Alice Whitehead shares chemical-free ways to protect plants – so you can reap your harvest without a grim-reaping.
Slugs & snails
It's easy to think that anything that eats your veg and flowers is a pest. But in reality, many animals and insects play a valuable part in the garden ecosystem.
Gastropods such as slugs – often regarded as the scourge of the seedbed – break down plant matter, disperse seeds, and even provide mulch with their slug poop!
That said, their rough tongues are expert at creating holes in leaves, stems and even bulbs.
They love beans, lettuce and potato tubers, but they’re also partial to the soft foliage of hostas
Creating a barrier is a good deterrent. Try sharp-edged eggshells, wool pellets or seaweed (great for mulching your crops), or run rings around them with copper tape under the rims of pots.
While none of these methods is foolproof, they'll make it harder for them to get to your prized plants.
Another thing you can do is to hold off transplanting seedlings until they are a bit sturdier, to give them a good head start.
Remove fallen leaves during winter as this is their favourite hibernation spot.
That said, hedgehogs, beetles and toads also like these nesting sites – and if you encourage them, they'll clear up your slug problem for you.
Greenfly & whitefly
Flower tips and new shoots are the favoured feast for aphids. Whitefly love cabbages and tomatoes in particular.
When greenfly infestations get severe, they can produce a sooty mould and cause the leaves to curl, weakening the plant.
The answer? Diversity.
Encourage 'winged pesticides' such as ladybirds, beetles, lacewings and wasps and they'll gobble up the aphids for you.
Log piles provide shelter and plants such as daises and herbs can provide nectar sources. Always ditch the pesticides, and plant odorous deterrents.
Placing a strong-smelling companion plant such as marigolds next to tomatoes, or onions and leeks near carrots confuses the aphid's smell-based navigation system.
Find out more about companion planting here:
As essential pollinators of our food crops, butterflies add beauty and benefits to our gardens and allotments.
But as anyone who grows brassicas
knows, a kaleidoscope of cabbage whites, or at least their yellow and black caterpillars, can make Swiss cheese out of a crop in a matter of weeks.
The best way is to hand pick, both the eggs and the caterpillars, and find them a new home.
Large Cabbage White caterpillars
Or grow a row of more attractive ‘sacrificial’ plants such as nasturtium
next to your crop. Lining your brassica bed with herbs can also attract beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps.
Add fine mesh netting while the plants are young, ensuring you plug any gaps, to avoid a brassica massacre.
It’s amazing such a tiny beetle can do so much damage to seedlings, especially brassicas
. The reason is simply the sheer number of them.
Flea beetles will nibble hundreds of round holes into leaves, causing them to crisp up and brown. With their large hind legs, they can jump from plant to plant easily and make quick work of a row of your flourishing plants.
Infestations tend to be worse when seedlings are small and sappy, or when seeds are planted into cold soil and are slow to get going.
Drought can also make plants weaker, so plant later and ensure crops are well watered and fed.
Potent smelling herbs planted near or between rows can help deter them. But the real star is a smelly spray (which as it happens also works a treat on slugs), made by crushing garlic or coffee grounds into water.
When it's sprayed on to the leaves, the pungent aroma makes them hop off. Reapply liberally during the growing season.
Forget to protect your peas, cabbages or fruit bushes and pigeons will make short work of them – sometimes overnight!
They peck at the leaves of vegetables, eating right down to the stalk, and gobble up berries. Blackcurrants are their favourites.
If you can't fork out for a fruit cage, old net curtains draped over canes, or hula hoops work just as well.
Bright colours, mirrored surfaces and noisy textures, especially those that move in the breeze, will also deter the birds from investigating your crops.
You can make mobiles from scrap metal, cutlery or reflective CDs.