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Save a Species While Saving Your Organic Garden With Natural Pest Control

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Bluebirds require specific birdhouse designs

Now is the time to start thinking about how you are going to protect your vegetable garden from insect pests this year. As such, here’s an informative article on how to save a species while saving your organic garden with this natural pest control method.

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Pest Control Options

One of the most important considerations of gardening is on how you are going to deal with insect pests that assuredly will arrive at some point and take a chomp on your plants. While the fast and easy way is through spraying with liquid insecticides or dusting with powdered poisons, in a sense those methods run counter to one of the main reasons why people garden—the consumption of fresh and biologically clean produce for healthy living.

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The fact is, for most small garden, turning to insecticides is overkill when there are simpler and safer solutions in your own backyard. Birds for example.

In a recent newsletter from Mother Earth News, readers are reminded that now is a good time to invest in some natural pest control that can not only save your garden from predation, but also save an important and endangered North American bird species: the Eastern Bluebird.

While it is true that other bird species can (and do) contribute to pest control around the garden, the Bluebird species are exceptionally credited historically as being an example of early America’s use of biodiversity toward maintaining gardens.

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A Brief Bluebird History

Reportedly, during the clearing of land for orchards by early colonists, it was noticed that the Eastern Bluebird was especially adept at nesting in vacant cavities in trees, fence posts and fence railing that bordered orchards. The impact of this on the settlers was that Bluebirds fed chiefly on fruit damaging insects and thereby improved the colonists’ yield of apples.

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The recognition of natural pest control through the Bluebird then resulted in Colonial craftsmen designing nesting boxes that encouraged Bluebird habitation. Today, in fact, Revolutionary War and America Civil War reenactment sites use period reproductions of Bluebird nesting boxes when staging accurate depictions of what farming looked like back in the day.

This symbiotic relationship between farmers and the Bluebird continued for many years until the regrettable introduction of non-endogenous species such as House Sparrows and the European Starling through the actions of acclimatization societies that proved to be detrimental to the existence of the Bluebird.

Acclimatization societies from the 19th and 20th centuries encouraged the introduction of non-native species in various places around the world with the mistaken beliefs that by introducing a variety of species of plants and animals to a non-native region that it would actually enrich the regions through diversity. Unfortunately, these acclimatization movements were not scientifically sound practices and resulted in drastic declines of some endogenous species like the Eastern Bluebird. Because both House Sparrows and European Starlings have an aggressive temperament and are homebodies that also prefer nesting in cavities, they are known for killing adult Bluebirds and their nestlings in order to take over their nesting sites.

According to Mother Earth News, invasive competition from other bird species; modern development and steel T-BAR fencing resulting in loss of natural habitats; and, careless use of pesticides like DDT all have contributed to a decline of the Bluebird's population by as much as 90%.

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3 Steps Toward Bluebird Survival

But there is hope. Gardeners in particular can help the Bluebird species thrive once again—and save their organic garden from pests—by counteracting all of the major threats to this species' survival by:

1. Not using chemical pesticides and herbicides.
2. Building appropriate nesting boxes.
3. Monitoring those nesting boxes to evict any unwanted avian competitors before they lay eggs.

Building a Bluebird Bungalow

One of the advantages of encouraging Bluebird habitation near your garden is that Bluebirds can pretty much guarantee summer-long protection for your garden due to bluebirds can produce as many as three broods during a summer.
While instruction on building a Bluebird habitat is beyond the scope of this article, there are some excellent references listed below that will more than suffice on getting you started.

However, before building a Bluebird Bungalow, please refer to the Mother Earth News article referenced below and the following two instructional videos, which together provide some important points on Bluebird conservation and how to construct a Bluebird house using a single inexpensive cedar fencing board. In addition, you may want to consult this birdhouse nest box design fact sheet to insure your personal Bluebird box meets the criteria for a good habitat.

Free Plans for Building Bluebird Houses are Available at the North American Bluebird Society Website

Bluebird Habitat Plans

Non-Bird Natural Methods for Controlling Common Garden Pests

If building or buying a Bluebird habitat is not for you, here is a quick list of insect-specific methods from Mother Earth News for saving your organic garden with natural pest controls. In future articles we will focus on each individually to assist you with continued gardening information.

Aphid: Insecticidal soap, attracting beneficials (i.e. good insects that eat bad insects), horticultural oil

Armyworm: Bt (Bacillus thuringiens), handpicking, row covers

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Asparagus beetle: Poultry predation, neem, handpicking

Blister beetle: Poultry predation, neem, handpicking

Cabbage root maggot: Crop rotation, beneficial nematodes, diatomaceous earth

Cabbageworm: Bt, handpicking, row covers

Carrot rust fly: Crop rotation, beneficial nematodes, diatomaceous earth

Colorado potato beetle: Poultry predation, neem, handpicking

Corn earworm: Bt, horticultural oil, beneficial nematodes

Cucumber beetle: Poultry predation, neem, handpicking

Cutworm: Rigid collars, Bt, diatomaceous earth

Flea beetle: Insecticidal soap, garlic-pepper spray, row covers

Harlequin bug: Handpicking, good garden sanitation, neem

Japanese beetle: Handpicking, row covers, milky spore disease

Mexican bean beetle: Poultry predation, neem, handpicking

Onion root maggot: Crop rotation, beneficial nematodes, diatomaceous earth

Slugs: Handpicking, iron phosphate slug bait, diatomaceous earth

Snails: Handpicking, iron phosphate slug bait, diatomaceous earth

Squash bug: Handpicking, good garden sanitation, neem

Squash vine borer: Growing resistant varieties, crop rotation, beneficial nematodes

Stink bug: Handpicking, good garden sanitation, neem

Tarnished plant bug: Handpicking, good garden sanitation, neem

Tomato hornworm: Bt, handpicking, row covers

Whitefly: Insecticidal soap, attracting beneficials, horticultural oil

If you have a Bluebird habitat near your garden, feel free to send photos to post in an updated article.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Images courtesy of Pixabay and North American Bluebird Society website

References:

Help the Bluebirds: Build a Bluebird House” by Samuel L. Skeen; Mother Earth News.

Organic Pest Control: What Works, What Doesn’t” by Barbara Pleasant; Mother Earth News.

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