Grit Blogs > Nature and Gardening at the Edge

Controlling the Pests

Minnie Hatz headshotAs it warms up, everything begins to grow. The perennials from previous years, newly sowed flowers and vegetables, and all of the unwanted things as well. It all comes back to us in a rush. The battle of the aphids, the bindweed wars and assaults on giant ant hills.

I primarily use natural remedies because they are available and inexpensive. Last year I acquired some bindweed sprigs that supposedly have mite infestations. I only say supposedly because the mites are tiny and their presence cannot be verified by simple observation.

The back-story is that bindweed is a major pest in this area of Colorado. Superficially it looks similar to common morning glories. The main differences are that the roots go very deep, perhaps 20 feet and over winter. This allows the plant to emerge from the ground with full grown leaves Also cut roots propagate bindweed so cultivation can actually help spread it. It loves semi-dry areas that have some disturbance, like a garden that is plowed once a year and then cultivated. It can even invade a lawn. Of course they are very hardy and readily take water intended for other plants and smother those plants.

Since bindweed is a native of Europe, its natural enemy, the bindweed mite has been imported to help control it. While it can take a few years to eliminate the pest, it is the only effective way that has been found.

Bindweed is such a problem that the Colorado Department of Agriculture has a program to provide the mites free to residents. For larger infestations, such as a hay field, the mites can be given a little help by redistributing them. Apparently mowing and cutting operations help disperse them and of course, cutting sprigs and placing them in other locations helps as well.

Another pest of sorts in this area is red ants. Although they bite, the main problem that they create are large sandy anthills surrounded by bare ground. The bare ground is the result of their foraging and the patches can be a few feet across. My remedy for these is less scientific but from folk knowledge. I place coffee grounds on the hills. So far, this seems to be having an effect. Lots of water, as in irrigation, also discourages them, but in a land of higher water bills, this is not always a feasible remedy.

For aphids, I have purchased lady bugs to supplement the natural population. Preying mantis are also good insectivores but apparently don’t restrain their appetite to just the pests. Soapy water sprayed on plants, even indoor plants, is a good remedy for aphids and similar small insects.

A potential seasonal pest in most areas is the raccoon. Although water is nearby and I grow sweet-corn, they have never raided my patch. It is hard to believe that they can’t smell ripening sweet corn from a quarter of a mile away. I did some research on-line and apparently my preferred gardening style deters them. I like to plant the pole beans in the cornrows. I also grow pumpkins and cucumbers. It seems that raccoons do not like vines. Of course this is speculation, as we can’t really know why something like this works. If you have seen your juicy corn ears eaten just before you were ready to pick them, you might try this strategy. It is easy and inexpensive and it seems to work.

I am always looking for new strategies to combat the various pests that I have to deal with. Every gardening year brings new battles!

Smaller ant hill in a former hay fieldBindweed vines emerging from dry ground