Toward a Do-Nothing Gardening, pt. 5: Organic Pest Management (Lazy Gardening)

I’ve never done a video about how to handle a serious pest infestation for the simple reason we never have them, even though we do almost nothing to control pests. I’m not sure how much of this can be attributed to our pest management strategy versus where we live and the type of pests we have here, but I thought I’d share with you the basics of our do-nothing pest control philosophy in the hope that it might help some of you prevent infestations in the future. Today I’ll focus on insects, slugs, and the like. The first principle we follow is to create an environment that fosters a broad diversity of life. We want our soil to be healthy and teeming with microbes, earthworms, and other beneficial soil organisms. We grow plants and flowers that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, including those that prey on pests. And we do our best to create an environment that is safe for birds, four legged creatures, and, of course, humans. To this end, we avoid using all synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and also avoid organic pesticides that could potentially harm beneficial organisms. The next principle is that healthy soil results in healthy, pest resistant plants. Years ago I read that Eliot Coleman saw lots of cabbage moths on his farm but very little damage from cabbage worms. He attributed this to the health of the soil and plants. At the time, I was skeptical, but we’ve had the same exact experience in our garden. There are cabbage moths everywhere, but the damage from cabbage worms isn’t bad at all. Healthy pest resistant plants start with healthy soil, and the life in the soil is key to that health. To promote the soil food web and ensure sufficient nutrients, we follow a very simple strategy of amending the soil with homemade compost, worm castings, and mulch from free local resources. We also grow nitrogen fixing cover crops in the fall. A soil test this spring confirmed that this approach has supplied more than enough nutrients and that no additional fertilizers or amendments are needed for healthy soil and plants. In fact, the test showed that we can reduce our compost applications. The next principle is to grow in polycultures. In this small 4 by 4 foot bed, we’re growing beets, squash, corn, pole beans, and scarlet runner beans. This cacophony of scents and sights makes it difficult for pests to find their desired food source, which results in less pest damage. The only damage I could find in the bed was to some of the older beet leaves. The next principle is to allow predators to control pests. For example, we rarely see aphids in the garden, but when we do, they almost always have fallen victim to predators. Let’s take a look in this bed to see this principle in action. Here you can see aphids trapped in a spider’s web above the leaf mulch, which, by the way, is an excellent habitat for spiders. When I look at the plant above the spider’s web, I don’t find any aphids. In addition to spiders, we often see ladybugs and lacewings, and on occasion, praying mantises and dragonflies, which prey on cabbage moths and other pests. All in all, predators do a great job of controlling most pests in our garden. Needless to say, pesticides could disrupt this delicate balance. Even relatively safe controls like neem, can coat and kill beneficial insects like bees, lacewings, and ladybugs. Unfortunately, especially in heavily populated urban areas, there isn’t alwasy a predator for every pest. And that’s when we resort to manual control and other minimally invasive interventions. Unfortunately, there aren’t many natural squash bug predators here, so we have to step in and play the role of predator. All we do is look for their eggs on the bottom of squash leaves and remove them with packing tape. This works great to keep them in check. We also manually remove adult squash bugs. The same is true for slugs. Of course, ducks are great slug predators, but we can’t keep ducks in our yard, so we sometimes resort to making our own yeast slug traps, which work great. Fortunately, despite all the rain we’ve had lately and the nearly ideal conditions for slugs, they haven’t been much of a problem this year and we haven’t had to set out any traps. In addition to squash bugs and slugs, we also manually remove pests like Japanese beetles and cabbage moths when we happen to see them. Here I’m removing a cabbage moth cocoon from a kale leaf. Finally, when playing the role of predator, we always make sure to identify unknown insects before intervening. Our default position is to assume that all insects are beneficial unless we know otherwise. The final principle is to tolerate imperfection. We’d rather have holes in our greens than wage an all out war on pests, kill beneficial insects in the process, and disrupt nature’s delicate balance. Besides, slightly stressed plants are more nutritious. Plants produce increased levels of antioxidants as a defense against environmental stressors like pest damage. So, when you see holes in your greens, just remember those holes mean more antioxidants in your diet. So, those are our do-nothing pest control principles. There may be situations when more intervention is required, but I believe the starting point should be a minimally invasive approach that works with nature. I think you’ll get better results in the long run. Well, that’s all for now. Thank you very much for watching, and until next time remember you can change the world one yard at a time.

72 thoughts on “Toward a Do-Nothing Gardening, pt. 5: Organic Pest Management (Lazy Gardening)

  1. "Tolerate Imperfection" is a great strategy. I may have a hole here and there, but I don't seem to mind and the plants taste just the same. I think so many people are used to the "perfect" vegetables found in supermarkets that they turn their nose up at a plant with a little bit of damage. I heard somewhere that in the past the Japanese would actually pay more for produce that had some insect damage as this was a sign the plants were more nutritious as compared to the produce without any damage.

  2. I have an extreme problem with gophers so I'm now using raised beds but I'd sure like my garden to be as great as yours!

  3. Great information Patrick! I too am a huge proponent of attracting as many beneficial insects to the garden as possible (and have an entire playlist of garden insects on my channel).  I stopped using a broadcast spray (neem) about 2 years ago. I only use BT now on my kale / broccoli. I have found Dino Kale to be more resistant to insect damage than other varieties.I would like to note there are many varieties of plants which are resistant to certain insects, so if a gardener notices a repeated infestation they can choose varieties resistant to the insect.  One example for instance, the varieties of broccoli which are resistant to flea beetle include: Atlantic, Coastal, De Cicco, and Italian Green Sprouting. It's important to support a wide variety of seeds for this reason and many more.    Occasionally, I have to spray to keep an infestation under control (when hand collecting is not possible).  Last year, I sprayed Spinosad on my cabbage to control flea beetles.  Manual control (removing by hand) is the way I control most infestations (like the jap beetle – I have noticed more than usual this year).

  4. Great episode! As we have as well found, Polyculture is hands down the most effective form of pest management. We have almost zero problems with our plants.

  5. Excellent video. I do very little pest management as I have set up a passive ecosystem approach like you !

  6. Great video. I rarely do anything either, and have found your advice very helpful for the last two+ years. The most I get is some moth damage in mid-late august, or flea beetles on Eggplants…Do nothing. Same thing for the human body..prevention is the …cure. Build up your immunity and fingers crossed!

  7. Nice video. I m doing the same remove by hand the pest… It works great. Are you barefoot in your garden!!! Lol

  8. Great video Patrick, and SO timely! thank you for the reminders to allow a certain level of pest damage and Mother Nature to provide the bulk of our pest remendiation. The concept of using packing tape is new to me, but very much appreciated. Keep up the good work and the helpful videos. I love your channel!

  9. Great video @OneYardRevolution | Frugal & Sustainable Organic Gardening, I really enjoyed it.

  10. ??????. Loved the tape method of catching them. I am usually thrilled to see any insect or bug in my sort of indoor growing space. I had aphids on my climber beans and was then delighted to see lady bugs come in to feast.

  11. Tolerating imperfection is a great default attitude. It can give me a few moments to regain my composure. After all,  it's just a grand experiment anyway. Thanks for the reminder and new ideas.

  12. Try planting winter squash very late in the season – outside of the normal life cycle of squash bugs. It works.
       And if someone is vegetarian, having a few bugs in the salad can be a valuable source of protein. In our evolutionary past we never ate bug-free food. Our bodies need the germs and worms to function properly. Just like the soil. We are all one big Life.

  13. Thanks for a truly excellent video on this subject.  In 6 minutes that puts the best case for integrated pest management I have ever heard.

  14. Hey Patrick. I agree. Every intervention creates more imbalance that's needs more intervention. We've been in our house for 3 years now and we are starting to see a reduction in damage. I'm not sure whether it's predators or healthier soil and plants but those first few years were hard. We're in the subtropics and our summers bring on an onslaught but it comes in waves as the season progresses. I think those early outbreaks allow predators to build up numbers.

  15. Wonderful to hear someone talk about their garden as an entire system. Your plants look beautiful. A question about tomatoes-Do you  give them an extra boost throughout the season?

  16. Great video, Patrick! We don't spray unless it's absolutely necessary, and when I do, I only use spinosad, which is organic, and doesn't harm the beneficial insects. I have only sprayed twice this season, and primarily due to hornworms on the tomatoes!

  17. Thank you my friend for another informative video.  I really like the 'packing tape' idea.  I am going to give it a try, maybe on the cucumber beetle.

  18. . Down here in the deep southeast, I think there is a caterpillar for every crop. Needless to say, BT is something I have to use as a maintenance spray throughout the summer. I also live in an area with hundreds of thousands of acres of BT cotton, and sometimes wonder if the industrial farming pushes the bugs to seek out victory gardens.

  19. "Stressed plants are higher in anti-oxidants." Wow, I had never heard that before. Could I grow big healthy plants and just stress them out shortly before harvest?

    My brussels sprouts have gotten hammered by cabbage moths this year. Next year twice as many. 🙂

  20. we are still trying   to build our soil  to a point that the plants are strong enough to resist pest but we do have s ton of lizards, dragon flies and other predators. Great vid as usual

  21. 6 great principles to go by! I especially like how #6 is one of the principles because I believe that most of us are taught to feel that pest damage crop are gross.

    Your garden system is so healthy and so well managed (kudos btw) that you may not run into some of the problems I am certain some of us regular gardening folk run into– weak plants that start off looking healthy but soon get overrun by pests. If there is to be a corollary to principle #5, perhaps it might be to: Monitor Plants That Appear On The Verge Of Being Overwhelmed & Remove Pest Overwhelmed Plants. Because my soil is not as healthy as it can be, I would find one or two plants that is/are unable to fend off its attackers. Before long, the entire plant is full of pests. Some suggest to leave the plant as a sacrificial plant. However, I do not subscribe to that method of pest management because I believe that once overwhelmed, a plant becomes nothing more than a safe haven and breeding colony for pests. I believe that at that point the root of the problem is either or both cases where there is genetic predisposition or the plant is not receiving suffice inputs. What are your thoughts on this?

  22. Great video Patrick. Tolerating imperfection is key to balance. 
    Now, you might not have met harlequin bugs in your kales have you? If you haven't consider yourself lucky. 🙂

  23. Good video. I've been using that tape tip on the squash bug eggs on my plants and it's working great 🙂 Thanks! Got a tip for powdery mildew? lol
    Video ideas: garden recipes (what y'all make for dinner always looks so good) and periodic full garden tours. That's just my opinion. I'm always pleased with your content. Keep em coming!

  24. You have defiantly created a balanced diverse growing area there Patrick. Thanks for the share…

  25. Great job Patrick! I Especially like the tolerate imperfection…a few wholes on leaves or a crack tomato won't make it to market, but there is nothing wrong with them. Have you seen in France they started to sell ''ugly vegetables'' in markets, they sell them at a lower price and it works, people are buying them 🙂

  26. Hi Patrick thanks for that great tip, I'm inclined to believe that using a copper tool in the garden helps deter them from the soil you have use the tool on. Sad to hear you cannot have animal for manure. Since you live in a temperate climate zone you must have similar weeds to me. Keep an eye out for yarrow, dandelion, valerian, stinging nettle and wood shaving from the bark of an oak tree. Add them all to your compost heap.

  27. Attracting snakes to your garden can help with slugs. Not sure how "instinctive" your kitty is though. I've had cats that brought home dead snakes before…

  28. i really enjoyed this video, everything you cover here is very true about pest control, also where i live i am able to keep ducks as a added defense to any pest problems while enjoying the return of eggs and other things… by using nature control of pest and other things i am able to enjoy my garden during growing season and more… thanks for sharing… william.

  29. Great channel with great content. I have a question. When would be the best time of year to plant tree collards in NC zone 7? Surprisingly I can't find a lot of information on them. Thanks!

  30. Have noticed a lot less cabbage butterfly attack in a few beds this winter. Not sure if it's due to the soil being fed better over the past 8-12 months or the large population of wasps in the front yard. 

  31. Nice one Patrick! I have been amazed at the effect of adding used brewery grains to the leaves I'm composting. The pile is really cooking on gas now! Am pleased to have secured a source of the grains a mile away from here. I went to the juice bar in the mall a few days ago. Unfortunately it was near closing time, the assistant was eager to get home and not too enthusiastic to help me. She told me that the garbage had just been taken out to be collected for recycling. I'll return soon and hope to get my hands on some of their waste.

  32. I just subscribed, Thanks for the great videos. Have you done a video telling what plants you like to grow together or what plants do not grow well together?

  33. Thank you for the prompt reply, your videos are very inspirational. I have sandy soil that will not hold nutrients so I added about 10 -12 inches of chipped tree branches/leaves to my garden about two years ago. As they settled and started breaking down I added some wheat straw and another 8 -10 inches of wood chips.
    I now have about 2-3 inches of rich soil on top along with a decent number of naturally occurring red wigglers. I plan to start some worm beds like yours as well.
    I have mustards and turnips growing in there right now and have not added any fertilizer. I look forward to having a setup like yours someday.
    Thanks again for the videos.

  34. I noticed that the tomatoes I forgot to water just a week before harvest were much sweeter and had much more flavor then the others that had been kept up!!! same packet of seeds! I noticed that my stressed peppers had also!

  35. Great video Patrick.  Can you recommend some plants that would attract pollinators and predators?  Thanks Joe

  36. GREAT video, I guess I need to incorporate more beneficial plants. I did use compost when I did my transplanting. I bought some kale & broccoli and it's not doing well:(. Also because I'm fairly new my mindset was try anything once and see what happens but now I see that I must choose insect resistant plants. I'll be watching more videos to know exactly what the names of beneficial & useful l insect resistant plants get when I go to Home Depot or Lowe's. Do you grow all of your veggies from seed or do you buy your plants? I want to thank you for the information.

  37. hi  Patrick I had to go back to this video I am having so much  problems with white fly's from my pumpkins to my kale  tried to hose them  no help little soapy water what do u think ?
    I am looking for your video about how u planted your blueberries  I know it was last year.  Thank u so much   looking forward to the next one

  38. Try less intensive planting as bugs only attack crops that are dehydrated.
    My guess is too much in a small space means water will become scarce after a few dry days. It could also be the raised beds as they would dry out quicker than ones at soil level.
    Or you could incorporate tap roots into beds to draw up moisture from deeper down.

  39. Patrick, you are so easy to listen to. Your manner is comforting, practical, common sensical and intellectual. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and good nature.

  40. Thanks for (again) a great video! I would like to add that one pest control method is to observe your garden. Just keeping track of your garden is fun anyway, and it will allow you to detect immediately if something is wrong. I suspect that you unconsciously follow this principle.

  41. I completely agree with using biodiversity to decrease infestation and the crop wipe out that would result from monocultures. Still, I know some crops will inevitably be eaten by critters and I'm curious as to what percentage you would say you lose or throw out?

  42. Great videos. Very inspiring to encourage me change to polyculture approach. Makes sense. Those kales look fantastic. Can't say I have the same result. Cabbage worm loves my garden here in Ireland in spite of best efforts to cover and deter. Will keep trying though.

  43. I agree 100% with this approach, and it certainly works where we live with more than a hectare of isolated garden in our part of rural France. We had plenty of pests when we arrived but they have all disappeared or become insignificant due to mixed planting and creating a great habitat for predators.

    I am sceptical though about how far it works with gardeners surrounded by others who continue to use pesticides or who are surrounded by non organic farms. Back in the UK we tried the same methods but suffered badly from pests spreading from adjoining gardens and fields.

    It should of course be a crusade to get everybody to adopt the same methods and show them how well it works.

  44. Hi Patrick! I was having lots of problems with cabbage butterflies laying eggs on my collards and kale earlier this season, but I took care of that with small hoop tunnels of agri-fabric netting. Now, I'm getting Japanese beetles inside the netting and they are doing as much or more damage as the cabbage worms were. Just having one beetle on a plant for a day or so without me noticing it, can result in several really chewed up leaves, they seem to eat even more than one large cabbage worm does.

  45. The cabbage butterflies and their worms were just horrible this year on my kale and collards. I can deal with a few small holes in the leaves, but not when they destroy whole leaves. Thinking about growing them in a hoop tunnel with insect barrier cloth next year, although I did try it on a small section this year, and it worked really good until the dinosaur kale leaves started touching the cloth, and then I started having problems again with some worms getting inside. I couldn't believe it, but I really think the butterflies were laying their eggs on the outside of the cloth and when the eggs hatched the tiny worms were crawling right through the cloth onto the leaves that were touching the cloth. That's the only explanation that I can think of as to how those worms got in there!

  46. AWE… SOME! I am trying to learn to garden just like you! This will be my second year. Didn't produce very well last year. ?

  47. Hi Patrick. Do you get squirrels or raccoons in your garden? If so, how do you keep them away from it?.

    Thank you for your videos.

  48. so i watch almost the entire video before noticing you are barefooted. i often go barefoot in my garden as well. when i first get up i put on a pot of coffee and as it perks i head out into my garden barefooted. nothing like it to connect with nature.

  49. I forget what they are called but I have little bugs that cut holes in my fruit and lay their eggs which hatch into some kind of little work and eat my fruit. Effects cherry, peach, plum trees. Overwinters in the fruit left around the tree.

    Aside from trying to pick up every single piece of fruit what can I kill them with? I’m open to any suggestions that are natural…. predatory or product. If there’s insects that kill them I’ll plant something to bring those insects but what are your opinions in neem oil?

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