4 Ways We Battle Garden Pests

Pests in the garden. This is an issue that everyone who grows their own food has to deal with. Pest pressures can be very frustrating and it’s important to not feel overwhelmed when it seems the advancing hordes can’t be turned back no matter what you do.

Now, it’s easy to run down to your local big box store and purchase any number of chemical warfare solutions that come in a bottle to win the battle. But that really isn’t a challenge. Those chemicals also destroy the beneficial bacteria and fungus in your soil that feed the roots of your plants. If you continue to destroy those, at some point you will only be able to use chemical fertilizers to grow your plants.  Natural fertilizers will not work. It’s a cycle that is hard to break once it is started.
An American Homestead doesn’t use any chemicals on our garden or inside the greenhouse, either for fertilizer or pest control. So what do we do?  First of all, our greenhouse contains an aquaponics system which completely relies on beneficial bacteria to break down the fish waste into nitrates. Any chemical introduced into that system will kill the bacteria and prevent the waste water from being clean.  This would result in dead fish and dead plants. Secondly, in our garden we are continuing to build up healthy soil by adding natural fertilizers and compost.  The nutrients provided will help plants build up a natural immunity to a number of pests and diseases. It’s the same with us, the more natural your lifestyle, the more your body builds immunity to the things that can attack and make you sick.

But even then, we can have some pest issues that need our attention.

Daddy Long Leg
Daddy Long Leg


Pest Weapon #1 – Daddy Long Legs

While the Daddy Long Leg insect is not something I can specifically control to help my plants, I’ve found it’s one of my biggest allies in my fight to raise a healthy garden and healthy plants in our aquaponics system. These spider like insects roam in force over all the grow beds and chow down on a number of insects including aphids. I have had ZERO aphids this year in my greenhouse, even on lettuce that is growing. I found out the Latin name for the Daddy Long Leg is Opilliones, which means aphid sucker. I have had some aphids in my garden and found the Daddy Long Legs crawling all over the tomato plants, no doubt eating the aphids they come across. I love these guys and if I’m going to keep them around, I better not resort to any chemical insecticides.

Here in the Ozarks, Daddy Long Legs are everywhere. I mean everywhere. They seem to mass in places where you build stuff. I don’t know why that is but if you put up a structure, they come to it and gather. They are a completely harmless insect and despite many folks saying they are poisonous, the fact is they possess no poison at all. If you can get these guys in your greenhouse, or near your garden, they will work overtime in controlling aphids.

Worm on cabbage plant
Worm on cabbage plant


Pest Weapon #2 – Manual Control

The next best weapon in controlling pests is simply to do manual control. Now my garden is pretty big and manual control is going to take a lot of time. But if I see a certain harmful insect in a certain area, its game on. Early in the spring, I found potato beetles eating my potato plants. I immediately went to work and pulled as many off as possible and stepped on them. I was using neem oil pretty regularly on the potato plants which actually did a fantastic job (more on that later), but when I saw a beetle, I pulled him off and squished him under my boot. Another time I saw a number of unidentified black beetle like bugs going to town on my huckleberries. I did a lot of boot squishing that day as well. Both plants, the potatoes and huckleberries, did very well with just a little manual effort.

Neem Oil and Sal Suds
Neem Oil and Sal Suds

Pest Weapon #3 – Neem Oil and Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Soap

Now this is the miracle solution you have been waiting for. (Click here to purchase) The only downside for me is I can’t use it in my aquaponics system because it will make my fish sick. However for my garden, this worked wonders for my first year. This first year my soils weren’t as healthy because it was only this past fall that I began to build up the nutrients for the soil. And so the plants may not have had all they needed to be able to ward off pests and develop immunity to them.

The recipe is simple: 2 tablespoons of neem oil and 2 tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds per gallon of water.

I used a simple gallon sprayer that you can buy at Walmart. Make sure the nozzle is set to a fine mist. Also, make sure you are spraying your plants either in the early morning or evening. Do not spray them when your plants are in full sun during summer in high humidity areas. It can burn the plants during these times. We spray in the early evening just as the sun is setting to prevent any damage to the plants while the spray is still wet.

Neem oil works great by affecting the mental capacity of the insect. Studies about Neem claim that in India where the Neem tree is native, the tree seems to repel all insects. Swarms of locusts passing through avoid the tree completely. The claims are that the tree oil repels insects and if the insects do consume the oil or parts of the tree, they have what is best described as a mental breakdown. They forget to eat, mate, and just basically stop moving. They sit in this state of confusion until a predator comes along and eats them or they simply fall off the plant and die.

The Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds provides a way to infuse the neem oil and allow it to stick to the plants. It also is completely organic and includes pine oil, which studies show help plants in nitrogen uptake!

So there you have it! A completely organic way to go to war with your pest problems in the garden! And I can attest to its effectiveness this year as my potatoes where under severe attack. But the potato beetles never got a foothold and I got a great harvest.

Pest Weapon #4 – Diatomaceous Earth

deI only had to use this once this year on some of my tomato plants that were being attacked by the same beetle like bugs that earlier were attacking my huckleberries. It seems they found a new target and I quickly began my counter offensive and this time chose Diatomaceous Earth (sometimes called DE for short).

What is Diatomacious Earth? It is a form of ancient algae, a plant that has been fossilized. This fossilized form of algae is mined and used all over the world for all kinds of products. It’s 100% natural, plentiful and cheap. Under a microscope, its edges are very sharp and when bugs encounter it, the DE makes very fine incisions into the exoskeleton and they eventually dehydrate themselves by losing moisture through those incisions. Very simple and very effective. I have even used this product inside a house I used to live in when the house became overrun by silverfish. A day after the application of puffing this stuff through the whole house, they were gone.

A couple of important notes on DE.

  1. Always buy the food grade stuff. NEVER buy the variety used in pool filters because it can make you sick. Just make sure the package or label says “food grade”.
  2. When applying it inside, be sure to wear a particulate mask of some sort. A simple medical mask is fine. The fine particulate when distributed can irritate some people and cause breathing problems.

I apply DE with one of those “nasal aspirators” (I just call them bugger suckers), that they give mothers for their newborns in the hospital. You can find them on ebay super cheap. It sends out a fine mist of the DE to cover an area with the bugs. Simply spreading it around by hand won’t cut it. You need the fine mist of the DE to cover the plant.

A healthy new cabbage plant
A healthy new cabbage plant

Other Weapons of Note.
For our greenhouse, making a purchase of lady bugs might be a good option if we didn’t have our army of Daddy Long Legs. You can buy them in packages of 5000 at a time and do releases in the early evening. Beneficial nematodes might be another good arsenal to have at your disposal in case things get rough, but they can take up to two seasons to see a real benefit. They require refrigeration unless your going to use them right away and that is not an option here on an off grid homestead.

So that’s it! That is how we do battle with pests here on An American Homestead. This season we did great on the battlefield and held back the advancing hordes and brought in a large amount of produce that will do well in feeding us till next spring. There are a lot of natural techniques out there to combat pests in the garden and we have reviewed most of these before deciding on our current strategies. Based on the enemy’s plans of advance next season, we may alter strategies. We’ll keep you posted, but as for now, all quiet on the western front.

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About Zachary Bauer

Zachary lives with his wife, two sons and his wife's parents on An American Homestead deep in the mountains of the American Ozarks. They all moved there together in July of 2013 where they began to build the homestead. They are off-grid with the exception of a phone line.

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  1. Deb @ the Wild Wiener Ranch

    Do you have recommendations to get rid of thrips? I have some plants in containers that are doing well. Others that I started from seeds did well, until I transplanted them into the actual garden plot. It’s very frustrating to have a patch of lush green plants one night and come out in the morning to find very little except stems and the tiniest bits of leaves left. It’s amazing how much foliage those tiny vicious, evil plant vampires can consume in a few hours. I’ve been told that thrips live in the ground and come out at night to devastate foliage. How do I get rid of them in the ground? I’d love to do a fall garden to make up for this summer’s attempts, but I don’t want to plant in infested ground. The only solution I’ve seen on the net is to bag up the soil and throw it out. (I can see me digging up all those cubic yards and bagging them – NOT) Oh yeah – I have a compost heap that had “volunteers” and the thrips got them before I had a chance to identify what they were! (That’s going to need treatment, too.) Surely there is a better solution – neem oil, Dr. Bronner’s, vinegar, bleach or DE – anything? I have heard of using companion plants like basil, marigolds, etc., but I don’t know if these would survive our desert heat here in Phoenix. Thank you in advance for any suggestions you might have. If I can’t come up with a solution, I’m not going to waste any more time and money on trying to grow things. I could have bought an entire farmer’s market with the cost of the time, water, seeds, topsoil, etc. that I’ve expended for the half dozen cherry tomatoes and handful of spinach leaves I’ve gotten.

  2. Thanks! I have recently discovered your website and youtube videos and must admit, I am sooooo jealous and wish that I could start my own homestead. Love your site and videos so please keep them coming! I am addicted!

    Thanks for the neem oli/sal suds solution, as I will use that this planting season in my garden. I have started small but continue to add to my small suburban yard. Planted two apple trees in the back yard, along with some blueberry, grape and raspberry vines, which I hope will produce a small crop this coming year.

    Not sure if you have seen some of the video’s about planting tomatoes around a partially buried 5 gal buckets, holes drilled around the bottom edge and another about 2/3 of the way up at ground level, throw in some compost in the bottom of the bucket, plant 4-5 tomato plants around the bucket and away it goes. Bucket waters overs time, holes at the bottom providing water and compost nutrients to the roots and also water at the surface level. Bucket needs to be filled, depending upon flow rate ever 2-3 days vs daily and you can always throw another handful of compost into the bucket for an added boost.

    Just a thought but I am going to try using this method this year and see how it goes. Will also use for my peppers.

  3. How do you keep mice out of the garden?

  4. Any good suggestions for fighting the pest and things attacking my fruit trees? Will DE work?

    • Look into Neem Oil mixed with the Organic Dr. Bronners Sal Suds. Totally natural solution that we use and can attest to its effectiveness.

  5. Be careful with DE though because it will kill the pollinators also.

  6. You might try lacewings over ladybugs as they are more effective, less expensive, and are typically farmed by suppliers vs wild caught like a lot of lady bug suppliers.

  7. These are all great suggestions! Y’all should look at Howard Garrett’s stuff, I think you’d really like it and expand on what you’re already doing.

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