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No-Kill Garden Pests and Weed Control

Cucumber Beetle

Cucumber Beetle

There’s really no reason to post the above picture other than to say it hasn’t been a problem in our garden (nor other bugs!) since using the information I’m about to share. They are actually very beautiful bugs that just happen to love weak cucurbit plants!

We started our first garden ever, in soil that hadn’t been gardened for a number of years, in May 2013. I’d never studied gardening, never done any on my own except a few sunflowers or container gardens. Or a lawn. The dreaded lawn.

So when we found out we could use a 20′ x 40′ piece of community gardening land for essentially, “free,” we jumped at the opportunity.

We planted our plants in heavy clay soil we didn’t know how to prepare, and it wasn’t prepared properly. So the squash we planted were just barely beginning to get eaten by cucumber beetles when I took this fabulous class called Nutrient Dense Gardening. This class saved my squash from the dreaded beetle invasion! Well, actually, I did by applying what I learned in the class.

So what did we do? Well, I learned that bug invasions come when our plants have a phosphorus deficiency. That’s right. No need to get out the Neem or other organic (or worse) bug repellents or killers.

I can’t emphasize this enough. If you have bugs, your plants are not healthy. They are starved for nutrients. End of story.

But, you say, you gave it enriched compost, manure, and all the rest. If a plant can’t uptake the nutrients, it won’t be able to utilize them. So, first things first. Vinegar. Apple cider to be exact. White vinegar will harm the plants (it can kill weeds). The acetic acid in vinegar will dissolve bound up nutrients in the soil.

Dandelion field

There are certain companion plants that can also dissolve nutrients. People say that plants draw up the minerals from deep in the soil, but they actually dissolve it around their root systems, which is why they burrow deep to get at them. For example, dandelion dissolves calcium, making it available for plants – where you find dandelion, you can be sure there is a calcium deficiency in the soil.

Check out these bits of information on weeds. Weeds, Guardians of the Soil and Weeds Make Themselves Scarce When Calcium Enters The Picture. The book, Weeds and What They Tell Us is an excellent resource!

Look at it this way. The soil is their stomach. Microbes and plants produce the enzymes to break down the elements in the soil so they can digest, or absorb them.

So the quantity of vinegar needed, and other nutrients that feed the soil, is in my other post on Nutrient Dense Gardening.

So monthly or bi-monthly additions of lime and gypsum (mixed in equal parts, about a handful per plant) and bone meal (especially rich in phosphorus, same amount, one handful per plant) are essential to an improved soil. There are alternative types of calcium, use your preferred choice. But be assured, plants (especially tomatoes) are calcium lovers.

So let’s get back to the bugs. What do you do when they come and you don’t have time to let the minerals dissolve? Sit back and have a Coke! Just kidding. But not entirely! You see, a root watering of nutrients takes 12 hours. Lime breaks down in two or so months, and gypsum in two or so weeks.

Cola

Cola – why is this here in an article on gardening?

But I need it immediately! Spray. Foliage sprays get into the plant’s system within 20 minutes. And what do you spray? Soda Pop! Yes, I know that sounds weird. But there is solid chemistry behind it. The soda must be one that contains phosphoric acid (it seems only the cola drinks contain it), not citric acid. That gives plants an immediate boost in phosphorus.

No, I don’t like the caramel color or corn syrup either. But it’s edible at the very least! And the corn syrup feeds the microbes, which carbs are vital for healthy plants. If there were liquid solutions of this elsewhere, I’d grab them. But this is the only one I know, and very inexpensive. A 2 liter bottle of store brand cola is about 88 cents at this time. You take 8 ounces of the soda, add it to one gallon of water in a spray bottle of your choice. We bought one that was meant to spray weed killer. Since we have a huge garden, we need at least one gallon or more to thoroughly spray each plant. You can adjust the formula as needed for smaller gardens.

You can spray this often. In the beginning, I sprayed it every other day for three days. Then we really hadn’t seen anymore bugs for several weeks. When I started seeing bugs again, I sprayed once. So, spray as needed until they stop chomping on the plant! But probably limit it to every two days.

Now, have we seen any cucumber beetles? You bet. They sometimes sit on our squash seeming very confused. This looks like a plant they want to eat but it doesn’t taste right. Phosphorus makes it so plants taste bad to bugs. It does not kill them. They simply go elsewhere to feed on weak plants. Or they sit on your plants looking stupid.

So let me show you pictures of our plants versus another nearby person’s organic raised plants, taken the same day.

Here is our yellow straight neck summer squash plant (notice, virtually no holes in the leaves – a couple slashes are from hail or possibly prior to our spraying them)

Summer Squash

And here is the other nearby gardener’s zucchini plant, same day

Neighbor's zucchini

Some of their cucurbits looked like lace leaves later on this season. This was early on at the early part of the season.

Last, let me mention that calcium is also important in keeping bugs away. A good calcium level ensures a solid plant structure. The stronger the plant, the less it will succumb to bugs or disease. So I also typically add powdered milk (reconstituted) to the same one gallon bottle of spray. It only takes two ounces of liquid milk per gallon water. Milk is also high in phosphorus. Because this calcium and phosphorus are in liquid form, it’s easy for the plant to absorb readily. These nutrients also feed the naturally occurring microbes on the leaves that assist the plant’s nutrient intake.

Alternatives to powdered milk could be spoiled milk or yogurt that’s past date. I’ve used yogurt that has no gelatin or other additives and had fabulous results because of the microbes in the yogurt. The soil especially loves yogurt!

Let me know if you’ve also shared success with this information. I’d love to hear!

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