Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Morag's 'do-nothing' approach to pest management - a peaceful way of gardening.

I have a 'do-nothing' approach to managing pests in my garden. It's not an idle or lazy approach, but rather a quite carefully considered way of gardening. It simplifies gardening and feels somehow more joyful. 


Our diversity garden includes flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits, perennials, self-seeding annuals, natives, water, lots of worm towers, a moveable compost bin, lots of organic matter and thick mulch.

I like to think of it as a peaceful way of gardening - about being mindful and observant in the garden. I don't do 'pest management'. I don't fight pests or disease. Instead I observe and work with nature to create a 'cultivated ecology' - an ecological balance in the garden that has resilience. 

I do not use any sprays or traps - natural or chemical.  Even natural sprays can harm beneficial insects which help to pollinate and keep pest insects under control. 


Without any spraying or 'active' methods of pest management, the vegetables in my garden look amazingly healthy and unaffected by pests. There is always lots of flowers (mostly seeding vegetables) that attract beneficial and predatory insects into the garden.
Instead I work to create healthy dynamic soil environment that supports healthy robust plants, and I invite many helpers into the garden that will help to keep the balance.


Small Insectiverous birds have declined in the cities. They are vulnerable to predation from the bigger birds that do well in the cities such as currawongs, noisy miners, butcherbirds.   Also in cities, there is less habitat for insects (their food) and often people spray insects (poisioning their food). Image: www.birdsqueensland.org.au

I feel that an important part of this approach is in the way I perceive the garden and the insects, and manage my expectations.  For example:

  • I expect that there will be some damage. 
  • I accept that various insects come in flushes. 
  • I understand that things come back into balance in a healthy system even though there may be times of chaos and uncertainty. 
  • I accept diversity and difference and hold a more flexible notion of what is 'perfect'. Did you know that we waste up 40% of crops at the farm because they do not conform a certain aesthetic. This is beginning to change with the 'ugly food movement' - but who is to say it's 'ugly'. It is just natural!
  • I am also quite certain that 'holes cook well'.  For example, I cannot tell the slightest difference in taste between a silverbeet leaf with a whole in it and one without.

Holes cook well too!

My 'do-nothing' pest management approach is primarily about cultivating residence. My strategy includes:

  1. Selecting plants well. By choosing plants that are seasonal, locally adapted and hardy they are more robust and resilient.
  2. Planting at the right time. I do not expect plants to flourish in conditions that not conducive to their growth.
  3. Keeping plants healthy. Healthy plants are more resilient to pests. I make sure the soil is healthy, that the soil fertility is maintained, the soil temperature kept relatively stable with mulch, and I maintain the organic matter in the soil to hold soil mositure and diminish the water stress of the plants.
  4. Building healthy soil. Healthy soil nourishes the plants over time and supports their healthy development. Healthy plants are less prone to pest attack.
  5. Watering deeply. As far as possible, I try to rely on rainfall to water the garden- setting up terraces, swales, and adding lots of organic matter and mulching thickly. When things are really dry, I will water but give the soil a big long soak. This encourages the plants to root deeply seeking out that deeply soaked water  - and nutrients. If plants are watered regularly with just a little bit, they form shallower roots. These plants are more vulnerable to heat, dry and pests because they are stressed. 
  6. Perennialising plants. Where possible, I encourage plants to keep producing over a long period of time, just harvesting the edge leaves. The deeper and stronger root system they form makes them more resilient. Disturbing the soil less also helps to cultivate good soil structure.
  7. Creating habitat for my helpers. Growing a diversity of plants helps to develop a cultivated ecology which provides homes for a range of species that become helpers. An example of this is insectiverous birds (there are many more that I will write about another time). I attract these little feathered helpers into my garden by providing protection from predators. This means cultivating dense bushes and layers of cover - such as native shrubs, sacred basil, dwarf fruit trees and plants like pelargonium. It is also essential to ensure a constant supply of water. Importantly too, is leaving materials and spaces for nests - not cleaning up too much. For more information: http://birds of queensland.org.au

Superb Fairy Wren (Image: www.birdsqueensland.org.au)


As well as supporting the ecological development of your edible landscape system, this approach gives you more time to sit back and relax, and ENJOY your garden.


10 comments:

  1. Brilliant. My sentiments entirely.

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  2. I garden like this too, Morag. No chemicals in my garden and I'm frankly too lazy to go mixing up any natural concoctions. We do get insect damage and lots of caterpillars at times (baby butterflies:) but I just see it all in the context of sharing. There's enough to go around!

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    1. I like your approach. I think what comes through here is that it doesn't need to be a burden or a massive time drain to have a productive garden. Acceptance, sharing and patience are definitely useful quality to have as gardeners.

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  3. Replies
    1. Thank you Wendy. We really enjoy the outdoor lifestyle surrounded by gardens and nature, and find it such a peaceful place to be.

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  4. Mixing your plants up makes such a pretty garden. (your first photograph)
    Since attending one of your workshops I started to plant my allotment in a different fashion and mixed up my flowers and veggies. I've had great success with this method. I love the last photograph, great use of a wheelbarrow.

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    1. Hi Jean, I too love the diversity and the colour...and the scents! It provides for such visual interest, and interest for all the senses actually. I'm so pleased that you had success with diversity planting.

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  5. We have just started out and this is our aim. Can you recommend some great books to read for starting permaculture

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    1. Hi Sharon, There are lots of great books. You have inspired me to create a list of my favourites. If you let me know which region you are in, I can recommend the most appropriate ones.

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  6. hi Morag

    How do you go with fruit fly in sunny Queensland?

    We have had a lot of problems with them in our garden in the lower Blue Mountains (NSW). I can understand them stinging the mangoes, but the mandarins and oranges too?

    It has taken about four years of using Ceres traps to finally conquer them (I think and hope).

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