Natural Pest Control at Bandstand Beds

The team at the community garden Bandstand Beds on Clapham Common have used some of their grant money from Awards for All to organise a series of three winter workshops on their site. Michel Thill from Social Landscapes was invited to deliver the sessions. In the first workshop the group has explored strategies for natural pest control.

Tomato Pot Marigold Companion

What is a pest? Are there pests in nature? Do we call slugs and snails pests just because they eat our vegetables? While people really want to know practical solutions to solve their problems, we thought we’d start the workshop with taking a more integrated approach: what causes pests in the first place?

Mostly this is an imbalance, which very often is hard to avoid, because, as we know, the larger ecosystem is out of balance. This year the squirrel was stealing my corn seedlings. Well firstly, the squirrel doesn’t find the food that would really satisfy it, secondly, we eliminated most of its natural predators and thirdly, it is not this squirrel that is supposed to be here in the first place (the grey squirrel is native to the Americas and has become ‘invasive’ since introduced). It is mostly us humans who create pests or perceive them as such.

This means that in terms of most pests (and maybe that is a bit more challenging with the squirrel actually) what we want to do is create a balance in our mini-ecosystems where there are enough predators to keep pests in check. Bill Mollison, the co-founder of the permaculture methodology, famously said, “you don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency”. And yes, with intelligent design, we could use ducks in such a way that they get rid of a lot of our slugs and snails in the garden – as long as we keep the ducks away from the actual lettuce which they like as well. Frogs for example would do the same, as they like to eat the snails’ eggs – they are also easier to encourage with a small pond.

The question therefore often is: how do we encourage the right animals and insects into our garden to help us create a balanced system? Spreading slug pallets around our crops is not the long-term solution; while they might get rid of the slugs and snails quite effectively, they also kill whatever life is in the soil; even poison the birds that come to eat the slugs and snails and ultimately contribute to the imbalance.

Often however, we’re planting out our seedling and the next morning these lettuces and courgettes that we nurtured from planting the seed indoors are gone – it’s frustrating. So what can we do? Here are just a few solutions:

Slugs and snails

For those growing in raised beds, using copper tape around the edge is really effective and doesn’t involve killing them. Slugs and snails don’t like to cross it. Once the plants grow and hang over the edge, they find their way in, but the veggies are usually large enough to withstand some damage.

Hand picking is a good solution, but make sure you don’t just bring them to the bottom of your garden, because they’ll find their way back. Otherwise handpicking can be effective especially when you know where they like to hide during the days – often garden pots. Some people put orange peels in the garden to attract them and collect them.

What you do with the slugs and snails I leave up to you.

Aphids

Aphids love bean plants especially. In the Bandstand Beds garden you can see a nasturtium planted at the bottom of the bean plant – they make great companions. You only need to turn a leaf of the nasturtium and you can see it is full with aphids. Nasturtiums in this case act as sacrificial crops, attracting the aphids while keeping them mostly off the bean.

There are also ladybirds sitting on the bean plant, who eat the aphids – the more ladybirds you can attract the better.

If aphids end up on your bean plant anyway, I would first remove them by hand, then with the hose and if they become an infestation, you can make a fairly simple but effective spray by adding 4 tbsp of washing up liquid and a tsp of cayenne pepper to a litre of water. Spray this at the effected areas once and maybe again a week later and they should be gone.

Pigeons

In London gardens, pigeons come and fast on any plants in the cabbage family. Some people stick branches in between the plants to keep them away, others use cd’s and hang them around the garden as the reflecting and moving light distracts them.

Both methods are good, but most effective is building a simple structure with netting around the areas with cabbages and the plants are safe.

Our handout on the day...