Pests and diseases, the little darlings, are major bug-bears of gardeners. Slugs, snails and rabbits that munch cheerfully through your salads before you get the chance; aphids that cause havoc with the roses and honeysuckle; blackfly murdering your beans; leatherjackets wrecking the lawn; mice eating the pea seeds and all the other critters that want your plants. Then there are all the diseases the plants can get. Gardening can be a nightmare!
Biodynamics does not eradicate pests, this is quite contrary to its ethos, but it does help you put the garden into balance with itself, and its surroundings. Being in balance really makes a huge difference to how pests and diseases work (or don’t!) in your garden.
Pests and weeds come when things are out of balance, when you have row upon row of lettuces just asking for slugs to come and make a feast, with nothing to get in their way. The darn lettuces seem to actually be singing siren songs to the slugs! And in a sense they are. Nature abhors a vacuum. And she abhors gluts too. This doesn’t mean you must grow fewer lettuces but it does mean it’s worth doing what you can to help maintain the balance. Gardens are not natural places, they are made by human beings – as is most of our countryside in the populated world. Therefore we are a part of the system we have made, so we need to work with it to help it work well. Biodynamics helps us do just that.
The spray preparations – the 500 horn manure and the 501 horn silica – help the soil and the plants reach their optimum potential. This happens, even if we don’t really know why. We don’t know why electricity works, but we’re quite content to trust the light switch will work whenever we want, we may even get quite cross when it doesn’t. With a little practice we can become equally blasé about biodynamics and with equal justification. We know how to make electricity work even if we don’t know why it does it. We can learn how to make biodynamics work as we have learned how to make electricity work and, again, without needing to know why it does it. And it does work. A part of its work is to help the garden grow into balance with itself, and stay in balance, so the pests and diseases don’t trouble us. It’s been working well for me since the early 1990s.
So … the first thing to do, to deal with pests and diseases, is to get your garden working well, in balance, by using the spray and compost preparations.
Pests are just about anything the gardener has a problem with, animals, insects, birds, butterflies, other people, children. Usually it is anything that wants to eat or otherwise damage the plants the gardener has carefully tended and grown whether ornamental or vegetable. Coddling moths, slugs and snails, leatherjackets, pigeons after the peas, blackbirds after the raspberries or pulling up the newly planted bulbs or onions, blackfly on the beans, whitefly in the greenhouse, rabbits in the salad, squirrels in the trees, caterpillars eating the cabbages.
Many of these can be dealt with most effectively by prevention, barriers, stopping the critters getting at the pants in the first place. Netting, fine meshes, fruit/vegetable cages, grease barriers, all these are far more effective than poisons. Even the humble slug/snail pub does a very effective job and, if you go in for nematodes you’ll find you also need them to deal with the already grown adults the nematodes won’t get to.
Sometimes things can get serious very quickly, as with aphids, so that you have to use soft soap to kill them or the plants will die, you can’t wait for the more usual organic methods to work. Biodynamics doesn’t deny you this ability, nobody wants your plants to die.
However, thinking ahead really does help. I get my slug pubs going as soon as I start to work outside, I don’t wait for the baby slugs to get to adult size … and begin breeding to produce even more of the little darlings to eat my hostas and brassicas. All the brassicas live inside mesh tunnels to make it impossible for the butterflies to get to the leaves to lay their eggs so, with a reasonable amount of care, no caterpillars get to them. I do plant lots of nasturtiums which the caterpillars like even better, and leave a couple of cabbages outside the net so they have something to eat and we do have more butterflies next year. It’s all a question of balance, of give and take. I want to take from the land in the form of beauty – i.e., hostas, dahlias, etc – so I give back to the land and her creatures with some plants for them to feed on. Usually this works out, unless the weather is very bad with lots of summer rain to encourage the slugs, or some other factor comes into play. I win some, I lose some. In the long term both Nature and myself get what we need.
One creature that can really be a problem is the rat. Wherever you are on planet Earth you are never more than a couple of meters away from a rat. Rats and people have been close neighbours quite possibly as long as there have been humans … the rats, of course, are a far older species than we, goodness what they cuddled up to before we came along. Modern human living suites rats to a T, they really thrive on our wasteful culture. And we are generally terrified of them … a problem we’ve brought on ourselves.
The best way to tell if you have a rat problem is if you see them … if you do there are too many, they are getting hungry and much braver in consequence, so coming out when people are around and not running away. The milder winters we’ve had for some time now mean they don’t die off in the cold so there are more of them to start over again each spring. That happens with slugs and snails too, by the way … the milder climate means they live longer!
Whatever, rats are a problem, they do need to be kept under control and out of the compost heap. If you begin to see rats then you need to take steps to cull them, or have someone do this for you. The farmers’ stores have poisons that will do this or you can contact your local authority to sort them out for you.
- NB – if you put poison down make quite sure it can’t be eaten by other creatures you don’t want to cull … like your cat or dog!
- And – keep a very close eye on your own pets. Modern rat poisons work more slowly than the old ones and tend to make the animal drowsy, watch your pets, they might eat a rat that’s been poisoned, or even a mouse that’s take some of the poison. If you suspect this take your pet to the vet immediately and ask for tests. Vitamin K can counteract the poison and save your pet’s life but you must act quickly.
- And – over the past few years many people have seen rats climbing onto bird tables and eating the seed and nuts. Some of the bird foods are rich in vitamin K, with the consequent result that the rats who eat it develop a resistance to the poison! Ho hum! We do make rods for our own backs so long as we look only to cure an effect rather than seeking the cause.
A biodynamic way of dealing with rats is to make a pepper – see the next section on Peppers – but handling rats is dangerous, even when they’re dead, because of the diseases you can unfortunately catch from them. We have used a rat-pepper and it does work, however it takes much longer than using poison so I don’t work that way if the problem is big, if we have an explosion in the rat population.
Rats in Compost Bins
Keeping rats out of the compost heap is best done by putting a layer of mesh – plasterer’s mesh, as it’s called in the UK – underneath the bins. This is sufficiently narrow so that even baby rats can’t get through, but the worms and bugs that do so much good in your heap can.
- Go to a builders’ yard and ask for plasterers’ mesh.
- Buy enough to go under your bin(s).
- Lay it on the ground where the bin is going to be.
- You may need to stake the mesh down into the ground or weight it down with bricks.
- Put the bin(s) back on top of the mesh and continue making compost as normal.
We always do this with all our bins, whether or not we see any rats. We know they’re there and that they will go into the bins if they can so we use prevention, in the form of the mesh.