The gardener is a sort of shepherd, guarding a ‘small flock’ of vegetables against predators and pests, many of which can be dealt with using hands-on methods, without the need for mass spraying. Most Maritime gardeners will point to slugs, deer and ants as being the most problematic. Here are a few strategies for keeping these most annoying garden pests at bay.
Snail and slug solutions
The worst garden pest of all is the sneaky, squalid, nocturnal slug. Slugs and snails are impervious to any kind of barrier, except seaweed. Seaweed application is a brilliant, organic way to deter slugs and snails from settling comfortably into your vegetable garden. Have you ever seen a slug at the beach sucking on seaweed? They recoil in its presence. Fresh or dried, slugs and snails snub seaweed. As soon as they encounter it, they turn the other way.
If you have access to plenty of seaweed, line the perimeter of your garden or the inside of your raised beds with it to create an environment most uninviting to slugs. Seaweed is also a good weed suppressant if it’s at least 1 foot (30cm) deep. Any shallower and weeds will happily come through.
Seaweed between garden rows can be unpleasant to walk on when wet. Lay wooden planks salvaged from construction sites on top of the seaweed. This will keep weeds down and the seaweed will keep slugs from making their residence under the planks.
Many gardeners enjoy seeing deer and don’t wish to harm them, but also don’t want them destroying the garden. There is no such thing as a deer-proof garden, but here is an interesting discovery: the aroma of poppies is offensive to deer. They have been observed circling a garden, heads low, tails down, and then quietly walking away when annual poppies are in bloom.
Poppy seedpods are easy to collect and one pod will do for the entire garden. Starting in May, gently shake the pod where you would like to see poppies come up. Do this every two weeks for successive blooms. Be sure to pull the plants up after flowering so the soil doesn’t get full of seeds. Put the entire plant on the compost pile as long as the pods are still green.
It may come as a surprise to some gardeners, but deer do have a discerning palate. They are as fussy as two-year-olds. One solution is to grow their favourite snacks (peas, beans, tomatoes) inside a chicken wire fence and the rest of the plants (lettuce, carrots, etc.) outside of it.
A large outdoor dog housed near the garden overnight is most definitely disruptive to a deer’s enjoyment of your plants. Electric fences are a popular and effective deer deterrent if there is an easy access to a power source. It only needs to be turned on during night hours. However, a live electric line does not keep smaller creatures like rabbits and gophers out. There are many home solutions rumoured to work if you don’t mind the look of them: clanging aluminum pie plates, installing red reflectors, hanging old CDs, bright markers, soap bars. The list goes on…
For gardeners who want just a small patch of peas and beans, there is an easy and simple alternative: retired lobster traps! When used in the garden, they restrict access not only to deer but also to birds, snowshoe hares, and gophers. Robins and starlings are notorious for pulling young bean sprouts out of the ground, perhaps because they resemble yummy worms. These wire mesh ‘boxes’ come with a convenient lobster-removal lid at the top and two round openings at the sides for easy access to the bush beans, while protecting them from predators. It doesn’t get more nautical than that!
Ants in the plants
Ants actually provide a great service: they aerate the soil very efficiently and help decompose organic materials. Now and then, however, ants decide to set up camp in garden spaces that we, and our plants, occupy.
One non-chemical solution to a stubborn ant problem is to spread cornmeal over the affected area. This is a solution deserving further study, but fellow gardeners say it has worked wonders. Another solution is to create a scent barrier at the location of infestation. Ants going up and down the trunk of a tree, for instance, follow a chemical scent to their destination. Choose a time when no rain is forecast for most of the week. Confuse the ants by surrounding the base of the tree with grated citrus rind. Then smear the tree trunk with pureed fresh onions. This will not kill them, but after three or four days, the ants will move elsewhere – hopefully away from the garden.
The best approach is a preventative one: plant in soil that is unappealing to ants. Some seaside soils can be very sandy, which is an ideal environment for ant nests. So dig lots of compost in before you plant. Soil rich in organic material is ideal for plants, not so much for ants.
Do not enter
Bugs go hand in hand with gardening. Most are harmless, beneficial or essential pollinators. A pinch of fertile soil observed under the microscope reveals a myriad of bug-eat-bug communities too small for the naked eye to appreciate. The greater the activity, the greater is the soil fertility.
While we don’t tolerate them coming into our homes, we must have a different mindset about insects in the garden. Vigilance is key. Do daily inspections to catch problems early before they get a chance to fester. Deterring pests from entering the garden in the first place is always the best strategy.
Denise Adams is a lifelong seaside gardener who works as a landscaping consultant and custom home designer for Saltspray Holdings Inc., in the area of St. Margaret’s Bay, Nova Scotia.