Dealing with pests

Unfortunately, you're not the only one who loves your fresh, home grown vegetables. Insects, rabbits, mice, deer and other pests do too. And they eat more than just the vegetable itself, often munching on leaves and even roots. That takes away not only the food, but the ability of the plant to create more. Very greedy, these little creatures.

Controlling pests in order to produce a healthy crop is an ongoing task. But it can be made easier by taking an integrated approach. Don't rely on just one method, but employ a variety.

Good pest control starts even before the vegetables grow, by proper soil preparation, plant selection and watering practice. Maintaining a slightly acidic soil, around pH 6.5 can help. Keeping the soil well fertilized helps the plants grow well, which gives them the needed assistance to fight off pests.

Seek out seeds that are pest resistant. Don't fear genetic modification programs, since one goal is to create just such seeds. If you transplant, select healthy plants.

Be on the lookout for harmful insects and other pests. But don't react to every insect with a chemical spray. There are many helpful organisms, some of which treat the soil, others consume harmful insects. Knowing which is which is the first step to biological control of gardening problems. That creates safe, tasty vegetables that grow large and healthy.

Assassin bugs will eat aphids, caterpillars, Japanese beetles and other pests. Stink bugs will feed on potato beetles and some caterpillars. Ladybugs eat aphids, mealybugs and spider mites. These are just a few examples out of dozens.

Watering in the morning will help. It keeps fungus and other problems to a minimum. Just as with grass, vegetables can be prone to growths that are encouraged by nighttime temperatures and excess moisture on the leaves. Allowing the plant to soak up needed water early, then dry before the temperature drops, will help prevent such problems. Keeping them disease free minimizes insect damage, since a weakened plant will often not survive minor infestations. A healhty plant can fight them off.

Alternating the planting of different species will help prevent the spread of pests. Some like one type, others like another. But when many similar plants are spaced close together, that contributes to a population explosion among similar pests. They either reproduce more rapidly, or gather together. Getting rid of a huge population is more difficult, in part because they can devastate a plant before your other efforts take effect.

Remove any part or plant that has been attacked in order to prevent spreading. Just as with animals and humans, pests spread in part by contact. This isn't necessary at the first sign of a problem, but when it reaches the level where you can't save the plant, it's best to save the others.

Building a good fence with narrow mesh at the base will help keep larger animals - rabbits and deer, for example - from getting to your vegetables.

But when those efforts are not enough, don't be afraid to use an approved commercial insecticide. Chemistry has come a long way in the past 50 years and they're designed to eradicate insect infestations while still being safe for humans to contact and eat the vegetables.