You’ve spent months planning your garden — preparing the ground, ordering heirloom seeds and carefully coddling your seedlings. Transplanting went well and you were anticipating a huge harvest. Unfortunately, the aphids, moths and deer found your garden first.
In an SHTF scenario, you have enough to worry about. The last thing you need is for animals and bugs to get into your garden and steal your precious crops. Here are some reasons why pest control is essential and some ways to keep your food supply safe.
Pest control is essential for growing an abundant garden. As a homesteader, your garden is integral to your journey toward self-sufficiency. If you can’t get a handle on pests, you won’t be able to survive off your land. Unfortunately, dealing with meddling creatures can be tricky and highly frustrating.
Many homesteaders want to go the organic route and avoid chemical sprays. These are only short-term solutions and make it more challenging to grow healthy plants the following year. Organic pest control protects the ecosystem while steadily increasing your garden’s resilience to invaders.
Whether you’re ready to live completely off-grid or are preparing for when it’s necessary, pest control is vital to your survival. If bugs and animals have free reign of your crops, they could damage them and affect your yield. They could also eat the best parts and leave you with a few meager vegetables to sustain yourself.
Keeping these varmints out of your garden can help your plants and food supply thrive. With great care, you could end up with hardier plants and delicious, home-grown nourishment.
The best form of pest control is prevention. Most homesteaders use a combination of planting strategies and physical barriers to keep their gardens from being overrun. Here are seven ways you can handle pests and keep your harvest safe
Before you can plan how to protect your garden, you need to learn more about the pests in your area. Their preferences and life cycles will affect what prevention strategies you use. Some pests are seasonal, while others can be a problem year-round. Effective prevention methods are different for every animal.
If you live near the Appalachians, deer and groundhogs will be an issue. You may also have to deal with rabbits, aphids, blight, cucumber beetles and hornworms. Although you can stop some pests mid-infestation, others will wipe out your plants so quickly that prevention is your only hope.
The more you learn about local pests, the better equipped you’ll be to outsmart them. For example, you can rotate your crops to avoid larvae some unsavory bugs may have left in the ground the year before. Seasonal row covers and netting can protect plants from animals and pests when they’re most active.
Even weather can have an impact on pests. For example, birds often peck into strawberries because they’re thirsty. Putting bird baths out can protect your crops by keeping the birds satisfied if you live in a dry climate.
Talk to local gardeners and research your area to learn more about common pests near you. Consider the specific plants you’re trying to grow and which pests they attract. Doing research ahead of time equips you to protect and recover as much of your produce as possible.
When growing food outside, there’s only so much you can do to keep pests away from your plants. A garden isn’t meant to be a sterile environment. Many of the living organisms in your garden are beneficial for healthy plant growth, from the microbes in the soil to the bees buzzing through the air.
The problem with chemical sprays is they take out many good organisms with the bad ones, leading to poor soil health and a damaged immune system for garden plants. Over the long term, using chemical sprays will weaken your garden and make it less resistant to disease — requiring more chemicals to keep everything going.
Although you can’t save all your plants with organic methods, you can save most of them. Homesteaders with experience counteract thieving critters by growing more extensive gardens with a wide variety of plants. That way, pests can feast on a few plants without damaging the bulk of your yield.
Some gardeners actually practice sacrificial planting — they’ll put plants for pests to eat around their garden’s exterior to protect their actual produce in the middle of the space. Many insects are also attracted to weak or sick plants, so gardeners can designate one sickly plant for them and then work to keep the others healthy.
The more garden you grow, the more yield you’ll have regardless of wildlife activity. Homesteaders who start with a small garden can easily be discouraged by the impact of bugs and animals on their produce. Although growing a larger garden may feel counterintuitive, it ensures enough food for your family and the pests.
Healthy soil is the foundation of your plant’s immune systems. Plants are more resilient to disease when their dirt is rich in minerals and essential nutrients and can survive pest infestations. Cultivating healthy soil is your best plan for reducing pest damage over the long term.
Most gardeners start with very poor soil. America used to be covered with a thick layer of topsoil, but land development and extensive farming in the Midwest destroyed most of this fertile ground. You can develop healthy, thriving soil over a period of years if you’re committed to the journey.
Fertile soil is similar to the microbiome in the human gut. It’s full of beneficial bacteria and other organisms that work together to keep the dirt full of healthy nutrients. You can help your ground heal by composting, introducing earthworms and protecting soil structure. It’s also essential to balance your soil’s pH levels.
With the exception of blueberries, most garden plants like a soil pH of six to seven. Heavy metals can poison the plants when dirt becomes too acidic, but reducing soil acidity ensures they only absorb healthy nutrients from the ground. You can test your soil and then use different fertilizers to change its pH level.
Spacing your plants out can also protect them from pests and disease. This makes it harder for pests to travel from plant to plant. Healthy air flow also reduces the likelihood of fungus taking hold and damaging your harvest. Every plant needs appropriate sunlight access so it can grow to maturity.
Garden maintenance can also help prevent pest infestations. Plants are healthier if you follow a watering routine they can count on — consistent watering reduces stress and strengthens their immune systems. It’s best to water your plants in the early morning when the ground is already wet.
While watering, turn leaves upside down to check for pests like aphids and caterpillars. Some insects are good for your garden, so make sure you know the difference between these and the ones you don’t want. You can remove destructive bugs by hand to keep populations down and reduce their impact. Try wearing gloves if squishing them bothers you.
Some gardeners purposely leave plant debris on the ground so pests will eat that instead of climbing healthy stalks. However, too much can encourage more harmful insects to move in and mow down your plants. Excess plant matter can also increase the risk for blight and other fungal diseases, so removing most of it is best.
Pests are also likely to gather around your barns and home if you leave debris nearby. Protecting your food storage is just as important as ensuring your plants grow to maturity in the first place. To eliminate rodents, keep your barns tightly sealed and look for droppings. You can set out bait traps if you notice a problem.
Humans have practiced companion planting as a form of natural pest prevention for thousands of years. This strategy puts plants that repel pests next to plants that attract them. Interspersing these throughout your garden creates diversity and a healthier ecosystem. It’s beautiful to look at and can significantly improve your yields.
Spreading plants out with companion planting helps you get more of your harvest. If beetles get into your cucumbers on one side of the garden, you can remove them before they reach the other side. Gardeners who plant one species all in the same place may lose more of their crop over the year.
A great example of companion planting is putting nasturtiums amidst your leafy vegetables to repel deer. Aphids don’t like chives or coriander and cabbage moths dislike a wide variety of herbs, including sage, rosemary and thyme. All these plants can enhance your diet while reducing pest damage in your garden.
Mixing herbs and flowers into your garden is actually a very effective way to practice companion planting. The strong smells or taste of herbs repel many harmful bugs. These plants also attract beneficial insects that prey on pests and pollinate the rest of your garden.
Companion plants support soil health because they require different nutrients. For example, many gardeners plant corn with beans and squash. These plants use different nutrients and support each other with structure and shade. When they die, they leave trace elements in the soil that support new plants next year.
Many homesteaders invest in animals and insects that can do the dirty work of pest control for them. For example, planting herbs and flowers attracts beneficial insects that keep a healthy balance in your garden. Some gardeners even order these insects online and then set them loose.
You can also invest in fowl like chickens, guineas and ducks. Chickens can be a bit destructive, but they eat many insects that could harm your garden. Ducks go after slugs, beetles and grasshoppers and are more gentle than chickens when tramping through your rows.
Guineas — the bird, not the rodent — are another great choice. They’re inexpensive, require little care and eat many different types of pests. They can help you reduce populations of rats, mice and bugs. You can keep these birds in a chicken coop so they stay safe and remain nearby.
You can also use fowl droppings to create compost tea and fertilize your garden. Eggshells can lower soil acidity and you can feed food scraps to your chickens to reduce waste. Although you might want to keep chickens out of developed gardens, fowl are an excellent tool for fighting pests.
In some cases, a physical barrier is the best way to prevent pests from damaging your harvest. For example, fences can help keep persistent deer out of your garden.
If you want to fence your garden from deer, you’ll need a tall structure they can’t jump over. However, groundhogs, rabbits and mice come in under the fence. You might need to combine a physical barrier with electric wiring that shocks large animals trying to get in.
Some gardeners sink their fences into the ground to prevent rodents and other animals from being able to tunnel underneath. A secure garden gate needs to keep everything out while letting you inside. Before you build a fence, take some time to think about what animals you’re trying to keep out.
Many homesteaders use netting to protect their fruit trees and berry bushes from birds. It can also deter deer from eating young growth and damaging your plants. If you use netting, you’ll need to check it frequently to release any birds that get stuck. Even if it isn’t the most attractive form of pest control, it is effective.
You can also use row covers to keep moths out of brassicas and other low-lying plants. As your plants grow, you’ll need to adjust these covers to allow for additional height. In addition to reducing pest damage, row covers are great for extending the growing season and minimizing frost.
Growing a healthy garden is an essential part of most homesteaders’ plan for self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, when you start developing an abundance of food, your local wildlife will take notice. You can use many natural methods to deter pests and ensure you have organic produce for the winter.
A large garden has too many factors for you to control every detail personally and your garden will never be 100% pest-free. However, you can enlist help from beneficial insects and fowl to keep pest populations low. Checking your garden daily will also give you time to react if there’s a growing pest problem.
You can always install a fence if other prevention methods aren’t working. Although fencing can be expensive, it’s an investment that will protect your homesteading harvest for years to come. Gardening is a learning experience and you’ll gain more wisdom every year you grow food. Learning to manage pests naturally is part of this process.
Jane is the editor-in-chief of Environment.co. She is passionate about sustainability, gardening and homesteading.