Regular readers are aware that this is my third year living on a rural Virginia property. When we first moved here people told us “You’re living in the South now! You’ll need to regularly get your home sprayed or the bugs will be a nightmare!” And sure enough, when we first moved here the seller left a receipt on the kitchen counter showing that she had had the home recently fumigated. However I knew that this was not something that I was willing to do myself. That was the last time pesticides were ever used on this property and here we are in our third season living completely pest free. I would like to teach anyone whose interested how we did it.
As I’ve shared before, in my experience pesticides simply don’t work anyways. It would be one thing if they actually worked, but it seems to me that all they do is make your bug situation even worse. When we first moved here, the house was full of stink bugs and the outside had so many mosquitos that I had to wear one of those hats that have the bug netting that goes around your face. It was unbearable! But keep in mind, in theory the property had just been sprayed, so clearly adding even more pesticides wasn’t the situation.
So first step, stop using any pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Have a complete ban. When you do this, a balance can start to take place once again. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but within a healthy forest, there’s really not a ton of bugs bothering you. I went kayaking through a swamp nature reserve in Louisiana and had zero mosquito bites. When nature is allowed to go back into balance, there will be a balance of predator and prey.
Next, allow or introduce predators. Our second summer here (after the previous insecticide use had worn off), I started to notice these giant flying insects. I have since learned that these are called Robber Flies and they kill stink bugs! Since then, I have noticed more and more of them and man are they doing a good job! I used to see stink bugs and squash bugs all over the place, now I only see these guys and they are 100% beneficial.
I have also noticed other beneficial predators moving in such as praying mantises and these mud wasps. Mud wasps are not aggressive and avoid people, but are pest-killing machines in the garden. They are also a native pollinator!
Become a friend to the birds! Birds eat a ton of insects, mosquitos, beetles, and caterpillars!
Some of the best birds to attract are Swallows, Blue Birds, Wrens, and chickadees. This Spring I counted 6 wren nests throughout the property. The picture above shows one that was built inside an easy-to-find ceramic bird house. This was in addition to the bluebird nest. I plan on adding a couple of swallow houses next Spring. These birds will put the hunting into over-drive if they have a nest of babies to feed!
The picture above is a bat house. Bats will sleep in them during the day and then emerge at night to consume 1,000 mosquitos per hour. Bats are also another example of a native pollinator! I love sitting on the porch at dusk and watching the bats do their work. If you have a mosquito problem, put up a few of these around your property.
Use companion planting to keep vegetables pest-free. In the picture above I planted garlic around the perimeter of my kale and I had ZERO insect issues! I don’t think that there is a pesticide on the market that can work that good.
Once the garlic dies back around the end of June, you can replace the perimeter with marigolds. Next year I’m also going to try replacing the garlic with transplanted leeks. I’ll let you know how that works out!
Tomato Horn Worms are the bane of any gardener. If you grow tomatoes and don’t have any yet, just give it time, you will! Tomato Horn Worms grow up to become Hummingbird Moths, which are my favorite butterfly and another example of a native pollinator, so I refuse to kill them. Instead, when I see one, I gently pick them up and place them on a native Datura.
This isn’t a great picture of the Datura because it’s currently Fall, but usually it is full of foliage and has large trumpet flowers on it. This plant can handle all of the tomato horn worms you can give it. Now, before deciding to plant this, please know that this plant is considered sacred and is also toxic to humans, so be sure to do some research before handling it or deciding to grow it.
Lets talk about beneficial nematodes. These guys are another predator but are microscopic. They come in powdered form, and like sea monkeys, become re-animated by water. I used these for the first time with asparagus beetles this Spring and had a 100% success rate. I have also used them on a previous property for Japanese Beetles and never had Japanese Beetles come back to that property again. Adding mosquito dunks to your rain barrels is another example of beneficial nematodes.
So what do you do in the meantime? I was surprised that all it took was three years to be able to enjoy my home and garden pest free. I don’t use any mosquito repellant. BUT that first summer here was really difficult.
If you’re having a bug emergency, I used this vegan pesticide here and there that first year and haven’t had to use it since. Once again, unlike the chemical stuff, I found that this stuff actually worked the way it was supposed to.
For the inside of your home, you’re going to need persistence. Ever notice how you’ll mostly see the bugs hanging around your window? That’s because they don’t want to be inside your house either. Somehow they got confused and trapped inside your house and can’t figure out how to leave. When you see this, open the window and let them out. Those first few months in the new house I was having to do that ten times a day or more.
Another big help is to seal up all cracks and openings. We have vents in our attic and my husband installed fine metal mesh over the vents. If you have central air, do this around your air vents too.
Did I miss anything? Let me know any other tips in a comment below!