It’s great to witness the rapid propagation that the long Spring days bring to the vegetable garden. However, this robust growth also sounds the feeding bell for a slew of uninvited pests looking to dine at your all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet. Yes, we’re all trying to make a living and this is just nature at work, but it’s alarming to watch how fast a horn worm infestation can demolish a tomato plant. Pest control is a key element in the vegetable garden, and you can make your own organic pesticide solution, but it’s not a cure all and buying organic pesticides can get ‘spendy’. Needless to say the Big Box Store nasties are a non starter, so what’s an organic gardener to do?
Meet the Beneficials
Consider summoning Beneficial Insects to do the job instead. Unlike the failed dates of my youth, these guys are easy to attract and you never have to pay for them. This great compilation was put together by UC Davis ( Download it in full size here ) and tells you all you need to know about which ones do what. (I should add a caveat that this list was compiled with an emphasis on California, but much of it stays true for many parts of the country).
So how do you attract Beneficial Insects into your garden?
OK. You know what they are. Now how do you find them? The simple answer is Flowers. Every vegetable Garden should have a floral element not just for beauty but also for natural pest control. Here’s my top four floral attractors. I like to grow them interspersed with the vegetables and often in the corners of my MinifarmBox, so they don’t get overshadowed from the sun.
1. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Also known as Pot Marigold, this vibrant orange flower attracts bees, butterflies and Hover flies (whose larva feed on aphids). It is also an edible and is known to have antiviral/antiseptic medicinal applications. In fact during the American Civil War, doctors on the battlefield used the flowers with great success to treat open wounds.
Sweet Alyssum is known to attract Minute pirate bugs (who eat aphids, thrips, mites, psyllids, and insect eggs), Parasitic wasps (who lay eggs in aphids, beetles, flies, moths, sawflies, mealy bugs, and scales), and Hover flies. This fragrant edible flower is quite invasive but easy to control by hand pulling.
3. Zinnia – (Zinnia elegans)
This multicolored flower is not only attractive to us, but also hummingbirds, hoverflies, parasitic wasps and butterflies. Regularly deadhead or remove old flowers to keep plants attractive and encourage more blooms.
4.Cornflower (Centaurea sp.)
Also known as Bachelors Button, I love this one as it is so unusual to have blue (it actually is true blue) flowers in the vegetable garden. Cornflower will attract Lacewings, Ladybugs, Hoverflies, Parasitic Mini-wasps, Bees and Butterflies. It is the national flower of Estonia and super easy to grow.