The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook

Episode 5
Sustainability Book Chat

The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook title graphic

Bugs are an inevitable part of gardening, but we have lots of options for dealing with them. In this episode gardener Susan Mulvihill, author of The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook, talks about organic methods of handling pests in our garden.

We discuss the principles behind integrated pest management, and the importance of identifying bugs before taking action. Susan gives us examples of management practices you can employ to reduce the pest burden on plants.

We also talk about the fact that not every “natural” pesticide is safe. Susan explains some of the “dangers” of using some natural products such as diatomaceous earth and neem. And she talks about some of her favorite natural control methods, as well as the concept of “bug tolerance.”

 
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The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook – Transcript

Deborah Niemann 0:04
Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever size your living space, you can do more than you think to lead a greener lifestyle. In the “Sustainability Book Chat,” we are talking to authors and experts about all the different ways that achieving sustainability is within your reach.

Deborah Niemann 0:29
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode. I’m so excited today to be joined by Susan Mulvihill, who wrote The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook. This is a book that I wish I would have had years ago, but I’m super excited to have it available now, because it is just magnificent. And that is what we’re going to talk about today. So, welcome to the show, Susan!

Susan Mulvihill 0:53
Thank you, Deborah. I’m happy to be here.

Deborah Niemann 0:55
It is so good to have you. And I just love your book so much. I think the best part of doing this podcast is getting to see all of these amazing books. And your book, like all the books that I’ve seen from Quarto, is just filled with tons of gorgeous photos. But not only gorgeous, but like, really helpful photos. So, let’s just kind of start at the beginning. One of the things that you first talk about is organic gardening. And I think it’s really important that we’re all on the same page so that people know what we’re talking about when we say “organic.” I love what Michael Pollan said in one of his earliest books, which was before he really started researching all of this, he thought that “organic” just meant that we were going to use natural pesticides instead of synthetic ones, or safer pesticides instead of synthetic ones. And that’s not necessarily the case. It’s like, so much more than just what you’re going to spray or sprinkle on your plants. So, can you explain what you mean when you say “organic gardening”?

Susan Mulvihill 1:59
Yes, so “organic gardening” does mean gardening without the use of synthetic insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. But it also means taking care of your soil, because your soil is the very foundation of how well your garden is going to do. Also, monitoring your garden routinely for problems and supporting the environment around you in a responsible manner. And we’re going to talk about that a lot today. While insecticides will kill the bug you’re trying to get rid of, it will also kill the beneficial predatory insects that could have at least helped out with the problem you’re experiencing in your garden. Herbicides last longer in the environment than we think and have the potential to damage our vegetable crops. And one example I like to use is that, if you use a broadleaf weed killer on your lawn, let’s say to kill the dandelions, and then you put the grass clippings in your garden as a mulch, they will probably kill your vegetable plants, because the majority of vegetables are broadleaf plants. And I think a lot of folks don’t realize that. Now, with synthetic fertilizers, they will kill the microorganisms that make nutrients available to plants through their root system; they also tend to have way more nutrients than what our plants can take up and benefit from. So, this means the excess nutrients will end up in our groundwater, which is definitely not good.

Deborah Niemann 3:34
That is a really great explanation of what “organic gardening” means. Can you now tell us what are we talking about when we say “integrated pest management”? Because I know—and now, that’s on the flip side. I used to always think that meant “Oh, that’s just the plan for, like, which chemical you’re going to use first, second, third.” And that’s really not it at all.

Susan Mulvihill 3:56
Right, it’s actually the exact opposite. And you know, I’ve been a Master Gardener for a very long time, and that was something we were all trained on very early on. It’s a systematic approach to dealing with plant damage when it arises. But the focus is on choosing something that will have the least impact on the environment. So, what you want to do is monitor your garden—again, I’ve mentioned this before—on a regular basis, because you want to spot problems early on. It’s very easy, and a very pleasant way to spend a few minutes. If you see an insect, take the time to identify it. And I’m going to harp on this today: Do a little research to find out is it a good bug or a bad bug? If it’s the latter, what do they do to our plants? You want to monitor the situation. If it gets worse, choose a course of action. And so, some examples might be you hand-pick them off the plants. You place a barrier over the crop to keep the pests away. Maybe you use an organic spray. And in my book, I have detailed descriptions of the different types that are available to use so you choose the best option. And there are many other strategies that you can use. But no matter what, again, you want to choose a solution that has the least impact on the environment.

Susan Mulvihill 5:21
Now, the interesting thing is that with integrated pest management, the final solution is to use an insecticide. I can’t bring myself to do that. And I don’t want to advocate it to other gardeners, because they cause more problems than they solve. So I go with what I call the “organic IPM program.” But the final step, which is so important, is to document the results of your actions. What did you do? Was it effective? What would you do differently next time? Because these notes, first of all, help you become a better gardener. And they’re going to help you when you have future garden problems.

Deborah Niemann 6:02
That’s a really great tip, and something I certainly did not think about early in my gardening life. It never occurred to me to keep any kind of notes. But that is so important when you’re doing anything with any living things, because every year is going to be a little different. And, you know, like 2012, we had a really bad drought, which was completely different than what happened, like, around 2015, where it would not stop raining. And so, the problems and solutions are not always the same. So, I love those examples that you gave of management practices that you can employ to help with your pest situation.

Deborah Niemann 6:41
One of the things I know, I think, again, a lot of people—I know I did—thought, “Oh, if something’s natural, that’s great. It’s not going to hurt anything.” But then, like, I know one example that so many people want to use is, like—oh, is DE. They’re like, “Oh DE is great. It’s all-natural.” And it’s true; it is all-natural, and it will kill your tomato hornworms. That’s the main thing I use it for. But it can also kill beneficial insects. So, I’m sure there are other examples of how people can actually do a lot of harm using a natural pesticide that they feel like is really safe.

Susan Mulvihill 7:19
Right. So, just to clarify for anyone who’s new to all of this, “DE” is diatomaceous earth. And it’s a flour-like substance that is made up of the ground-up remains of fossilized diatoms, which are algae. So, here’s the science lesson for the day. And what happens is the corners of those can cut into the skin of an insect; it causes them to dehydrate and die. So that can be a problem, obviously, because it’s not just targeting the bad bugs. Another example would be that there are a lot of organic products available to gardeners these days. And that’s awesome. It hasn’t always been that way. But it’s so important to be informed about them. Several of the most commonly used products are actually toxic to bees and other pollinators, which is pretty frightening. So, examples would be things like insecticidal soaps, neem oil—and people tout neem like crazy. And yet, I think a lot of folks aren’t familiar with the problem with the bees and the pollinators. So, pyrethrins would be another one, and spinosad. So, this doesn’t mean you can’t use them. It just means that you need to be smart about when you apply the product to your garden, because you want to avoid times that the pollinators are active. So that does mean, especially this time of year, you have to apply them super early in the morning or very late in the day. So that’s something people should be aware of. And then also, I mentioned spinosad. Another thing that they’re finding is that spinosad, if it’s used repeatedly, insects can become resistant to it. And they will pass along that resistance to their offspring. So, there are some really nasty insects out there, such as Colorado potato beetles, that have developed a resistance to this spinosad. So it makes them more difficult to control. So, I think it’s really important that if you’re really having a tough time in your garden, and you need to use something like spinosad, alternate it with a different product or method. You don’t want them to develop that resistance.

Deborah Niemann 9:42
Let’s talk a little bit about the importance of being able to identify the bugs in your garden. I know when I was new, I just kind of thought if there was any bug in my garden, I should kill it. Which, some of them are our friends, and they’re trying to help us. So, can you talk about that a little bit?

Susan Mulvihill 9:59
Absolutely. And, you know, really, in my mind, identifying the bugs is the key point in my book, because I want people to understand that, you know, we’ve got all these bugs in our garden, and that isn’t a bad thing. I mean, there are some where it’s like, yeah, that’s bad news. But one of the things I pointed out in my book was that there are so many more beneficial insects in our gardens than we realize. So, I have a statistic here that I’m hoping will blow your mind, and also change your attitude towards bugs in your garden. So, there are 1 million species of insects that have been identified on our planet. Of those 1 million, 99% of them are either beneficial insects or benign insects. So, that means only 1% of those 1 million species are damaging. And so, when I say “beneficials,” maybe they are a pollinator, maybe they prey on certain types of damaging pests—which, you know, I love that. And benign insects are ones that, you know, they don’t damage our crops, they don’t bother humans, but maybe they have a role in helping with the decomposition of organic matter. So, it’s sort of a neutral role. But the thing is, if it turns out that you’re looking at a bug that’s a damaging pest, it is so important to know which one it is so you use the right organic product or control methods, because otherwise it’s a waste of your money and could have some negative ramifications. You know, I find that a lot of times, like you said, we see a bug, and our first instinct is “Oh, we’ve got to kill that.” But as I was researching for this book, time and time again, I’d see something, and I’d think, “Ah! What’s that?” And then I’d realize it is a gardener’s best friend, something that absolutely gorges on aphids, for example. So yeah, bug identification is huge.

Deborah Niemann 12:16
That is great to know. One of the things that is kind of funny to me—because I’ve talked about weed tolerance before. You know, like, your garden doesn’t have to be completely weed-less and stuff. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone mention the term “bug tolerance” before; I think your book may be the first place I saw that.

Susan Mulvihill 13:33
Okay, maybe I’m plowing new ground here.

Deborah Niemann 12:38
Yeah! So can you tell us a little bit about bug tolerance?

Susan Mulvihill 12:41
Absolutely. And I know it can be a hard sell, but I’m going to try it anyway. So first of all, let me ask you: If you see a bug or two in your garden, do you freak out and go, “Oh, my gosh, get the bug spray?”

Deborah Niemann 12:55
Well, not anymore.

Susan Mulvihill 12:57
That’s good. Or, do you take some kind of a wait-and-see approach? Now, I know there are many different types of vegetable pests that are horrible, and you do need to act right away. But oftentimes what happens is, if we have a little bit of tolerance and patience for the bugs, the beneficial insects will arrive on the scene, and they’ll help control the troublesome pest for us. And I have a perfect example of this that happened in our garden. So a few years ago, my husband and I were out checking on the garden in general. And we were looking at our current bushes, and I saw puckered leaves, and I thought, “Oh, aphids.” I despise aphids. They’re just awful. And at the time, I thought, “Okay, I need to do something about this, but I’ve got this project I’m working on. I can’t get to it right now.” And so, of course, you know how it goes, life happens, and you forget about things. And so, a few days later, I thought, “Oh my gosh, the aphids!” And so I ran out to the garden, and I saw ladybugs, ladybug larvae, they were chowing down on the aphids. I could not find a single live aphid on the bushes. And so, the point is that if you can get used to spotting beneficial insects in your garden, you might just find that they will sort things out for us, or at least be very helpful. So, that’s one example of bug tolerance.

Susan Mulvihill 14:37
And then the other thing is: Do you feel that your produce has to be absolutely pristine, with no holes in the leaves? You know, a lot of times we can trim off some damage, and you know, the produce is perfectly fine to eat. And so, I think we need to have a little bit of tolerance in that way, too. Now, obviously, if you’re growing something that’s a leafy crop, you might be a little more particular about, you know, the damage that’s on the leaves. But certainly, let’s say a beet plant, if you’re just growing it for the root, it’s okay that there’s damage on the leaves. So, I do think we need to be a little more comfortable with having a little bit of damage on a plant, and it’ll be okay.

Deborah Niemann 15:26
All right. I think you made a great argument for that. I really love the way that this book is put together. It’s very much like an encyclopedia, where you have, like, all these different sections, and you can start with anything. So, you know, for example, if you’re out there and your eggplant is not looking good, you know, it’s got a bunch of little pinholes in it, in the leaves, you have a whole section in the book that’s about the plants. And so, I could go look at “eggplant” and see all the little pin holes in there and figure out that that was being caused by flea beetles. And then, on the flip side, you’ve got a bug section where, if I saw a bug, and I was like, “Oh, is this bug a friend or foe?” I could go flip through and find a picture of the bug and know whether it was a good or a bad bug. So, let’s use a couple of real-world examples then of, like, how—even beyond that—like, how people could use your book. So, like, two of my biggest problems are flea beetles on eggplant leaves, and then the other one is squash. I know I cannot grow squash in the same garden every year. So, let’s just kind of maybe pick one of those to talk through—or both of them—about how we could deal with those problems organically.

Susan Mulvihill 16:44
Sure. Yeah, so flea beetles are awful. And they are especially challenging because they can jump away from you, if, let’s say, you’re trying to hand-pick them. So, depending upon a person’s growing season, this first tip may or may not work. But if you can plant your eggplant, or other types of crops that flea beetles seem to bother, if you can plant them a little bit later, then what can happen is you will avoid that peak activity and hopefully let your plants grow and develop and become nice and healthy so that they’re more able to tolerate some damage.

Susan Mulvihill 17:33
Another thing you can consider using is something that’s called “reflective silver mulch.” And I think a lot of people aren’t familiar with this. I have a DIY project in my book that shows exactly how to use it. But it is a very shiny, reflective mulch. As a matter of fact, when I was doing the DIY project, it was painful to look at it because the sun reflects on it so much. And so what happens is, because of that reflectivity, it’s hard for pests to find the plants. And so you cover the surface of the soil of the planting bed with this mulch, and then you would cut either, like, X’s or small holes into the mulch to plant your seedlings through. And the idea is that, until the plants get so tall that they start covering that reflective mulch, it’s very hard for insects to target the plants, because the reflective mulch confuses them; it’s just too reflective. And that actually can work really well. Now obviously, when they grow to a certain point and they’re covering the mulch, then it’s going to be less effective, but you’ve gotten them past that really tender, young, vulnerable stage. So, I think it’s a very interesting option.

Susan Mulvihill 19:04
Another thing you can do is, when you are planting your seeds or seedlings—and usually with eggplant, I think, a lot of people start them ahead of time indoors. But you would cover that planting that very same day with something that’s called “floating row cover.” That is a lightweight fabric that lets in sunlight and moisture, so if it were to rain, the rainfall will come through and hit the plants. But it acts as a physical barrier when you put it over the crop, and it keeps the insects away from the plants; they just can’t get to them. And again, you’re helping those plants grow and be really healthy and able to resist damage. Now, obviously, once the plants start flowering, you’re going to need to remove that cover. But by that point, the plant should be doing really well. So that’s another option.

Susan Mulvihill 19:59
You can use diatomaceous earth, since we were talking about them, which would act as an irritant, and again, it cuts into their skin, can cause them to die. So that’s an option. And then another thing that’s an interesting concept is planting something called a “trap crop,” and that, in the case of flea beetles, may be you would plant some radishes that are away from where you want to plant your eggplant—and they are very attracted to radishes. And so what you do is, you plant those a little bit before you’re going to put in your eggplants. The flea beetles are attracted to the radishes; they maybe lay eggs, maybe there’s even some larva on the plants. And what you do is you pull them up, bugs, eggs, and all, and dispose of them. You don’t want to compost it. So that would be another interesting idea of kind of drawing them away from what you really, really want to grow.

Deborah Niemann 20:58
On the subject of the squash, I was really interested in the three-year crop rotation that you mentioned for dealing with things like squash bugs and the squash vine borers and other pests.

Susan Mulvihill 21:11
Yes. And I realize that crop rotation is a tricky concept, especially if someone has quite a small garden. And you know, I have a pretty good-sized one, so it works really good as a strategy for me. But it’s not always an option for folks. But I do want to explain the concept, because you can make that work for you. So in general, what it means is planting crops in different locations of your garden each year to make it harder for the damaging pests to find them. So first of all, what you want to start doing—if you’re not already—is to keep track of where you’re planting everything. So make, like, a little template of your garden layout, and each year write down, you know, “Here’s where I put the tomatoes. Here’s where I put the winter squash. Here’s where I put the zucchini,” and so on. And so, when you’re getting ready to lay out a new garden at the beginning of a growing season, you want to pull out your records, preferably from the last three years, and then decide where you’re going to plant members of each plant family. So, that’s the thing that’s a little tricky. Fortunately, I have a table in my book that lists all of the vegetable plant families and which crops belong to those different families. So, for example, squash is in the cucurbit family. And that includes things like cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, summer and winter squash. So, when you’re looking at your previous three years of records for your garden layout, and let’s say you’re trying to figure out “Where am I going to put my zucchinis this year?” What you want to do is choose a place for growing it where there haven’t been any members of the cucurbit family grown in the previous three years.

Susan Mulvihill 23:11
Again, I realize it doesn’t always work for small gardens, but there are strategies that you can use, such as planting your zucchini in pots one year and, you know, putting them on your patio, doing something like that. But the reason you’re moving things around is there are quite a few insects that will overwinter in the soil, usually in plant debris. And so, when they emerge in the spring and they’re ready to lay eggs, if they’re right where you’re growing squash again, you just made it really easy for them to bother your plants. So, I personally feel crop rotation makes a huge difference. But you know, there’s a couple strategies in the book that give some alternatives of ways to make it harder for the damaging pests to find different types of plants.

Deborah Niemann 24:06
I know when we first moved out here to our farm, we planted zucchini, and it was the classic joke, you know. We had so much zucchini that my children were saying, “Zucchini again?” Like, I was putting zucchini in everything, you know? I even tried hiding it in brownies, because like, “Well, I can’t see it in there because of the chocolate.” And I was giving it away. And it was, you know, it was like the joke about “there’s so much zucchini.” The next year, it was a mediocre crop. And the year after that, it just started to completely fail.

Susan Mulvihill 24:39
Oh boy.

Deborah Niemann 24:40
And I thought “Oh, we can’t grow zucchini again.” But then, a few years later, I just got brave enough to try again. And I once again had one of those hugely abundant crops. So I just kind of found out accidentally, you know, that you just can’t do it in the same place year after year. And we have lots of space out here, so I go way out. I was, like, not even in the same garden in terms of where I planted each subsequent year. But if somebody doesn’t have a very big garden, like, how far do they really have to go? I mean, and do I have to go, you know, a couple hundred yards away? Could I just be moving it, you know, like, six rows over? How lazy are the bugs?

Susan Mulvihill 25:23
I have a question for you, Deborah. So, are you saying that you had problems with the zucchini for quite a while, and then you stopped for a couple years?

Deborah Niemann 25:36
Yeah. Well, initially, a long time ago, that was what I did. I just gave up. I thought “I can’t grow zucchini anymore.” And so I didn’t do it at all for a few years.

Susan Mulvihill 25:46
Okay.

Deborah Niemann 25:47
And then, when I did it again, it was so good. That’s when I thought, “Oh, well, maybe I should only do it every other year.” And then I thought, “Well, maybe if I move it, and like, I just put it, like, a couple hundred yards away in another place.” Like, it wasn’t even a garden, it was just, I just, like, tilled up a little area. It was a little zucchini bed, basically.

Susan Mulvihill 26:08
And there’s nothing wrong with that. So, I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, probably the reason that your zucchini did so well when you started growing it again is because you disrupted the life cycle of the squash bug, I have a friend who is kind of like a truck farmer. And he grows a lot of things, everything organically. And the only way he seems to be able to get ahead of those squash bugs is by skipping growing different types of cucurbits every other year, or every couple of years, and that seems to make a difference. But it’s hard to say an actual distance that it would be successful to move the squash plants to, because the adult squash bug is very mobile, unfortunately. So yeah. So again, you know, if you have a massive amount of room and you can plant them in a new spot, then certainly that would work.

Susan Mulvihill 27:15
I realize that the average gardener doesn’t have a massive amount of room, so maybe we might talk about a few strategies instead of moving them elsewhere. One thing you can do—I keep mentioning floating row cover, but it’s my favorite thing. You can plant your squash seeds or seedlings underneath floating row cover on planting day—it’s always important, right away—until they start blooming. And they definitely rely on pollination, so you have to remove the cover. But, by having them under the floating row cover from the get-go until they start needing to be pollinated, it can bypass their peak egg-laying season. So that is important. You do not want to mulch heavily around the base of the plants. And, I’m a firm believer in the value of mulch, because it does help the soil retain its moisture. It impedes weed growth. So, it’s great, but in the case of squash bugs, you’re giving them hiding places, so you don’t want to do that. Certainly anytime you see the adults or the nymphs or their eggs, get rid of them. And clean up any plant debris both during and at the end of the growing season to eliminate places for them to overwinter. There are also some varieties of cucurbits that are resistant to squash bugs, amazingly enough. And then the other interesting thing that I learned after the book was printed—you know how that goes—is if you plant nasturtiums with your cucurbits, they apparently will repel the squash bugs.

Deborah Niemann 29:05
Ooh.

Susan Mulvihill 29:06
And I thought “Well, how cool is that? You’re getting flowers in your garden, that’s going to attract more pollinators, you’re going to have beauty, and they just might repel the squash bugs.”

Deborah Niemann 29:17
Yeah, and nasturtiums are edible. They’re really good in salads, if you like peppery kind of things.

Susan Mulvihill 29:23
Yeah.

Deborah Niemann 29:24
They’re awesome.

Susan Mulvihill 29:25
So, interesting little tip there, you know, and I wish I had known that before I wrote the book.

Deborah Niemann 29:32
Yeah, that is exciting. So, a lot of people may think that like, “Oh, well, organic gardening works fine for, you know, bugs A, B, and C, but bugs D, E, and F are just too much of a challenge.” Is there any particular bug or challenge you can think of that people commonly think is really tough, but there is actually a fairly easy organic solution to it?

Susan Mulvihill 29:58
Yes. So what comes to my mind is leaf miners, and they can seem really hard to control because what happens is the adults are flies; they lay eggs on the leaves of beet family crops—so beets, Swiss chard, and spinach. And, when the eggs hatch, the maggots tunnel inside the leaves. So they’re kind of inaccessible, basically, to hand-picking or to using some type of an organic spray. So, those maggots will tunnel in the leaves for about three weeks, then they drop down to the soil where they pupate—which is, you know, they’re going through another stage—they emerge as the adult fly, and start the whole cycle all over again. So once again, I’m bringing up floating row cover, because if you cover the crops as soon as you plant the seeds for them, you will not have a single leaf miner problem. And so, I think some people will think leaf miners are really hard to deal with, and they ruin a crop in nothing flat. But, if you just create a barrier, then it works great. And none of those crops—beets, spinach, and Swiss chard—none of them need to be pollinated.

Deborah Niemann 31:20
Wow, that is awesome! So, I have used row covers before, but I have apparently been really under-utilizing them. Kind of seems like just about everything can be helped by row covers. Should I be putting row covers over everything in the garden when I plant in the spring?

Susan Mulvihill 31:41
No.

Deborah Niemann 31:42
Okay.

Susan Mulvihill 31:44
So, the reason that you don’t want to use it is because first of all, you don’t need it for every single crop. And there are so many things that need pollination that you don’t want to have that cover in the way. But first of all, I use floating row cover for cabbage-family crops, so things like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, rutabagas, and so on. Because, none of them needs to be pollinated, but that family of vegetables is a bug magnet. So they get aphids, they get cabbage worms, they get cabbage loopers, they get diamondback moth caterpillars, and the easiest thing to do, since they don’t need to be pollinated, is to just cover them. So yes, absolutely for cabbage family crops. Absolutely for beets, spinach, and Swiss chard, I do use floating row cover over some warm-season crops right when I plant them, and that is to get them off to kind of a nice warm start. And that means they’re going to grow and, you know, really hit the ground running. And then, before they start blooming, or right when they do start blooming, I’ll take that cover off. So, that also applies to the cucurbit family. But you know, I don’t put it over things like onions, carrots…

Deborah Niemann 33:15
Okay, that makes sense.

Susan Mulvihill 33:16
Yeah, I’m trying to think of other things.

Deborah Niemann 33:17
Yeah.

Susan Mulvihill 33:18
Like, it’s mainly, it’s being aware of what typically is active in your garden as far as pests go. And then determining, “Will this work?” And I do have information on that in the book, because I give a pretty good description of how the floating row cover works and the types of things that it works really well to keep away.

Deborah Niemann 33:43
Yeah. There are… I’m in Illinois. And there are some things that I had just kind of given up on and felt like, “Well, this is just the way it is if I want to stay organic,” you know? Like, “My Swiss chard is gonna look like lace for July and August, and then it’ll be beautiful in September. So, we’ll just eat it in September.” And like, “I can’t grow cabbage as a spring crop, because the bugs are going to eat it up. I’ll just have to plant that as a fall crop.” And I’m just, like, thinking now, “Well, why didn’t it occur to me to put a row cover on them?”

Susan Mulvihill 34:13
Oh, well, you know, I didn’t know about row cover until maybe about 10 years ago or so. And I thought, “Wow, what a concept! If it’s a barrier, they can’t get to the plants.”

Deborah Niemann 34:26
Right.

Susan Mulvihill 34:26
So yeah, I love that stuff. And if you take good care of it, it’ll last for quite a few seasons.

Deborah Niemann 34:32
Yeah, that is really great to know. What kind of a problem do you see is really common with, like, new organic gardeners and pests?

Susan Mulvihill 34:41
Well, I hate to be repetitive. But one thing is not monitoring the garden on a regular basis. Because you can see things happening if you just take a quick stroll through your garden every day. You can be alerted to things that are potentially starting to happen. And then the other one, which is huge, is not taking the time to identify a bug before you choose a method to control them. Or not knowing that something is a beneficial insect, because there are some beneficial insects that look quite frightening, to be honest. And when you identify them, and you find out the types of insects that they actually prey on, you realize, “Oh, okay, this guy looks scary, but it’s my new best friend.”

Deborah Niemann 35:33
Yeah.

Susan Mulvihill 35:33
So I would say those are the biggest things, just kind of reacting quickly before you think through, “Oh, well, what kind of bug is this? And do I need to do something about it?” And then, “What do I do about them?” And, you know, “What works best for me?”

Deborah Niemann 35:49
Yeah. This has been so helpful, even for me, and I’ve been gardening now for like, oh, I don’t know, 25 years or so? I’ve picked up a lot of great tips. So, if people feel like they want to be ready, is there any kind of organic control product that they should buy ahead of time to have on hand, just in case? Or just monitor it and deal with the problems as they arise?

Susan Mulvihill 36:14
Well, I hate to bring up floating row cover again…

Deborah Niemann 36:17
No, do it! Go for it. I’m loving it.

Susan Mulvihill 36:20
I swear I don’t have stock in the companies that make it. That would be something to have on hand. Because, now that you know that the beet family and the cabbage family are so susceptible to these bugs—and I mean, it’s pretty much guaranteed you’re going to get them. So, I would have that on hand, and again, be preemptive about it. Don’t be reactive, and think, “Oh, I’ve got all these bugs, now I’m going to put a cover over those crops,” because what will happen is you just trapped the bugs inside with the plants.

Deborah Niemann 36:54
Yeah.

Susan Mulvihill 36:55
So, I think that floating row cover should be in every organic gardeners’ toolbox. It’s not horribly expensive. You can buy it from large well-stocked garden centers, you can buy it online, just do a search for “floating row cover.” It comes in all different widths and lengths and so on. And use it proactively by covering the susceptible types of crops with them as soon as you plant the crops, basically. Another thing that can be helpful if you tend to have a lot of worm problems, there’s also BT, which stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a mouthful, but it is a bacteria that’s harmless to humans but deadly to the larval or caterpillar stage of insects. And so, it works really great for controlling things like cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, diamondback moth caterpillars, tomato and tobacco hornworms, all of these types of things. So, that is a good product. The thing is, I’m not sure what the shelf life is. And so, you know, you hate to buy something ahead of time that you might not need. But yeah, I say floating row cover. And you know, one of the things I like about it that I should mention is I didn’t have to kill a single bug to be successful. I just set up a barrier around my plants, and it takes care of the problem for me.

Deborah Niemann 38:31
That’s great. This has been really interesting and helpful. And I mean, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Like, your book is just full of so much really amazing information, and it’s arranged in such a way that it’s going to be really easy for people to figure out what their problem is, and then how to fix it. How can people connect with you online?

Susan Mulvihill 38:51
It’s pretty easy. So, my blog is SusansInTheGarden.com. I am on social media, Facebook and Instagram—just look for @SusansInTheGarden. And then, I also shoot a video each week on something that has to do with growing a garden, and I have over 300 videos that are “how to garden” on my YouTube channel, which again, is “Susan’s in the Garden.”

Deborah Niemann 39:25
Awesome! That does make it simple. Kind of like me, I’m Thrifty Homesteader everywhere.

Susan Mulvihill 39:29
There you go.

Deborah Niemann 39:30
And you are Susan’s in the Garden everywhere.

Susan Mulvihill 39:32
Yep!

Deborah Niemann 39:33
Perfect. Well, thank you again for joining us, this has really been great. Thanks.

Susan Mulvihill 39:38
Thank you so much, Deborah.

Deborah Niemann 39:40
And that’s it for today’s episode. You can find show notes at ThriftyHomesteader.com/BookChat, as well as a transcript. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. You can also find Thrifty Homesteader on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. See you next week on “Sustainability Book Chat.”

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