I've had enough!!! Today I ordered a jug of pyrethrin. The brassicas are almost all destroyed by cabbageworms and the Japanese beetles are going to town on almost everything else… Sweet corn, green beans, etc. I direct seeded my squash and melons late but it's probably just a matter of time before some pest moves in there. No amount of preventive measure is working. There aren't enough beneficial insects to make a dent and my floating row covers went on too late (I guess) and just trapped in the cabbage worms.
Does anyone else use organic pesticides? I can't help but feel guilty (or like a failure).
We try to grow everything without pesticides, but I feel your pain. Our one exception is fire ants, which we are using chems on as little as possible, and have learned to divert their nests with rotting wood away from the garden beds where they feast on termites. And there is a lesson in that: cooperate with nature so it can do its job and keep your plants healthy, and you can grow things without pesticides.
All I can say is that pesticides will not be there if TSHTF. For the sake of the argument, never mind that pesticides are very bad to eat, and let's even pretend some of them do not kill necessary, pollinating bees. As petroleum products become more expensive due to peak oil they are gradually not going to be available. Once you wrap your brain around that fact, here are some things you can try.
Healthy soil! Healthy plants are less vulnerable to pests and diseases. So get your soil checked, just like the big farmers, for cheap at your local Agricultural Cooperative Extension. Here in SC it costs $6 per sample, and it really let us know what to do to get much bigger yields, and happier plantings.
Companion plantings: Some plants repel insects. It's not enough if your soil is the wrong pH or has out-of-whack mineral balance, but as an example putting marigolds and nasturtium under your tomatoes helps. Here is a list of recommended companion plantings. This year we've had marvelous success alternating close rows of bush green beans with okra in our square-foot garden.
Varying your timing: We found that we could avoid squash vine borers–the WORST pest where we live–by growing things before the bugs woke up in late spring. We successfully grew pumpkins this year by planting them way too early and covering them with blankets during frosts. We will try that with zucchini and melons next year.
Resistant varieties: The same squash vine borers killed any cucumbers we'd planted, until we found a resistant variety: West Indian Burr Gherkins. We have great hopes for a zucchini substitution and a type of butternut squash that is said to be resistant. The secret seems to be to plant things that are not struggling in our climate, and are not too far removed from their original genetic configuration by years (centuries?) of selective breeding. Note: hybrids can be resistant, but will not breed true if you save seeds.
Plant varieties recommended by your local Agricultural Cooperative Extension: One of my local gardening friends bought a generic peach tree from a big box store. the bugs here are killing it. He has to plant a new one that is suggested for our climate. My local Extension has a website: the Home & Garden Information Center, or HGIC. Back in NY it was the Cornell Cooperative Extension's website. Many countries and all 50 American state have them. Use these to eliminate a lot of trial and error about what to plant. Our local extension suggested a cabbage that really loves our climate (Brunswick).
Put in a pond: toads and frogs will be more than happy to help reduce the insects in your garden. Plus, you can grow things like water cress!
Yesterday there was a harmless black racer snake in our garden, and before that I saw geckoes, parasitic wasps, spiders, and a five-line skink. All of these insects and animals have a role in keeping out garden pest-free. They would not be here if I'd gone the chemical route.
Wendy, have you heard of or tried Anti-Fuego for your fire ants? I was in a similar situation – no pesticides/herbicides on my property with the exception of spot treatment fire ant killer. Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast recommended Anti-Fuego for fire ants. It's basically soil amendments like molasses and sugars mixed with orange oil. Doing some research, it sounds like the orange oil kills them if they come into contact with it, and the sugars and soil amendments encourage microbial activity that the fire ants don't like and it drives them out. So it's actually good for your soil to use. Supposedly it takes multiple applications to drive them out though.
I picked up a gallon. I haven't tried it yet, as the fire ants (oddly) haven't made an appearance on my property yet. Maybe too much rain here in Texas.