Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Exciting Organic Control with Companion Planting!

By Marc from GardenDesk

Exciting news in my vegetable garden - the Horseradish survived the winter and is looking great!

Why is this exciting? Not just because I like horseradish sauce to spice things up from time to time. No, I will stay excited about this horseradish even if I never harvest it. I didn't harvest any last year as a matter of fact.

The main job for this wonderful plant is not to be eaten, although we do harvest some. This horseradish bed is strategically located in the very center of our garden. It's main purpose is to ward off these guys:

This is the Blister Beetle, what used to be my garden's arch enemy! Before planting the horseradish, the Blister Beetles used to decimate my heirloom tomatoes each year. They could make a real mess in a big hurry.

As I've mentioned many times before, I do not believe in using any kind of chemical insecticide. A few years ago (before I knew about using horseradish) I had no way to stop these beetles.

Blister Beetles get their name from the fact that they contain a toxin called cantharidin that will make your skin break out in blisters if you come in contact with it. Usually you would need to touch a crushed beetle to break out, but some people can have an allergic reaction just from touching one of the beetles. The blister beetles in my garden ate a lot of tomato foliage, but the most disgusting part about them was that they left huge droppings behind as well!

Enough already! They disgust me so!

I bet you are grossed out by now as well. Sorry. I only show the negative in order to focus on the positive. I was determined to beat this bugs organically. I searched and searched for something I could combat them with and found my answer in an unlikely place.

The famous book, Carrots Love Tomatoes, by Louise Riotte is the foremost authority on companion planting ideas. In the past I had used her ideas about planting certain plants alongside other crops in which each kind of vegetable or herb has a beneficial effect on the other. I had read the book many times before when mapping out where to plant each vegetable in the garden. I always focused on what crop grows better in the presence of what other crop, but I never really noticed that she addressed natural controls for pests too! She listed horseradish as a plant to keep blister beetles away.

I tried it and it worked really well. In the first year with horseradish, the infestation was cut by about 75% and last year I had only a few beetles. The horseradish is looking even better this year, so maybe I will have no beetles!

She also writes that using horseradish root in water as a spray will deter many insects. She discusses deterrents for animal pests as well, like growing morning glories to keep deer away and cucumbers to keep raccoons away. Radishes next to those cucumbers will keep the striped cucumber beetle at bay - that worked well for me last year!

All of these pieces of organic advice is why Carrots Love Tomatoes is on my list of 25 favorite gardening books. The book is not the main thing here though. The exciting part is that there are many natural ways to deter pests and there are many natural ways to aid crops by planting other beneficial crops in close proximity. These are the things that I enjoy learning as my neighbors drench their food crops in chemical pesticides and herbicides.

I encourage all gardeners to stay vigilant in finding natural means to grow bountiful harvests. Organic gardening is so much better! Don't you agree?

Keep Growing!

- Marc


Regan Family Farm said...

In the '70's (before organic gardening was vogue), we scraped the potato bugs off the plants, whizzed them in the blender, and re-sprayed them onto the plants! Yes, it was absolutely disgusting, and I have no idea if it worked!

livinginalocalzone said...

I am so glad you posted this. One of my friends is trying companion planting this year, and its the first time I've heard of it. How do you learn what wards off what? Are there some plants that give you more for your proverbial buck by holding off more kinds of enemy bugs?

Rabbit Hill Farm said...

Thanks for the great tips

ChristyACB said...

I really love that book too! I have it and referred to it pretty extensively. I didn't manage to get horseradish this year but I did a good many of the other things, marigolds, nasturtiums, borage, radishes (cukes), etc. I'm excited to see how it works.

Kate said...

Yes, of course I agree that organic is best. I use a homemade spray for various garden pests. I use crushed garlic cloves, chili pepper flakes, and a little bit of glycerin soap in plenty of water. It doesn't kill any insect that I know of. It just encourages them to leave my brassicas alone. Can't use it on chard though; the leaves will shrivel up and die.

Homemade & Non-toxic Bug Spray

Thank you for the recommendation on horseradish, though I never have seen any damage from blister beetles. I like horseradish, so I'll try to get some into the garden. Did you have to plant it right next to your tomatoes?

sk said...

oooh, I love that book! In fact, I was just looking at her other book (one of her other books?) online this morning, and wondering if I should buy it-- Roses Love Garlic. Have you read it? Is it just as good?

renee @ FIMBY said...

Any idea if these would deter Japanese Bettles? They are the gardener's bane around here. Need to look into this. Those japanese bettles are the worst.

drp said...

Anyone have any idea on something that might encourage field mice to not eat horseradish? Our horseradish gets decimated every year by the mice who seem to just think it's divine.

Chiot's Run said...

I also love using natural controls. I got this book from my mom and so far I'm enjoying it. I'm hoping to put some of it's insight to good use this summer. I don't seem to have too many bug problems though, perhaps all the birds I bring to the garden help with that.

This year I'm going to plant the moleplant (I found it at Richter's Herbs) to keep the moles out of my raised beds. Hopefully it works.

Sadge said...

I don't know for sure if this will work everywhere, but I haven't had squash bugs since I started seeding big storage radishes in among my squash plants. The radishes grow underneath the squash leaves all summer long, which keeps them cool enough to thrive, and then I have a bonus harvest of radishes to store in the fall.

JessTrev said...

Thanks for the ideas and the book rec -- just madly planning the garden now so it's perfect timing.

Green Bean said...

I'm gobbling up Carrots Love Tomatoes right now and find it SO useful. A friend recommended it to me last year - especially valuable for those of us who don't have a lot of room to work with and need to squeeze a lot in a little space. Great post.

Anonymous said...

We had horseradish already growing in the garden of a house we used to live in. A word of caution: it took over!!! The plants were huge, and we couldn't get rid of them. They went very deep and spread.

nanofarmer said...

DRP- Have you tried making a little mesh cage to go around your horseradish? If the mice are digging, make them long, bottomless and bury them deep enough, maybe? Let me know if that will work, I've never grown Horseradish, but it came to mind.