Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Natural Insect & Disease Control - an ebook (and some local wisdom)

by Francesca

stink bug 2

The other day, I noticed that my chard patch got infested by some bugs. Several leaves had turned yellow, and many others had large brown spots. Looking closely at my chard, it wasn't difficult to find the likely culprit: hiding right among the stems I could spot many good-sized brown bugs!

When disease or insects attack my vegetable garden, I often simply uproot and destroy the affected plants for fear that they might spread to the rest of the garden. But there are exceptions, and my poor chard was one of them: it's one of the few crops that survived my summer travels (here), and moreover it will continue producing for several months, until springtime. I needed to treat my chard. So I turned to the Internet.

After a little research, I found the best book on natural insect and disease control I've ever come across, entirely published online in Google books. What an amazing resource! The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Disease and Insect Control edited by Barbara W Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley, allowed me first of all to determine that the “brown bugs” in my garden were “brown stink bugs”. This book also suggested ways to prevent them, or - as last resort - to control them by dusting the affected plants with pyrethrin powder, a natural organic compound with potent insecticidal properties. I happened to have pyrethrin powder, but because this book is mainly about North American insects and diseases, I wanted to be sure that my bugs were definitely stink bugs. So I asked my neighbors.

stink bugs

Farmers for generations, my neighbors have taught me most of what I know about gardening, and always have the answer to my gardening troubles. In the rare cases when they don't, they have at least a couple of suggestions, which normally solve the problem. My 86 year old neighbor unhesitatingly confirmed the diagnosis I'd made with the help of the ebook, but didn't agree with the treatment. “Oh, no! You just remove them one by one, and squish them dead.” he said. “They are very prolific, you know” he added to make his statement more urgent.

And so I went to find my gardening gloves. And my pyrethrin.

What steps to you take when insects or disease infest your garden?