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.