Monday, 16 May 2011

Friendly beasties the evil weed!

'Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?' Well me, frankly! But I have to say not as afraid as some of the aphid in the nursery this week. I have released some of the finest predators known to pest and I'm not afraid to have them on the payroll.

I started at the nursery eight years ago, give or take, and when I started we had an arsenal of chemicals that would have made the weapons of mass destruction look non existent. I have worked hard to reduce chemicals and to pay close attention to biological control.

Our chemical control is now 10% of what it was and our friendly bugs and fungi are starting to need topping up rather than restocking. We still have aphid and we still have caterpillar but we spray with biocontrol safe sprays when we have to.  We allow a percentage of damage and accept that everything has to be in balance.

It is, of course, well worth knowing that you can buy nearly all of the bugs that we use online or in store. If you need encarsia in the greenhouse for those pesky whitefly or Aphidius persimilis for the little terrors eating your fruit trees then make sure you use them.

I would love to be 100% pesticide free but for us it is a labour cost we could ill afford and I think it is well worth considering that as a home gardener. Your garden is intended to be a haven for relaxation and entertaining on warm, sunny, memorable days. It isn't supposed to be a weight around your neck that insists you tend to it hourly.

It is with this in mind that I suggest the following: if you insist on perfection and complete removal of all living things that harm your favourite blooms then biological control and organic gardening are not for you. You apply beneficial insects to reduce sap sucking, leaf munching insects and keep a tolerable balance, and this is never perfect. As for weed control there is nothing but the continuous pulling, hoeing and raking to look forward to and that too is far from perfect.

I like to combine the two. I spray with glyphosate which, once it meets the soil, is inert and once dry is completely harmless. I use this for all surfaces and although it isn't instant it is far more satisfactory than burning the tops off with Diquat or other contact herbicides as it works to the root.

In the garden I use very little of anything. I am, however, vigilant. If I see a curled over leaf I will investigate and usually I will see the pest and deal with it by hand. This works well with caterpillar but not so well with smaller pests and I find that Ecover washing up liquid, or a handheld insecticide is a good gardening companion.

So where do I stand on pesticide? I'm afraid I sit on the fence. As a commercial grower I know there are some things I can't get rid of without some use of chemical although I know I can reduce my chemical use with good plant husbandry and cleanliness. I also know that biological control is a fantastic way of keeping harmony in a garden.

So here are what I suggest as some pointers:
  • Be a good gardener. Clean up and keep your tools sharp and clean
  • Believe your parents! A little work now will save a tonne later
  • Bio control is not new but it is now much easier, so use it where you can
  • Don't discount chemicals but use them where there is no real alternative except madness
  • Make sure above all else that your garden doesn't join the list of chores that you already have*
  • Remember a garden is about balance and not having it all your own way. Nature has a tendency to win (thank goodness). 
  • If you are ever unsure of the best route with your garden please ask people who care. This means avoiding the DIY stores and talking to nursery folk and real garden centres.
  • Your garden is for you and your family and friends. If all you want is a barbeque on 6ft grass then stick with it and call it meadow planting!

I hope this blog makes sense and that biological control makes a little more sense.

*I have had countless people ask me what to do with lawns. The answer is simple. 'If you want a pristine lawn please give up weekends (unless you are retired and have time), and if it is for football practice, do nothing until the kids have stopped destroying it. Oh, and if you are very shady in aspect make more shrub beds'.

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