I was reading the Happy Acre Farm website the other day and came across this great phrase – “We prefer to be plant positive rather than pest negative.” Their approach is to provide optimum conditions for healthy growth to fend off pests with sturdily-growing plants instead of chemicals. It’s like the old Chinese approach to medicine – the most important job of a doctor is to keep his patients healthy in the first place, not treating diseases that have been allowed to develop.
Most home veggie growers know that their plants will grow best given the right soil, the right amount of sun or shade, and the right nutrients. All the chemicals in the world won’t compensate for poor growing conditions – it might look like you’re doing well in the short term, but in gardening a long-term strategy is needed. And that means building a healthy soil to nurture bumper crops, and enticing pest-munching wildlife onto the plot.
A well-organised compost heap is always a positive sign in a garden… recycling garden and kitchen waste into a rich, crumbly tonic for the soil. Good compost feeds the soil, improves its texture, aids drainage and water retention (yes really, it does both at the same time), and provides the right conditions for a whole host of underground wildlife. While most plants respond well to a nice, compost-enriched soil, there are some that thrive in meaner conditions. Many herbs… especially the Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, thyme and lavender, grow best in less fertile, drier soils. Just add full sun to get the most flavoursome leaves for the kitchen. It’s all about knowing a little bit about the biology of the plant, so that you can give it a home where it feels comfortable and grows healthily.
Getting the feeding right helps in the battle against pests too. Too little nitrogen can lead to stunted growth and yellow leaves – not good. But overdo the nitrogen and you get lots of soft, green, sappy growth that draws in every aphid for miles around. Balance is key… the right feed at the right time.
Near perfect growing conditions, coupled with measures to encourage insects, frogs, hedgehogs and birds to visit the garden provide a great base to producing healthy fruit and vegetables, untroubled (or only slightly troubled) by pests. Do you have any horticultural tips for keeping the pests at bay?