Clockwise from top left: Accept a little pest damage; Diversify, grow a range or annuals and perennials; Grow perenials such as rhubarb; Natural pest prevention. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt
Do you feel like you’re constantly battling pests in your garden for your fair share of the harvest? Do you wonder what you can possibly do to grow more food? As strange as it may sound, a ‘do-nothing’ approach to pest management might just be what you are looking for.
Don’t be mistaken; do nothing pest management is not about being idle or lazy. Rather, it is a carefully considered and interconnected way of thinking and gardening that respects natural cycles, the principles of ecology and the power of diversity. This is a permaculture approach to pest management; a thoughtful whole systems design.
WHAT IS ‘DO-NOTHING’ PEST MANAGEMENT?
The idea behind it all is about shifting from doing pest management and fighting these pests, to instead observing and working with nature to create a cultivated ecology. Diversity ensures natural checks and balances. The more complex your edible garden system becomes over the years, the less often and less intense your pest problems are. As you can imagine, this makes for a far more relaxing and rewarding gardening experience and far greater food abundance.
FIVE WAYS TO SHIFT YOUR THINKING ABOUT PESTS
Before we get into the strategies, it is important first to explore the way you perceive your garden and the insects, and manage your expectations.
By this I mean:
- Expect that there will be some damage.
- Accept that various insects come in flushes.
- Understand that things come back into balance in a healthy system even though there may be times of chaos and uncertainty.
- Accept diversity and difference, and hold a more flexible notion of what is ‘perfect’.
- I am also quite certain that ‘holes cook well’. I cannot tell the slightest difference in taste between a silverbeet leaf with a hole in it and one without. Can you?
SEVEN STRATEGIES FOR DO-NOTHING PEST MANAGEMENT
With this thinking in mind, here are seven simple do-nothing pest management strategies:
Cultivating diversity is key; growing more flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits, perennials, self-seeding annuals, water plants and natives. Polyculture is the foundation of success in a do-nothing pest management approach.
Select plants well
Choose plants that are hardy and locally adapted to your climatic region, microclimate and soils. Consider growing spicier leaves until you have more diversity, then you can hide more pest-prone plants amongst them. Nurture pest-resistant varieties by saving seeds from your most pest-hardy plants.
Plant at the right time
Don’t expect plants to flourish in conditions not conducive to their growth. Plants growing out of range and season will struggle.
Let most of your edible landscape be perennials and tree crops. Perennials have stronger, deeper root systems and help regenerate the soil. Encourage annuals to keep producing over a longer period of time by just harvesting the tips and outer leaves.
Build healthy soil
Alive soil nourishes plants and supports their healthy development, so minimise soil disturbance. Integrate many soil activation strategies throughout your garden including worm towers, movable compost bins, compost bays, liquid fertilisers, chop and drop, cover crops, deep nutrient cyclers, leguminous shrubs, green manures and thick mulch.
Water-stressed plants are more susceptible to attack, so encourage plants to root deeply for water, and design to harvest rain in your garden soil.
Create habitat for helpers
There is nothing better than to sit back and watch little birds dart about the garden picking off pests. Most little birds are insectivorous and thrive where they have protection from predators (for example, dense bushes such as native shrubs, sacred basil and dwarf fruit trees). Encourage frogs and lizards too ,with a constant supply of water, logs, twigs and rough mulch.
Sometimes however, exclusion is the only answer, but don’t let it be your main strategy. There may be times when you need to protect your garden physically with fences, nets, cages and tunnels—especially as you are getting started. But too often I see exclusion set-ups that are so awkward that they discourage the gardener too, and the garden is abandoned.
So embrace nature as your gardening friend, and turn your kitchen garden from a battlefield (full of anxiety and angst) to a calm place. Engage in a peaceful way of gardening that encourages connection, mindfulness and observation. This simply makes growing food easier and more enjoyable.