These are my best tips for organic pest control for vegetable gardens because as someone who has been gardening almost my whole life, I can tell you that no matter where you garden you’ll come up against some type of disease or pest.
There's nothing worse than finally getting all your plants in the ground only to find out that something is eating them.
Natural and organic pest control options aren't as widely known among home gardeners and sometimes people get frustrated because they feel like they don't work as well.
It's important to realize that there is no one method that will work for everything, so having an arsenal of organic pest control options will be your best bet in combating whatever comes up in your garden.
This blog post was originally written in 2019, but I have found some great new methods for pest control that I had to share with you, so have updated this post with a new video and my tips.
Listen to the full podcast, Episode #203 – 5 Tips for Organic Pest Control for Vegetable Gardens of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.
Tips for Pest Prevention
First off, it’s important to take the proper steps in prevention to make sure your plants are healthy enough to withstand whatever may come. Strong plants can usually survive pest damage, whereas weak plants will succumb to it.
Whether or not you are for tilling in the garden, it can have its benefits and one of those is that it interrupts the life cycle of flea beetles and root nematodes.
The way these pests lay their eggs, tilling the ground can eliminate or drastically reduce the number of eggs that survive from year to year.
We try to till as little as possible and do more of the no-till garden method, but it's good to know the facts and options.
Another natural line of defense against pests can be to use some kind of barrier to keep the pests from getting to your plants.
I also like to use netting specifically made for fruit trees to protect against the deer from coming and eating off all the young growth.
Companion planting can be a great way to deter pests from your garden by planting companion plants strategically throughout your garden space.
I have an entire section in my book The Family Garden Plan where I discuss companion planting. But one of my favorite plants for deterring pests is orange nasturtiums.
Orange nasturtiums naturally deter cabbage moths from the brassica plants, plus they're beautiful and edible!
Some people use companion planting around the perimeter of the garden, but I've found that I need to intersperse them throughout the garden. For my cabbage and broccoli, I will plant a nasturtium every two plants.
I do two cabbage and then a nasturtium, two more cabbage, and another nasturtium.
There are many kinds of traps that can be used for pests. From wasps, flies, and mosquitos, to traps like that pictured above that will catch apple maggots in fruit trees.
Using traps set out at the right time of year can help prevent so much damage from pests.
Proper Identification of Pests
When I was growing up we didn’t have a ton of money to invest in pest control, so we had to be very vigilant about learning what types of pests were common in our areas and when they would most likely hit so that when we did invest in pest control we knew exactly what we were dealing with.
To know what preventative measures you need to take when it comes to pests in your vegetable garden. You must know what type of pests are in your garden so that you can use the correct organic treatment.
It’s hard to find the culprit in action as they usually come out in the early mornings when it is still dark out. If you’re not able to catch them red-handed, there are a couple of ways you can look for clues to figure out what type of pests are in your garden.
- The first place you want to check is under the leaves for any eggs. If you do find any eggs, it is important to get them off and dispose of them properly before they hatch. This will prevent you from having more pests in the area. If eggs are found many people use duct tape to take them off of the leaves or you can clip the leaves. Looking and finding any eggs will also help you identify what is harming your plants.
- Look at and around the lower leaves as these are the easiest for many pests to get to. (ie. slugs)
Two Ways to Treat Pests
There are two ways that people typically handle treating pests:
- Preventative – Pre-treating the plant based on past experience or what other gardeners in your area tell you.
- Application use – Treating the plant when you find evidence of damage or disturbance.
I personally do application use as I do not put any type of pest control on any plants until I see evidence of damage. Different years bring different pests and just because they showed up one year doesn't mean you'll have them the next.
Organic Pest Control Options
Some people swear by the following treatment methods and others seem to have the opposite opinions.
All you can do is test them in your own area to see what works best for you. That's why having multiple options is great.
Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth
This is a fine powder (pictured above). Be cautious not to get this power in your eyes or inhale it because it can be irritating, so don’t use it on a windy day.
The powder works by cutting the skin or exoskeleton of any pests that it comes in contact with. For better results, be sure to put the powder on the soil around the plant, the base, and the leaves.
Diatomaceous Earth works best on insects with a hard exoskeleton, but it can have some effect on others (like bees) so use it wisely. It's fairly inexpensive and a great first line of defense in my opinion.
Some drawbacks of Diatomaceous Earth:
- It cannot be used when it’s wet outside, so be sure only to use it during dry periods.
- Do not use it on the blossoms because it can hurt the honeybees. The best practice is to put the powder on your plants in the evening as bees come out in the early morning.
This is the food-grade Diatomaceous Earth I use in the garden and around the home.
Organic Neem Oil
Neem Oil is an all-purpose oil and one of the best natural insecticides for plants there is.
It can be used for many different pests and can be used throughout the growing season. When you’re using Neem Oil, you want to make sure that you purchase the certified organic option.
Many sprays that you can buy in garden centers or online say they use Neem Oil and that it is “natural,” but it uses other synthetic ingredients that, if you're like me, you won't want in your garden or on your food.
The certified organic Neem Oil is a little more expensive, but it is well worth the price, especially when used on your vegetables. Be sure that you don’t use the oil on a windy day, so it doesn’t get in your eyes or inhaled. You also don’t want to use the oil when it is wet or if there is rain in the forecast as it’ll wash away.
This is the Neem Oil I use that is pure cold-pressed neem oil only (note: this is a concentrate so it will last you a long time and can also be used on fruit trees!)
I also have this sprayer to use when applying the neem oil to plants and trees.
Many people use Neem Oil as a preventative measure when they know a particular pest hit their garden during a specific time of year. It’s important to remember that when treating any plant for pests or diseases, you’re going to use multiple treatments to be successful.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have to deal with slugs and snails. For my strawberries, I have to grow them completely in my Greenstalk Vertical Planter or else they are eaten every year by the slugs.
But for those crops that I can't grow in a planter, I turn to Sluggo. It's OMR certified so it's safe to use in organic gardens. It's an iron phosphate mix with a bait. The slugs eat the bait and then, even if they make it to your plants, they won't eat your plants.
A few days after they've eaten the bait they will die. This is something I use when my plants are at a very immature stage because if a slug comes and eats the top two leaves of a brand new plant, that plant will no longer grow.
Once the plants grow up and become more established, I'll use beer traps for the slugs.
Though we're not beer drinkers in my home, you will see beer in my refrigerator during the summer months to use in the garden.
For whatever reason, slugs are drawn to the beer and when placed in a shallow pan, the slugs will crawl into the beer and drown.
This method has saved my garden from slug devastation year after year.
Believe it or not, having ducks around can be great pest control against slugs and snails. I actually ordered ducks from Murry McMurray Hatchery specifically for slug control this year because our chickens don't like eating slugs or snails.
I'll also be enjoying their eggs in my baking!
One of the biggest mistakes when treating pests is to treat once and call it good. Just one application isn't going to get rid of the pests. Depending on the pest (going back to identification) you usually need to apply on a weekly or bi-weekly basis throughout the season.
This means being diligent and applying the spray or powder and also manually removing any eggs or live creatures you see. Truthfully the only way I can keep 100% of the slugs down is to go out and manually pick them off and dispose of them.
If you want to learn more about organic gardening sign up for my Organic Gardening Workshop! This is a workshop where I’m giving tons of tips, and you do not want to miss it!
For more organic gardening tips, check out the following posts:
- 10 Things Most Organic Gardeners Forget About
- What is Organic Gardening and How to Start an Organic Garden at Home
- 13 Basic Steps to Starting a Vegetable Garden
- How to Create a Gardening Plan for More Harvest and Less Stress
- 8 Common Mistakes Made by New Gardeners
- Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for a Healthier Garden
- How to Get Rid of Bugs on Plants Naturally Tips that Actually Work
- Cabbage Moth and Slug Control with Organic Gardening Methods