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Organic Gardening in Central Oregon

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Chapter Ten - Pests and Nonpests of All Kinds

A Word for Weeds

People are often shocked when I say that weeds are okay or that I like weeds. There is the idea out there that the only good weed is a dead weed, but I disagree. Now don't get me wrong, I'm am not saying to let your property, garden and yard grow up in wanton weeds. As a gardener, you have to keep some semblance of control or succession will overtake you on the way to the climax forest, which is the ultimate goal of nature.

So let me cover myself here. Weeds can be very troublesome pests and will need a good deal of control. Too many weeds will take the moisture, nutrients and light from the plants of choice. Weeds are pushy and aggressive, and if you do not use a great deal of discretion, they can get the better of you. They can harbor insect pests, but they also give shelter to beneficial insects, so that about equals out.

You need to practice selective growing, with the goal not to eliminate weeds, but control them. Most of the common garden weeds go hand in hand with gardening, because the weeds also like the rich, moist soil of a garden. I encourage you to learn what the weeds are and what they can be used for.

Deep rooted plants like dandelion, lambsquarter, thistles and pigweed go deep into the subsoil and pump up minerals from down beyond the root range of most garden plants. Weeds, when they are young and succulent can be turned over as a cover crop, making excellent soil builders. Weeds, even such pests as young tumbleweed, can be a welcome addition to a carbon hungry compost pile. The younger and more succulent the weed, the more nitrogen available for the compost.

Being nutrient strong they are also good body builders, and some are quite tasty, especially when young. Shepard's purse, lambsquarter, purslane, dock, dandelion and chickweed are good as salad greens and potherbs and are higher in nutrients than cultivated greens. They make good animal and bird feed, also. Farm animals consider weeds to be gourmet. Even caged birds will benefit from being fed chickweed. Wild birds consider many weed seeds a treat. It's is a pleasure for the bird watcher also.

Weeds can be used for companion gardening techniques. It has been scientifically proven that certain crops do better with some amount of weed infestation. For example, a few cornflowers in the rye or corn field increase the yield. Chamomile, which can seed itself as wildly as a weed, acts as a "doctor plant" to surrounding plants.

Reading about weeds is like reading a book on herbal medicine. Many plants in your yard, right now, are easily made into botanical medicines to aid family, friends and pets. Affilare, knotweed, dandelion, mallow are good examples. You could make a healing salve out of chickweed, plantain, dock and dwarf mallow.

I may not have convinced you to grow weeds in your gardens, but I hope at least I have raised your consciousness a bit. The next time you look upon an weed, feel a bit more kindly, even if you do pull it.

Insect Control

Central Oregon does not have as many pest problems as more temperate climates do. This helps to make up for some of the less positive aspects of gardening here.

The best place to start with control is with prevention. Organic gardeners know that healthy plants have more resistance to insects and disease, and that maintaining a high level of soil fertility and humus give the plants a better chance. So any time you have problems, look to you soil and see what you can do to improve it.

Rotating your crops will help to keep problems down. Companion planting can also be helpful. Garden hygiene should be high. Keep the garden free of debris, baskets, sacks or piles of things as these can give problems a place to start. If you have fruit trees, pick up fallen fruit. Avoid handling diseased plants before handling healthy ones; wash your hands first.

Maintaining a balanced environment is an important factor in pest control. Birds in your garden are a critical part of this balance. A house wren feeds 500 spiders and caterpillars to her young in one afternoon. A swallow devours 1000 leaf hoppers in 12 hours. This is a phenomenal amount of help for your garden and all you have to do is provide some food, suitable nesting, escape cover and water. When landscaping include food cover such as bush and choke cherries, service berries, mountain ash and other plantings with fruits. Let some things in the garden go to seed like sunflowers, lettuce, poppies and cosmos.

Toads and frogs are another valuable addition to the well balanced environment. A toad can eat 10,000 insects in 30 days, about 16% of those are cutworms. Snakes, although not beloved by many people are another good insect eating addition to a garden.

There are many predator insects that also aid in protecting your garden from the plant eaters. Many are naturally available and some you can buy live and add to your environment. Lady bugs, spiders and lace wings are the most commonly known and the easiest for most of us to spot. There are certain types of flies and the black ground beetles that are champions in the battle. These are who you are killing any time you spray with poisons, whether they are organic poisons or not.

When prevention fails and you find insects on your plants you must then learn to distinguish between moderate insect life and infestation. Moderate insect life is an integral part of a natural environment, and there must be prey for the predators to be able to live in your garden. If you determine infestation, then start with nonpoisonous methods first before trying the big guns.

Plain water used as a strong spray can sometimes solve the problem with aphids or spider mites, or at least keep them in check. Wood ashes sprinkled around plants can help with cutworms and slugs; mixed with planting soil will help with root maggots of cole crops, carrots and onion. Cutworms can also be deterred with the use of paper collars put around the stems of transplants.

Homemade sprays made of onions, garlic, peppers and herbs have been reported to be effective as an insect control. The herbs used are the strong smelling ones like tansy, southernwood, wormwood, pyrethrum and feverfew. Chamomile made into a strong tea and used as a spray will stop the damp off of seedlings. Alcohol, soap and detergent can also be used for homemade sprays.

Diatomaceous earth, the fossilized bodies of ancient diatoms, are sprinkled on plants or mixed with water and used as a spray. This helps with most insects, including cutworms, slugs, aphids and spider mites.

There is an increasing number of commercial organic preparations coming onto the market place. Safer's has an insecticidal soap preparation that works very well. Many of the preparations are botanical poisons, such as pyrethrum, rotenone and ryania. Bacillus thuringiensis, which is actually an organism, is effective against the caterpillar stage of moths and butterflies, and there are some new Bacillus varieties being used for the Colorado potato beetle and mosquitoes.

My personal philosophy is that a poison (even though it is not toxic to warm blooded animals) is going to take too high a toll on the environment of my garden and I will only use it as a last resort. I have been successful in keeping the insect population in balance in my garden by nonpoisonous means.

One of the handiest new innovations I have seen are the floating row covers. This polyester fabric is bought by the yard, spread over the garden plot and anchored at the edges with soil. It gives a greenhouse effect, protects from frost and keeps insects from depositing eggs. This protects from cabbage worms, root maggots, aphids, and other insect that come from outside. Water passes right through to the soil.

The greenhouse is another matter. Problem insects adore the protected environment and multiply at an alarming rate. I can usually keep it under control with soap and alcohol sprays, but do occasionally have to resort to stronger methods.

Animal Pests

Having your own animals can be an effective deterrent for animal pests. A dog will keep away deer, rabbits, squirrels and some will even catch burrowing animals. A cat can be helpful for the rodent pests.

A good fence is another defense against most of these pests, be they wild or domestic. The fence should be a fairly small weave wire fence, tight to the ground. You need to go six feet high or more if you are keeping out deer. You may want to actually build a cage with a roof over some gardens like vegetable, particularly if you encourage wildlife. Burrowing animals can be deterred with underground fencing also.

Gophers, voles and rock chucks are the main underground invaders. Besides the underground fencing you might try whirligigs stuck in the ground, the ground vibrations are supposed to deter these creatures. I've heard of people flooding the tunnels, smoking the tunnels and putting bramble vines down them. There are traps and poisons. Juicy Fruit gum has even been reported to work, you apparently just unwrap it and drop it down the holes. I haven't tried it.

Other rodents, such as mice and squirrels can also be pests. Using live traps and then moving them is the only solution I know besides killing them. Mice, rabbits and porcupines will strip the bark from your young trees. It is recommended to wrap the trees with tight mesh wire, but be sure to loosen it as the tree grows.

Rabbits are fairly easily deterred with a fence. They are not bold creatures and are easy to scare off. They do not like the smell of human hair or blood meal and neither do deer, so scatter these around the edges of your garden.

Deer are another matter and probably the most difficult of all the pests to keep under control. There are even reports of deer going right up on peoples decks. Tall fences, with a 90 degree angle at the top are helpful. Some people report success with blood meal, human hair, commercial preparations and smelly soaps like Irish Spring. I have even heard that the manure of large zoo carnivores is good. Any of these can be put in net bags and hung on the trees and shrubs all around your property. If you like the deer, your best line of defense may be to plant things they do not like. Of course, if they are really hungry, they might eat even these plants, but it's worth a try.

Deer Proof Plants
Bamboo (not hardy) Calendula
Cedar Daffodil
Daisies (particularly gloriosa and marguerite) Ferns
Fir Foxglove
Hypericum Juniper
Iris Poppies
Potentilla Rhododendron
Rosemary (not usually hardy) Zinnias (not hardy)

According to Thomas Jefferson, gardening is not just a craft but an art comparable to painting.


Perelandra Garden Workbook - Machaelle Small Wright, Overlight Deva of Insects

"If man is to sensitize himself to the communication of the insects, it important that he view them as messengers of a problem and not the problem itself."


Square Foot Gardening - Mel Barthalemew

"How large the garden should be is often hastily decided while the gardener is in the flush of spring fever. That's a bad time! It's like going grocery shopping when you are hungry."

Joy of Gardening - Dick Raymond

Cover crops

"Once you've got a big crew of earthworms and bustling soil life working in your soil, don't lay them off. Feed your soil and soil life with a series of green manure crops."


"My approach to many garden chores is to picture them from the plant's point of view--what does this crop need for the best health in this point in its growth? Then I can figure out the easiest way to do what's best for the crop."


The Natural Way of Farming - Masanobu Fukuaka

"In nature, plants live and thrive together, but man sees differently. He sees coexistence as competition; he thinks of one plant as hindering the growth of another and believes that to raise a crop, he must remove other grasses and herbs."

Landscaping With Nature - Jeff Cox

Wild Plants

"When citing plants in the natural garden, it helps to think like a plant."

Wildlife Gardening

"Wild creatures are symbols of the great web of nature at work, just as our natural landscaping is symbolic of the wild place that inspired it."

Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest - Arthur R. Kruckeberg


"Perhaps in time forgiveness will come to one who proposes that the common sagebrush be given a place in the garden. But in Britain it is already a favorite."

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