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Ecological Pest Control Solutions

Posted by David Grau on

Originally Posted on May 10, 2013

Today we're sharing gardening tips on ecological pest control and growing pomegranates. We also have an update on the trial garden at Valley Oak Tool Co. HQ. Plus we announce the winners of our Valley Oak Tool Co. photo contest!

Ecological Pest Control Solutions

Springtime for gardeners means planting, weeding, and enjoying the beauty of flowers and new veggie plants. It can also involve dealing with such unpleasant visitors as aphids, gophers, slugs, snails and marauding scrub jays pecking away at just-ripening fruit.

Ladybug on a leaf

In most pest situations, the key to mitigating damage is to increase biodiversity in your garden. Grow plants from different families such as umbelliferae, compositae, boraginaceae, and rosaceae, which flower at different times and attract birds, bees, ladybugs and butterflies. These plants will attract insects that are predators of the insects you don’t want. Leaving a few unkempt patches of grass along the edges will give a place for spiders to live, and spiders eat plenty of insects. A small pile of rocks, branches, or broken concrete will offer a home for lizards, which will also help keep insect pests in check.

It is worth taking the time to work on creating biodiversity in your garden—and you’ll begin to notice a change in pest populations. Spraying poison in the garden is a bad idea for both the garden and the gardener. Insecticides are generally non-selective and will kill beneficial insects as well as insect pests. Plus, they are poisonous, and can be bad when in contact with people (especially children) and pets.

Aphids are a one of the most common pests, and are comparatively easy to deal with. They are most effectively disrupted by a good blast with the hose. Spray them with the hose every day. Do not use insecticide because you want to encourage ladybugs to come and feast on your aphids. If insecticide is used, the population of beneficial insects will be depleted too, and the surviving aphids will reproduce more quickly than the other bugs, and thus will have free reign. So, no insecticides! The ladybugs will find your aphids.

Evening snail hunting can work (bring a flashlight). Stomp them as you find them. Delicate plants can be protected from slugs and snails by using copper rings. Some people put a circle of pennies around young plants, and the copper makes an electrical charge in the slugs and snails, which will repel them. Garden centers sell thin copper strips that can be used for this purpose.

Creating a place for a toad or two in which to spend the day, such as a half-buried flowerpot, or a shallow, partially covered depression in a shady spot, will go far in helping with slug and snail populations. Toads like a cool, dark place in which to live during the day, and they’ll roam around at night to feed. They have the night watch.

Western scrub jays are ubiquitous around our town. They’ll take a taste of a ripening apricot, peach, or plum. They’ll peck away at just-forming apples, chip away at ripening cherries, making noisy entrances and exits all the while. Bagging fruit offers fairly good protection from these birds. Covering the fruit clusters with used mesh onion bags or small paper bags will help save some of the fruit from damage. Using clothespins to attach the bags will work. Sharing some of the fruit with the birds is inevitable, so a good attitude about that will assist with the disappointment at the loss of some fruits. Scrub jays will eat rodents, insects, and snails too, so they aren’t entirely bad.

Gophers—mostly underground-dwelling rodents, which can take down rows of garlic, onions, and mature fruit trees (among other precious crops) —are a pest problem that is not so easily solved. Do we really want gopher snakes (a gopher predator) roaming around our yards? Perhaps some might like that. Carl Rosato at Woodleaf Farm uses cats (one per acre) for gopher control. So perhaps inviting in neighborhood cats would help. Owls, those nocturnal hunters, will also help, since gophers actually travel above ground at night.

Trapping, however, is the best way to slow gopher activity and damage. A couple of good traps on the market are Macabee and the Victor BlackBox, both of which are available at most feed stores and some hardware stores. The traps are placed into the gopher tunnel (a bit of digging is required) and set. Using a few cut green onions as bait will help lure the gopher into the trap. Gophers love to eat onions, garlic, potatoes, and a whole host of other plants that might be grown in a garden.

Finding a good tunnel will possibly yield several gophers, over several days. The traps will need to be emptied regularly. Burying the rodent in an out-of-the-way spot in the yard will feed the soil food web (free fertilizer). Three days of empty traps in a tunnel, though, and it is time to move on to another tunnel. While trapping is unpleasant at first, many will find that it becomes easier when the crop damage reaches heartbreaking levels.

Keep in mind the option to first “do nothing” when it comes to controlling garden pests, and accept some loss. This is a good step toward ecological pest management.

Escalating to intervention, if necessary, should be done with a grander scale in mind. One does not garden in a bubble, and it is best to get nature to do the work when possible. Ladybugs eat aphids. Accept the aphids until the ladybugs arrive in your garden. Ladybugs can also be purchased at local feed stores (release them at night when they will be less inclined to fly away). Toads eat snails. Make a toad-friendly habitat and stomp the snails until the toads take up residence. Lizards eat earwigs, so make a lizard lounge in the garden. Nature will generally keep things in check, when given the chance to do so.

So before panic sets in, let things go a bit, step back and watch nature do her thing. The environment will be better for it, and so will the gardener.

Gardening Tips: Growing Pomegranates

pomegranate flowers

Pomegranates are blooming in gardens around our town. These shrubs have beautiful red flowers which attract hummingbirds. The flowers later grow into interesting fruit. The fruit isn’t generally ripe until later in the fall, and they hang on the shrub like beautiful ornaments until they are ready to pick. Pomegranates are commercial crop primarily in the San Joaquin valley of California.

In Northern California, where we are, the climate is less optimal for growing pomegranates commercially. We always face the possibility of getting rain during the time the fruit is ripening. The rain causes fruit to split, which is not too much of a problem in a home garden, but is a problem for commercial growers.

As well as having beautiful flowers and edible fruit, the shrubs are quite pleasing ornamentals. They are drought tolerant, will grow 20 to 30 feet high, and are long lived. They are hardy to about 12 degrees Farenheit, and can even be pruned into a small tree. Wild birds will feed on split fruit, and if chickens are part of your garden, they will devour the juicy pomegranate arils with great pleasure.

Winners of the "Valley Oak Tools in Action" Photo contest!

Thank you to everyone who entered the contest. We had a hard time choosing the best three entries because so many of the photos were great. First, second, and third place photos win a Valley Oak Tool Co. organic cotton T-Shirt! Congratulations go to Ian McDonald (1st), Jen Becker (2nd), and Matt Sharp (3rd). We’d also like to thank Jeremiah Picard and Etienne-Goyer with a t-shirt! They are both very enthusiastic Valley Oak Tool users!

Ian McDonald, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, sent in a photo of his five year old daughter, Devon, helping prepare beds for planting. She's shown using the Valley Oak Broadfork.

5 year old Devon using a Broadfork

Jen Becker from North Pole, Alaska sent in a photo of her weeding her back field, which she said was "made so much easier by the use of my Valley Oak Wheel Hoe!"

Jen Becker using a wheel hoe


Matt Sharp, and his wife Sarah, from Longview, Washington, sent in photos of their young daughters Hazel and Ila using the Valley Oak Broadfork. They garden on a little city lot and keep four laying hens. Matt said "the girls just love helping out in the garden; Hazel is an excellent weeder and eater of strawberries and Ila, well lets say she likes, test the soil."

young girl on a broadfork

children playing with a broadfork

The trial garden at Valley Oak Tool Co. HQ continues to thrive.

Aphids and whitefly populations have decreased as the ladybug population has increased. Plants in both sections of the garden are healthy, blooming, and most of the tomato plants are putting on fruit. David still plans to top-dress his rows with some super compost he's been making. Carla added yet more mulch around her plants and has not watered for a couple of weeks.

David used the Valley Oak Stake Pounder to put stakes in his rows. Take a look at a video of David using the stake pounder in a previous garden.


He’ll be stringing the tomato plants up soon. He promises a hedge of tomatoes, reaching over the top of his stakes. Once he strings his tomatoes, he’ll get out his wheel hoe and weed between the rows of tomatoes.

Stakes have yet to be installed in Carla's side of the garden, and her plants are spreading on the ground. The mulch is acting as a soft place for the plants to land until the stakes go in.

Dedicated to sustainability

Valley Oak Tool Co. is proud to be part of the sustainable, local food revolution. Every home gardener, farmer, and market gardener using our tools is making a great contribution to creating more sustainable communities. Our tools are great for off-the-grid gardening! We're proud to provide an important tool in your sustainability tool shed.

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