If we grow something that is pretty to look at or good to eat there is a critter around that wants to eat it. Sometimes that may be a larger critter like a deer or a rabbit but today I want to talk about the small critters that are harder to see and identify. It is important if you’re going to be a gardener that you learn to identify at least the common garden insects. Most are not harmful to your plants and only a handful are doing any damage but those few will do a lot of damage if left unchecked. Looking at the damage that they leave on the plant will give you a clue as to what kind of insect you have. If there are holes in the leaf or parts of the leaf are missing then you have a bug with chewing mouth parts and is usually somewhat larger. If the plant has lost it’s good color and looks pale or has puckered leaves then you may have a insect that is sucking the juice from the plant. These insects are much smaller and harder to see because they hide under the leaves and we may not see them until a lot of damage is done. Either way you need to be scouting for insects several times a week to find them in the early stages. Looking on the undersides of the leaf and around the base of the plant is important. If it is a hot day some of the chewing insects will hide during the heat of the day so checking early in the morning or late in the evening will be a better strategy.
As an organic gardener you want to invite the good bugs into your garden that will eat some if not all of the bad bugs. You can do this by planting more herbs and flowers. Especially plant flowers and herbs that have lots of nectar that good bugs are drawn to. We plant Bronze Fennel, Dill, Parsley, Zinnias, Sunflowers and let some of our leafy green vegetable crops go to flower like lettuce and collards. Any plant that is labeled as a butterfly attractor will usually attract beneficial insects. You may not think of paper wasp as being good for your garden but they will eat a lot of caterpillars that eat holes in your plants so if they are not directly in my way where I think someone may be stung I always leave them alone. there are other small parasitic wasp that wont sting people but attack some of the bad bugs in the garden.
Despite our best efforts we will still have an outbreak of harmful insects and instead of turning to synthetic chemicals I use Organic remedies. The first line of defense is to pick off caterpillars like the tomato horn worm or Japanese beetles. This will work for a small garden or if you only have a few bad bugs to deal with. The next line of defense is to use soaps or sprays made from plants like neem oil. These are safe to use and easy on the beneficial insects. Biological Sprays that contain a bacteria like Spinosad and BT that target certain types of insects are my next line of defense but you need to be more careful with these and not spray when your bees and other pollinators are out. Spray late in the evening around sundown. My last line of defense is to use Organic Pyrethrum that comes from the chrysanthemum flower but this is very toxic to all insects and should used carefully.
With any of these remedies you need to cover the entire plant even under the leaves where insects can hide.
Insect soap concentrate Mix with water to spray on plants. Will kill most soft bodied insects like aphids by smothering them. Click here to buy from Amazon. http://amzn.to/1rXrxV0
BT stands for Bacillus Thuringiensis and is effective in killing caterpillars like the cabbage looper. It is a naturally occurring bacteria . Buy from Amazon. http://amzn.to/1Vc1XXW
Soap and Pyrethrum concentrate. Broad spectrum organic control of many insects. Spray with care in the late evening so as not to harm honey bees. Buy from Amazon. http://amzn.to/1rXt1ic
Soap and Pyrethrum in a ready to spray bottle . No mixing. http://amzn.to/1rXtkte
Spinosad sold as Captain Jack’s. An organic remedy for Caterpillars and other insects. http://amzn.to/1rXtAZp
Safer Bioneem Neem oil. Cold pressed from the neem tree. Repels insects and interrupts their life cycle. http://amzn.to/1rXtJfa
Diatomaceous Earth. A dust that when it comes in contact with crawling insects dries them out. http://amzn.to/1NAZ1CH
Safer® Brand End ALL® With Neem Oil Soap and Pyrethrum. Good knock down for Squash bugs and other insects in a ready to spray bottle http://amzn.to/1TsPfCU
Safer also has a good picture library to help identify some of the common bugs in your garden. http://www.saferbrand.com/advice/insect-library/garden-insects
Here are a couple of more links to help you with identifying insects.