Pest Management

How to Manage the Most Common Pests for Lettuce Organically in Your Backyard Vegetable Garden

Lettuce pests header
With all of the colors, shapes, and flavors of lettuce available, you can have a different salad every day of the week! Lettuce is adaptable to many different growing conditions but likes to stay in a cool 60 to 65 degrees. It will happily grow in the spring and fall, but you should plan to grow them in the shade during the hotter months to slow bolting. Bolting is whenever the plant turns bitter and sends up a tall, flowering middle stock. At this point, the plant is done. However, the flowers are a powerful attractant for beneficial bees and butterflies in the garden and we usually keep them around. Luckily there are not many pesky pests to deal with for lettuce and the ones they do have are fairly easy to manage organically! 
cabbageloopers-header
The cabbage looper is the caterpillar of a grayish moth with a silver spot in the middle of each wing. You can distinguish them from the cabbage worm by looking for 4 white stripes running down the body. The eggs are dome-shaped, light green, and are laid on the underside of the leaves.

Treatment Options:

  • Hand-pick (or pay your kids a quarter each to handpick for you like we do!)
  • Cover the plants with insect netting (floating row covers) from when they are babies. This will help to prevent them from becoming an issue!
  • Use the organic pesticide, BTK (bacillus thuringiensis Kurstaki). BTK is a naturally occuring microorganism that sickens and kills caterpillars without harming butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. There are varied opinions regarding the safety of BTK, but it’s classified as an organic treatment and is certainly safer than using a more toxic pesticide.
cabbageworms-header

Cabbage worms are the caterpillar of a white butterfly with black wing tips and black spots. You can distinguish them from the cabbage looper by looking for faint yellow stripes on its back. The eggs are cone shaped, whitish-yellow, and laid on the underside of the leaves.

Treatment Options:

  • Head-pick (or pay your kids a quarter each to handpick for you like we do!)
  • Cover the plants with insect netting (floating row covers) from when they are babies. This will help to prevent them from becoming an issue!
  • Use the organic pesticide, BTK (bacillus thuringiensis Kurstaki). BTK is a naturally occurring microorganism that sickens and kills caterpillars without harming butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. There are varied opinions regarding the safety of BTK, but it’s classified as an organic treatment and is certainly safer than using a more toxic pesticide.
cutworms-header
Cutworms are the caterpillar of a brown or gray night-flying moth. The caterpillars are black, gray, or brown and are about an inch and a half long. These jerks can go through your entire garden of new seedlings extremely quickly! It’s important to watch out for them in your garden and do your best to protect again them. They look like little brown worms, and they like to spin around into circles around the plant, cutting it off at the base.

Treatment Options:

  • Cover the plants with insect netting (floating row covers) from when they are babies. This will help to prevent them from becoming an issue!
  • Cardboard “collars” can be made from toilet rolls or paper towel rolls and placed around each seedling to keep these cutworms out. You can also place toothpicks around seedlings so the worm cannot wrap around the stem.
  • Diatomaceous earth can also be laid down around your seedlings to help get rid of them.
  • Sprinkling coffee grounds or crumbled egg shells can help repel them from your seedlings as well.
deer-header
We don’t have to worry about deer here in the city, but those of you in the country know all too well how destructive and challenging deer can be. They can jump over any fence shorter than 8 feet, and there are very few things they won’t eat.

Treatment Options:

  • The best thing to do is to build a fence at least 8 feet tall around the garden. There are a few other ideas that you can try, but this is the only guaranteed solution.
  • Deer are supposed to be repelled by strong odors. You can place strong scented bar soap in the garden. Another odor you can use to repel them is the human scent. Try placing human hair around the perimeter of your garden.
  • Setting up a motion-activated sprinkler can help scare them away as well. Try moving it around so your deer do not start to catch on to your trick!
  • There are commercial deer repellents that are available made with all natural ingredients that are supposed to help deter deer from where it is placed.
  • Applying blood meal around the perimeter of your garden can also be a help for deterring deer.
earwig-header
The most characteristic feature of this fast-moving reddish-brown to black insect is the pair of approximately an inch long pincers at the tip of a long abdomen. Earwigs thrive in tight, dark, moist places such as under stones, in mulch, soil, (compost & vermicompost bins), and anywhere there is an accumulation of plant debris. They are nocturnal and are harmless to people. Earwigs have a varied diet and can actually benefit gardeners by digesting organic matter and devouring soil-borne pests, aphids, snails, insect larvae; but they will feed on vegetable seedlings as well and can cause significant damage to plants.

Treatment Options:

grasshoppers-header
Grasshoppers can consume an obscene amount of 1/2 their body weight in a day! This can account for a lot of damage fast if you have an infestation. Grasshoppers are brown in color with wings, large legs, and antennae.

Treatment Options:

  • Clear out any debris in your garden that grasshoppers can use for cover or laying eggs.
  • Use your companion plants to your advantage! The garlic odor can help deter them. You can use a homemade garlic spray or plant garlic around where you have a problem.
  • Beneficial critters can be very helpful with this pest as well! Praying mantis (purchase here) can be helpful to fight off grasshoppers. Birds can come to the rescue as well.
  • Placing insect netting (floating row covers) over your garden is the best way to prevent grasshoppers from attacking your plants.
  • Applying neem oil is also another option for treatment, but make sure not to apply when the temperature is above 90, or else you could suffocate your plant!
woodchucks-header
These small mammals, called groundhogs or woodchucks, love to eat all the greens in your garden. It is important to keep them out of your garden to protect your food! Repelling woodchucks can be challenging, but there are many natural ways to go about it.

Treatment Options:

  • Woodchucks are scared of larger predators. You can buy fox urine granules or animal repellent which helps to repel them. Along this same line, you can also go out and pee in your garden or collect your urine in your house. I know it sounds gross, but it does help to repel them!
  • Setting out a small animal trap to catch them is an option.
  • Setting up a motion-activated sprinkler can help scare them away.
  • Cats and dogs are effective hunters of small rodents! Even just their smell and presence in the yard can help to keep them out of your gardens.
nematodes-header
Nematodes, also known as roundworms, can be a microscopic problem living in your soil. They are transparent and unsegmented worms. This blog post will discuss how to manage nematodes in your backyard garden.

Treatment Options:

  • The best treatment for nematodes is prevention! Practicing crop rotation from year to year is essential.
  • Simply tilling the soil over multiple times throughout the fall and winter months can help to prevent these infestations.
  • Adding in new organic matter (compost) when you replant helps to keep nematodes at bay.
  • Burn & turn is a term used commonly to get rid of these types of pests in the soil. When your soil is empty of vegetative growth, turn your soil and use a flame thrower to burn the top layer of the soil. If you do not have a flame thrower you can use a dark color plastic sheet to cover over the summer months to heat the temperature of the soil up to a high enough temperature to kill the nematodes.
pillbugs-header2
Pillbugs, often called Roly Polys, can be commonly found in your garden. They are typically only a pest if there is an excess of them. These crustaceans are very important in the decomposition process in your garden. They like to feed primarily upon decaying matter but can also feed on seedlings or fruits/vegetables sitting on the ground if there is a lot in your garden.

Treatment Options:

  • Clear out any decaying matter in your garden, leaves, and fallen fruit or vegetables.
  • Trellis plants that can be to get their fruit off the ground.
  • Diatomaceous earth can be used to help prevent pillbug infestation.
rabbits-header
While we love having our pet rabbit to help with making free fertilizer, wild rabbits can be quite troublesome for your garden. These small mammals like to eat a lot of your greens and can be tricky to manage once they know where the food is. It is important to keep them out of your garden to protect your food!

Treatment Options:

slugssnails-header
These slimy creatures will eat just about anything in the garden. Slugs and snails typically will come out during the night time or on cloudy days. They are fairly easy to manage in your garden with these steps!

Treatment Options:

  • Nighttime hunts are the best way to go about finding these creatures! Hand-picking and placing the slugs or snails in a salty or soapy solution will ensure that they are killed.
  • You can set beer out in shallow saucers to attract then drown your slugs.
  • Diatomaceous earth can also be laid down around your garden to help get rid of them.
wireworms-header
These soil-dwelling pests, also known in their adult form as click beetles, attacks the plants soon after germination. It is important to treat for wireworms before it gets out of hand.

Treatment Options:

  • The best way to prevent issues it to practice good crop rotation. Make sure to not plant vegetables of the same family in the same place each season. This should prevent them from becoming an issue.
  • Tilling your soil each year will help to disrupt the breeding of these pests.
  • Beneficial nematodes can also be purchased to help control wireworms.

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