Aphids and earwigs and grasshoppers, oh my!
August 5, 2015 12:44 PM   Subscribe

My garden suffered greatly this year from attacks from insects- what can I do next spring to avoid this happening again?

For the first year, I planted a container garden in my backyard. I have strawberries, kale, nasturtiums, tomatoes, peas, and beans growing (I'm in zone 5b at high altitude.) My house is also surrounded by plum trees and apple trees, which usually only produce fruit if we have a warm spring (we did this year, so yay!)

Starting in April, aphids completely blighted most of the plum trees- we did have hundreds of ladybugs show up at the end of May, but by then the damage had been done.

Then throughout June, grasshoppers wiped out my kale and most of my bean plants. I put out Nolo Bait at the end of June and keep reapplying it, which did help a little bit, but I'm still seeing grasshopper nymphs around my backyard.

Now I'm seeing earwigs eating my nasturtium blossoms and my apples at night. We don't keep our outside lights on for more than ten minutes at a time, and the street we live on isn't very well lit, so that's not part of the problem.

While I can accept that first year gardening disappointment is pretty normal, especially in my climate, I would love to prevent these pest problems from happening next year. Also, if there is anything I can do now to kill the earwigs or at least make them go away, that would be great too. Any tips or tricks would be greatly appreciated, and I'm open to using pesticides.
posted by mollywas to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We're also 5b. For the earwigs, make earwig traps - empty tuna fish cans (or other similar containers) filled halfway with olive oil (corn oil seems to work too). Set several of them out and rub your hands together in glee the next morning when you see how many have drowned in the night. I just leave ours out until they are filled with dead earwigs and then toss them. Also check arouns for woodpiles or other woody/leafy material piles and get rid of them.

We do spray for aphids on some of our trees - it seems to help. We have to do this in early spring.
posted by umwhat at 1:17 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might have to cage and cover plants (and hand-pollinate where required) if you continue to have grasshopper problems.
posted by resurrexit at 2:21 PM on August 5, 2015

Zone 5b also. I always take some hits. Slugs ate most of my new aralia. Japanese beetles ate the top of my new Japanese maples. Cabbage worms ate my pretty chard leaves.

Last year, deer ate the tops off my favorite blue hostas.

So how I am handling and plan to handle the wreckage:

-for slugs, prior to planting, a solution of 10% ammonia to kill the eggs followed by intermittent spraying
-eggshells crumbled as a barrier around slug climbers
-bird feeders and lots of them to eat Japanese beetles and other bugs (this actually did help)
-bat boxes
-making an incredibly friendly toad haven (no pesticides. our yard is filled with slug fattened toads)
-a mild soap solution (dish detergent) or strong zap of the hose can manage aphids.

But some opportunistic type problems that can happen b/c plants are already weak and vulnerable -- it took me a year and a half to realize how acid our soil is and that I needed to gently mitigate it. That helped a lot (dumped a bucket of wood ash on each bed in winter).

And also recognizing: some years the deer are going to eat the hostas. This year they didn't. Maybe it's because I put dog hair on them, or maybe it's because the dog barks at them, but I'm really working on an easy come, easy go attitude. Last year I lost every single one of four different types of tomato plants to a wilt or fungus. This year I managed the soil differently--and I have tomatoes! Four different kinds. Not a ton of them or anything but compared to having to compost four plants prior to getting any fruit, it's a big win.

So win some, lose some is kind of the best strategy in terms of bouncing back, morale-wise.

Also, you'll learn a few that you can take for granted. For me, it's leeks. I just like them a lot, they're kind of pricey, and they look blue and floppy in the garden. If all else fails, I get some leeks and black eyed susans out of my efforts.

(Peas and tomatoes like wood ash, potatoes don't, so you kind of want to be a little bit aware of soil ph, which I started with by picking out the few things I really care about and handling those, and then making adjustments for lesser-loved items and dropping the ones I don't care about. I decided cabbage was way more trouble than it's worth, for example. Thirty-nine cents a pound and I'm spending the summer working for it because it looked pretty in a picture of someone's garden. Thanks no, cabbage.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:29 PM on August 5, 2015

Also, to control slugs, cultivate some nearby habitat for ground beetles (those are the shiny beetles you may see when weeding, they trundle around in the top 1" or so of topsoil). These guys eat their weight (and more!) in slug eggs and we had great luck with some dry-stacked garden walls (stones with no mortar - these also invite bumblebees and Mason bees too). Worked a charm after a year!
posted by dbmcd at 6:11 PM on August 5, 2015

dbmcd, I think the Nolo bait I used may have killed off all the ground beetles around my house... I'm sitting in my backyard while typing this and there are five little black corpses within a foot of me. :/ However, it is way too dry for slugs to be a problem here, so I'm not too worried about them as pests.
posted by mollywas at 6:45 PM on August 5, 2015

This is a more extreme solution, but chickens. The minute I got chickens, my massive earwig problem and many of the other bug issues I had disappeared. Plus fresh tasty eggs.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:30 AM on August 6, 2015

I had an ant and aphid problem this year, decided to try an experiment.

I'm a smoker and use a bowl filled with water as an ashtray outdoors to minimize ash blowing around. The nicotine (and who knows what else) leaches into the water. Nicotine production in plants was evolutionarily selected for and it interferes with muscle neurotransmission in most insects. It paralyzes and kills.

So I took that cigarette-butt tea, diluted it 1:1, and sprayed it on my plants.

Aphids and ants no more. Very little residue and it washes away in the rain.
posted by porpoise at 10:18 AM on August 6, 2015

Aphids - high pressure hose.
The force at which you can wash them off your plants is generally less than is damaging to the plants, so just wash them off regularly.
posted by Elysum at 3:36 PM on August 6, 2015

Update- I've been cutting soda/beer cans in half and filling them with vegetable oil (I work at a specialty olive oil store, which is where I get all my my olive oil, so it's a little too pricy to use for this purpose) and placing them everywhere outside, and they work like a charm! More drowned earwigs every morning! I read somewhere to add in a little soy sauce, so perhaps that helps.

Now we can enjoy the rest of our strawberry and apple crop without having to cut out gross earwig holes. Thanks, everyone!

I'll keep the aphid and grasshopper advice in mind for next spring, too.
posted by mollywas at 11:57 AM on August 18, 2015

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