Organic Control for What’s “Bugging You”

The 2017 spring garden is, so far, one of the best gardens I have had in a long time.  Thanks to a lack of any real winter, soil temps were high, air temps were moderate and rain that came at just the right times allowed lots of us too planted early (I have friends in Austin that put out tomatoes in February!!!).  While a mild winter and almost perfect spring weather are great for your plants, it is also great for bugs.  So while our gardens look great right now, your beautiful plantings will soon (or maybe already are) full of bugs.

Aphids and other bugs are already beginning to move into our gardens. Photo by Bruce Leander

Aphids and other bugs are already beginning to move into our gardens. Photo by Bruce Leander

To me, organic bug control is the most challenging task in the organic garden.  While there are a few “decent” organic pesticides out there, they do not act quickly and they do kill as wide a range of bugs as I would like.  Since I don’t have a “magic bullet” to kill all of my pests I have had to develop a “system” to help me keep the bugs at bay.

When I was in grad school I took several courses related to greenhouse production.  In those courses I learned that, even though greenhouses are the perfect environment for pests to thrive in, greenhouse use very few chemicals to control them.  Pesticides are expensive and customers don’t like them so greenhouses use a system called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to keep their bugs at bay.  Through the years, I have taken my cues from these greenhouse producers to develop my own Integrated Pest Management System for my organic garden.IPM-Triangle

The IPM system consists of Cultural control methods, Mechanical or Physical control methods and Chemical/Biological methods.  This method is generally illustrated with the “IPM Triangle”.  Cultural methods provide the “biggest bang for the buck” in your garden.  Because of this they are the biggest part of the system and they are represented as the base of the triangle.  Once your cultural methods are in place you can apply mechanical and physical methods to control your bugs.  Finally, if you still have bugs after implementing the other methods, you should use chemical or biological methods to gain control over the pests.

Cultural Control Methods

Pull bugs off of plants and drop them into soapy water. Photo by Bruce Leander

Pull bugs off of plants and drop them into soapy water. Photo by Bruce Leander

The best way to control bugs is to not let them get in the garden in the first place.  Below are list of things you can do to discourage or prevent pests from setting up home in your garden.

  • Grow Healthy plants in healthy soil
  • Grow crops recommended for area
  • Use Crop Rotation
  • Control weeds
  • Water in the morning
  • Plant many types of vegetables as opposed to a single type
  • Space plants properly
  • Clean up mulch and debris
  • Sanitize hand tools, stakes and cages in light bleach


Mechanical/Physical Control Methods


Get rid of aphids and scales from your plants with a strong blast of water. patty and I use the Mitey-Fine water blaster.

If bugs get in your garden you can use several of the methods below to keep them under control.  Remember, as with most things, these methods are most effective when used before the bug problems get out of control.

  • Pick bugs off plants and drop in solution of soapy water
  • Remove eggs from undersides of leaves
  • Spray aphids and scales with water blasts
  • Mechanical barriers (row cover)
  • Traps (Yellow Sticky Pads, bucket of water with lighting attached)


Chemical/Physical Control Methods

Control soft bodied pests like cabbage worms with Spinosad

Control soft bodied pests like cabbage worms with Spinosad

If all of your efforts have failed, you will need to spray.  Be careful when spraying for pests.  All pesticides, whether they are organic or not, will kill both good bugs and bad bugs.

  • Last resort. Using sparingly
  • BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) for caterpillars
  • Spinosad controls caterpillars, leaf miners, fire ants
  • Predators (lady beetles, praying mantis)
  • Homemade concoctions




I grow zinnias and other flowers in my garden to lure bugs away from my vegetables

I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!

11 thoughts on “Organic Control for What’s “Bugging You”

  1. Enjoyed the review on IPM. Can u elaborate on the bucket with lights. How u set it up, what u catch, r u putting the sticky traps IN the bucket, etc.? Thank you!

    • Nice photos by Bruce and Jay. The growers shadow in the garden, and giving the tomato plants and cages a good shake seems to reveal where the bugs…good and bad…are located.

    • For me it is easy. I have cattle panels behind half my rows. I simply put my buckets against the panel and zip tie the light to rest just above the water. While I use 5 gallon paint buckets any size will do. Fill it almost all the way up and add two three tablespoons of dish soap. The dish soap is the key. If you don’t add it many bugs can literally stand on the water and fly away. The soap breaks the surface tension on the water so anything that hits the water will become trapped and drown. Once the bucket is set figure out a way to tie the light right over the water. T-Post work great and so do big, sturdy tomato cages. I like the light bulb to be just a couple of inches above the water. I have used a drop light and a “clip on” heat lamp that we use to warm baby chickens. I have also used Christmas light. Use zip ties to make sure every thing is secure. You definitely don’t want the light falling in!

    • Thanks for the inquiry. Here is the website: Should have included in the article. Since I am almost 6′ I like the longer wand. Patty is 5′ 1″ and she finds the shorter wand to be more comfortable and easier to handle

  2. Good and timely advice on battling bugs, Jay. It has been an amazing spring so far but unfortunately we know it won’t last so it’s good to be prepared!

  3. Great post, using organic methods is so important. I’ve found having chickens around has helped a lot. Found your post at the Simple Homestead Blog Hop.

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