By: Becky Searles Founder Family Garden Life
A food garden can be so rewarding, especially growing food with kids because you can teach them so much about sustainability and nutrition. But there is nothing worse than growing food to feed the pests, and starting in Spring, unfortunately your food garden is loved by all.
Pests come in all shapes and sizes, and feast on a wide selection of fruit, vegetable and herb crops, plus they can also use their underground advantage and target the roots of a plant.
Not all insects are bad though, and it’s important to also be able to identify beneficial insects, and how you can attract them into your garden to help you defend your patch.
Let’s name and shame the bad guys in your food garden.
Aphids target soft, new growth. They secrete this sticky honeydew as they suck the sap from the plant and this harbors a new issue which is a sooty mould. You might just come across ants at the same time as they are going after the honeydew. This can be a further issue because the ants often farm aphids and move them to a new plant, thus spreading the problem.
Technically ants won’t kill your plants, however, their underground tunnels can cause stress to the roots of a plant, and their burrowing can affect soil structure. Your plants will show signs of stress, and you may be stumped to know what it is, so check for activity in the area.
3. Bronze Orange Bug
They first appear as light green nymphs (youngsters), then this bug grows-up and their colour changes to the more familiar orange to bronze, then to an orange-brown or black colour. Damaging citrus trees they are often called stink bugs because they squirt a sticky chemical, that will stain your skin and sting eyes.
4. Cabbage White Butterfly & Cabbage Moth
The Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillars are a green colour with a smooth texture, while the caterpillars with the greeny-brown markings come from the Cabbage Moth. The butterflies and moths lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. When the eggs hatch they are very small caterpillars and it takes a few days before you realise they are present.
5. Citrus Leaf Miner
The moth itself is very elusive, and not seen very often. You will know if the larvae are active though, as they leave squiggly tunnels all over the leaves as they mine their way through. As the larvae mine tunnels, it can give the leaves a bumpy, uneven look. Any major attack is likely to happen during new growth in spring / summer and slow down young trees.
Typically the earwig is a scavenger so you will be likely to find them under mulch and leaf litter during daylight hours and then they come out to feed at night time. Earwigs feed on aphids, army worms and maggots, which is a good thing yeah? However, they also like to eat plants, and in your food garden.
7. Fruit Fly
Fruit flies have 4 life stages, like most insects, and it’s through getting to understand these life stages, that you will have the best chance of managing this pest. Fruit flies lay their eggs under the skin of the fruit. You will not see this, as it’s inside the fruit, but around the puncture hole could be signs of bacteria and rot. The maggots will feed on the fruit and it will end up as a soft, mushy mess.
The grasshopper’s long spring legs and wings make it a very elusive pest to catch. However, leave them alone, and your lush green leaves will have big bite marks in them before you know it. They are mostly hidden during the day, but when they feast, they take everything, especially if you give them a few days of unnoticed eating!
Mealybugs feed by sucking on the moisture in the plant and they do this by attaching themselves to the new tender leaves. The leaves will wilt and turn yellow. Like aphids, they secrete a sticky substance called honeydew which attracts the ants. Ants will farm mealybugs like aphids as well. The plant then becomes susceptible to sooty mould. The mealybug also releases toxic saliva that can seriously damage plants.
Millipedes are vegetarians, and they can destroy seedlings and crops. The rainy weather can stimulate activity in Autumn & Spring. When it’s really hot, they remain hidden underground. They forage at night time and can be found in leaf matter on the ground. When they are disturbed they emit a horrible smell and curl up in a tight spiral.
Microscopic colourless worms which work underground so are hard to detect. Most nematodes are harmless, but the Root Knot Nematode is a plant parasite. These pests burrow into the roots of the plant and take their water and nutrients, leaving them weak and prone to disease. You may be wondering why your plant is still struggling after it has been watered, and the problem could be at the root. The roots will appear to have a tumor like growths on them.
Scale attach to a branch and when scraped off you will find a goo underneath. Scale are sap suckers. They cause leaves to discolour and turn yellow. The leaves will then drop and the stems, where the infestation is, and die. Scale secrete a honeydew sticky substance, the same as aphids & mealybugs, and can cause sooty mould, which is a fungus. Then the ants will arrive.
13. Snails & Slugs
Snails & slugs are related and have similar objectives in a garden. They hang out at night time and leave a slimy trail wherever they go. Both are very destructive and can wipe out seedlings overnight and only leave the stem.
Living on decaying vegetable matter, they are the most active at night time, and you will find them hanging out under pots and leaf matter during the day. They will damage seedlings overnight, chewing on the soft new leaves.
15. Stink Bug
They let off a pungent odour if handled. They target crops like tomatoes, or capsicums, peas or butter beans. They are very strong fliers and can smell an opportunity from long distances away.
They pierce the skin of the fruit and suck out the contents from the inside. You may notice your fruit & veggies not ripening as normal and blotches appearing in white or yellow shapes. They will also head for broccoli & cauliflower during the cooler months.
Thrips can crawl, jump, walk and you guessed it – fly! They live on plants and spread disease. They lay their eggs inside the plant tissue and they feed on the plant juices. You will be able to identify their presence by browning of petals, curling leaves, new shoots deform and appear stunted and they leave a mottled silvery brown appearance to the leaves. They can leave black sooty spots on leaves from their droppings.
Whiteflies are related to aphids and not actually flies. They have a white wax covering their body and lay eggs on the underside of leaves. Feeding on the sap of the plant, they also secrete a honeydew substance which leads to the sooty mold, attracting ants once more.
The best line of defence in an organic food garden is to be present in your patch so you notice changes and can quickly work to rectify them. You can also use organic and homemade pest remedies to combat attacks but if you hold off a day or two the cavalry might just arrive in time, these are call beneficial insects. They go by the names of lady bird, hover fly, parasitic wasp, praying mantis and lacewing, and these guys are your most effective organic pest control. It’s insect against insect. Love your work Mother Nature.