Gah, pests!

Several of my veggies have reached the end of their fruiting season, and while I get more seedlings going, I’m greedily hovering over what plants that are left – the okra, in this case. So it was with dismay that I saw how something had been nibbling at the developing okra fruits, and the leaves. A careful inspection of the plants led to the discovery of thin, green caterpillars that move like inchworms. Don’t know what they were, but they’re history now. The only problem is, they blend in so well with the plants that I could only spot them when they moved.

And no, I’m not going to contemplate the possibility that I’m colourblind… :P

Eggs of the spiralling whitefly on the left. More developed larvae on the right. *censored* pests!!

So, knowing that caterpillars were attracted to the plants, I began cautiously inspecting the undersides of the leaves for eggs and juvenile caterpillars (if I could spot them). I found some individual eggs and a young caterpillar that I naturally removed, as well as an intriguing spiralling line of white dots. Naturally, I brought my problem to the GCS forum, and was told that they were probably whitefly eggs. Spiralling whiteflies, no less. So, since I want to be an organic grower, I’m not going to use insecticides even though I have them ready and waiting. A double-pronged approach lies ahead – manual checking for pests combined with companion planting.

I know that companion planting doesn’t mean that just because you plant two or more plants in close proximity, the pests will stay away. In theory, the mixture of scents from the different plants is supposed to confuse pests. Or, one of the companions is set there as a sacrificial lamb – it is more appealing to the pests, and they’ll pay more attention to it than your more precious plant. Or, one of the companions attracts predators of the pests, and since they’re there and they see their prey, they eat them.

Ladybug checking out the cucumber flower.

Another theory about pest control that I’ve heard is that predators of the pests will come to your plants because their prey is there. If there’s nothing for them to eat, they’ll go live elsewhere. There’s something to that, because I rarely see ladybugs in our garden. However, I recently spotted a couple browsing on the cucumber and okra plants – where, incidentally, I’d also previously seen whiteflies and other tiny insects. So I guess there’s truth to that.

No sane gardener would want to have pests in their garden, but unfortunately, that’s how nature works. If you grow something that pests like, they’ll come over. We have to accept that. And, rather than try to be the superior I’ll-kill-you-if-you-mess-with-my-plants creatures that we are, we ought to learn how to work with nature to balance the pest population out, because everything has it’s place in nature, and balance is key to everything. It’s just a very fine line to walk.

Some possibilities open to me now are using a mild soap solution, or a steady spray of water, on the undersides of the leaves. I should also prune the lower leaves to allow sunlight, wind and rain in. Fewer leaves will also give less real estate to the pests. And, of course, I need to keep fertilizing the plants to keep them strong and healthy, so they can withstand the onslaught of pests.

Sounds like a plan.

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