Like many people, I love to garden. I enjoy the feeling of soil beneath my fingers, the satisfaction of caring for plants and watching them grow and bloom. I also tend to believe that all life is sacred. From the biggest whale in the ocean, down to the tiniest ant in the ground, all living things are usually just trying to survive, the best and only ways they know how. It can be frustrating when garden pests appear to wreck all of my hard work! But in the many years I have been doing it, I have come to understand and appreciate that there must be a balance and that there are ways to be a more compassionate gardener.
Aphids. These sap-sucking insects can quickly overtake and kill an otherwise healthy plant. Most healthy plants can survive a small infestation of aphids, but if their numbers grow too large, it’s time to take action.
What you can do:
* Introduce some helpful insects – get some Ladybugs (also called Ladybirds in some parts of the country)! Ladybugs love aphids and can be relatively inexpensive to purchase. Lacewings are another alternative if you can’t find any Ladybugs.
* Use the water pressure spray from your garden hose to knock the aphids off the stems and leaves of plants. Many times, this alone will be enough to dislodge those unwelcome guests.
* Use a spray bottle filled with soapy water (1 quart of water, 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap and a pinch of cayenne pepper) and make sure to mist the underside of the leaves, where aphids like to congregate.
* Plant some plants which attract Lacewings and Ladybugs and deter aphids, due to their strong scents. Some good examples to try are: Onions, Garlic, Chives, Cilantro, Rosemary, Sage, Oregano and Fennel. Most strong scented herbs and plants in the Allium family are great for this.
* Encourage nesting of birds which eat aphids, like wrens, titmice and chickadees. Natural predators are much safer and more compassionate than chemicals. (After all, the birds have to eat, too!)
Slugs/Snails. Slimy and slow, these invertebrates can leave a trail of destruction that will decimate any garden.
What you can do:
* Plant “barrier plants” around the plants you’re trying to protect. As with aphids, slugs don’t care for strong scented herbs like those listed above. Nasturtiums are also a natural plant that slugs don’t like. Try it. You might be surprised.
* Sprinkle finely-crushed eggshells or use a ring of sandpaper around the plants you want to protect. The slugs and snails will not attempt to crawl over these things because they will hurt themselves doing it. By the way, coffee grounds are great for soil amendment but they don’t do squat to keep the slugs and snails away. 😉
* Put a board or an upside-down flower pot propped up so the slugs can get under it by the plants you don’t want eaten and check the board or pot every morning. The slugs and snails will go party on the underside since it’s cool and possibly damp, and you can pick them off by hand to get rid of them.
* If you can find it, try mulching around your plants with seaweed about 3-4 inches deep. The salt content in seaweed is enough to keep those pesky gastropods away. Don’t ever put salt ON your plants, though. It will kill them.
Snakes/Spiders/Lizards. Any experienced gardener will tell you: these are NOT the enemies! Quite simply, leave them be. They will help your garden more than you realize, and even though they may give you the heebie-jeebies, don’t kill them. Most of the time, they are not dangerous to people and will help you in your quest to keep your garden pest free.
Gardening can help a person “get back to earth” and reconnect with the planet. We can be compassionate in our efforts to protect the fruits of our labors and we don’t have to saturate the world with chemicals or kill those things which we label “pests”. There is always a balance which we should strive to keep.
“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.”
— Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching
– Corina Ravenscraft
© 2015, essay, Corina Ravenscraft, All rights reserved; photographs as indicated in the body of this feature