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How a Healthy, Balanced Soil System Puts an End to the Pest Problem in Our Gardens


Nasty bugs in the garden? We’ve all got ’em. Our challenge now is figuring out how to deal with them. Over and over, I’ve discovered that healthy soil and equilibrium reduce my anxiety over the whole bugaboo.

Get your soil in good shape first. Plants grown in healthy soil tend to be more resilient to pest attacks. Five main components make up healthy soil; without any of them, gardening becomes an enormous challenge. The five main parts are:

Components of life
Things made of air, water, and energy!
The most fundamental components of healthy soil are dirt and organic matter. Sticks, leaves, compost, and mulch are all examples of organic material, while dirt is a decomposed rock that includes many micronutrients and minerals that plants need to survive. Desert soils in Arizona decompose organic matter quickly. Therefore, frequent amendments are necessary.

Next to the soil, air, and water are the most critical factors in a flourishing garden. Roots have nowhere to go in highly compacted soil (earth without air gaps), so plants can’t grow there. Water is essential to the process for obvious reasons. But there is a catch: roots can’t look for water; instead, they must wait for it to be brought.

So, what else could exist in thriving dirt? The worms, the bugs, and the countless beneficial microorganisms whose names I don’t know but which are essential to the health of our gardens are, in my opinion, the most critical aspect of any garden. Here is where introducing any form of chemical speeds up the maturation process.

The subsequent major problem is maintaining harmony in your garden. The peace and order of nature are reflected in our landscapes. When we take care of this process, our crops will flourish. Using toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides upsets the natural order of things, leaving the planet more at risk from pests and other nuisance creatures. You can do much to keep your garden in harmony by using only natural insect controls, supplementing with organic fertilizer, and adding tons of compost rich in microbial life.

All that effort, and you’re still encountering issues? It happens. It’s only human to desire to protect oneself from the various pests lurking in the shadows or buzzing around one’s head on a sunny day.

Unfortunately, the majority of commercially available pesticides are highly poisonous. Some medical professionals have warned against exposing yourself or your children to them despite their proven effectiveness in repelling insects. Furthermore, spraying your plants with poisons to eliminate pests increases the likelihood of consuming those chemicals when you eat your garden salad. In addition, your kids can take in the toxins through their skin when playing outside or even inside; crawling infants and toddlers are especially at risk.

Pests in the home and garden are abundant. What follows are descriptions of the most typical garden pests I’ve encountered and my recommended methods for eliminating them.


Aphids and other sucking insects pierce the plant tissue and feed on the sap. The first line of defense against this pest is a powerful burst of water to wash it off the plant. If it persists, try spraying your plants with a mixture of one teaspoon of natural dish detergent and one quart of water. Do not use antibacterial soaps, as the active ingredients in these soaps are toxic to soil life.


I also have problems with caterpillars in my garden. If you notice any telltale symptoms of leaf-eating, look under the affected leaf and pick out the caterpillars. The hens get a tasty treat to fight over, and I send them sailing back to the coop. Most nurseries sell a natural, nontoxic bacteria called BT, which is particularly effective against caterpillars and can be sprayed or dusted onto the plants if the problem becomes out of hand.


Both cockroaches and ants can be a nuisance whether you’re at home or not. Boric acid, sold as a powder at grocery, hardware, and health food stores, is the most effective natural cockroach repellant. Combine the boric acid with their favorite food, such as honey, to lure the insects in. When they eat the bait and bring it back to their nests, the problem seems to resolve itself. I put the mixture into bottle caps and placed them in various parts of the yard and house to see if they had any effect.

You can also get good results by mixing garden-grade diatomaceous earth (which is unpolished) with boric acid and then sprinkling it about the affected regions. Diatomaceous earth is a sharp powder that kills insects by slicing them open. The use of boric acid then helps to seal the deal. These ingredients are natural, and the amounts you plan to use are safe for human and animal consumption.


Birds present a unique challenge when trying to maintain a garden. They especially enjoy uncovering maize, bean, and other large-seeded plant seeds as they germinate. The answer is to bury the seed deeper. I make a hole (about three inches in diameter) with my index finger and put the source in. Corn and bean seeds are large and sturdy, so they have little trouble penetrating the soil and reaching the surface.


Few solutions exist for effectively combating the nuisance that is mosquitoes. The first step is to search under decks, in sheds, and under decks for any forgotten containers that could hold water, such as cups, buckets, or toys. Planter saucers and pet food bowls should be cleaned and emptied regularly. Mosquitoes can breed in any of these puddles because of how much water they accumulate.

Try scattering some sage and rosemary over the fire to keep mosquitoes away while you grill.

You could also look for DEET-free insect repellents and bug sprays that rely on natural components like citronella oil, which is quite effective as the primary ingredient.

This is not an exhaustive list, as many other types of pests exist. The key to controlling them is the vigilant observation of your garden. Use these and the many additional natural controls available as variables in your experiments.

Have fun in the sun and the garden!

Greg Peterson is a sustainability studies expert with a master’s degree in environmental planning. Greg spent over 20 years learning about sustainable living before creating The Urban Farm in the middle of Phoenix, Arizona (http://www.urbanfarm.org/).

In addition to being a co-creator of the TV show Smart Spaces and the editor-in-chief of Phoenix Magazine and Edible Phoenix, he spends his days administering the website http://www.YourGuideToGreen.com and writing, teaching, and lecturing on topics of sustainability.

Read also: https://twothirds.org/?s=Gardening