make your garden an attractive place for thrushes to live consider planting berry-licious shrubs and trees, including favourites like Malus, Sorbus, Cotoneaster and Pyracantha. If you have room, a pond (even a very small pond) is useful for keeping pest numbers down. It will encourage frogs (which eat slugs) and bats (which eat mosquitoes and other flying insects). Nematodes naturally kill pests such as slugs and vine weevil, without poisoning the soil or harming other wildlife, but they have a short shelf-life and can be expensive.
There are a couple of specific pests worth mentioning for Tatsfield gardeners. Deer can decimate trees and do serious damage to roses (Roe and Muntjac love roses). You can buy deterrents but these tend to lose their effectiveness in the rain. Human hair in an old stocking hung around a tree or in amongst the roses actually works better after rain. It really does work – try asking the local barber for a bag of hair! I suggest you handle it with rubber gloves though! Mice can be a right pain with vegetable seeds – especially beans and courgettes. If you don’t want to be involved with waging an unpleasant war involving traps, then plant the seeds indoors and only plant out once the plants are well under way.
Good luck with the growing – and may all your pests be little ones!