Growing healthy vegetables that are chemical-free is probably one of the main reasons that you’ve started growing your own vegetables at home. Similarly, if you’ve been growing vegetables at home for even a couple of months, you will know how important but challenging it’s to keep pests away from your darling vegetable plants.
Healthy plants that are not under stress are always less likely to be affected by pests than unhealthy plants. This means that keeping your plants as healthy as possible is the best way to increase their natural immunity against pests.
Here are some easy steps you can take to increase the natural immunity of your vegetable garden and keep pests away. You may notice that the first 4 ways are all things that you should do right from the stage of planning your vegetable garden. This is why creating a proper plan and then regularly observing your garden and keeping records are invaluable.
1. Keep your plants properly watered
One of the main ways to keep your plants healthy is to keep them properly watered. They should have access to as much water as they need but should not drown in too much water either.
Plants can’t access enough nutrients when they don’t have access to enough water and when there is no proper air exchange. Disease-causing pathogens can quickly multiply and cause infections when plants are stressed out by a lack of water and nutrients.
Plants that are weak and unhealthy due to a lack of water and nutrients combined with an increase in pathogens are easily affected by pests. For this reason, keeping your plants properly watered is essential for natural pest control.
2. Properly space your plants
Keeping enough space between your plants is essential for growing healthy plants. Each type of vegetable plant has its own minimum spacing requirement, which will depend on how large the stems and roots will grow.
When seedlings are left without enough water and fertilizer for even a short period, they become breeding grounds for pests and diseases. If your seedlings are affected by pests and diseases, it may ruin your chance of growing a vegetable garden even before you’ve actually started.
Plants that are grown too close together may be stunted due to a lack of nutrients and water. Additionally, plants also need to have enough room for air to be exchanged through their leaves for photosynthesis, which is how plants make their own food.
Not having enough space between plants will make plants weaker and cause them to be easily affected by pathogens and in turn, pests.
3. Use beneficial companion plant pairings
Companion planting is the practice of growing target plants with one or more companion plants if the target plant will perform better when grown close to companions than when grown separately. One of the main benefits of companion planting is natural pest control.
Companion plants can help control pests either by attracting predators of the pests into the garden or by drawing pests away from the target plant.
Read this blog post to find out more about the benefits of using companion plant pairings in your vegetable garden
4. Practice crop rotation
Crop rotation can help you to control pests by preventing pests from finding suitable hosts and increasing in numbers.
Many plant pests complete at least one stage of their lifecycle in the soil. If the same type of plant is grown again in an area that had been affected by a particular pest, pests that have remained in the soil will have direct access to a host plant.
After a pest infestation, you should not grow the same crop or other crops that may be affected by that particular pest. Instead, you can grow a crop that is not at all affected by the pest in the same garden area for the next 2-3 seasons. The pest won’t be able to remain in the soil without access to a suitable host plant. This will help eliminate the pest from the garden over time.
5. Don’t start too many seeds at once
Starting too many seeds all at once is one of the common mistakes that beginner vegetable gardeners make. When too many seeds are started all at once the amount of care needed for the resulting seedlings is higher and you may not be able to keep up with their needs, especially when it’s time to transplant them.
This means that it’s very important to determine the number of seedlings that you will need and only start one or two more than the number you need. Alternatively, if you have started more seeds that you need you can give the excess as gifts or you will have to destroy them, even if it’s a hard thing to do.
6. Apply enough fertilizer, especially during flowering and fruiting
Mixing enough fertilizer into the soil before you plant your plants will help your plants absorb as many nutrients as possible throughout the growing season. Compost and other organic fertilizers are ideal as they are slow-release fertilizers that release nutrients over a period of time.
7. Don’t use pesticides and other harsh chemicals
You are most probably interested in naturally controlling pests because you want to grow pesticide-free vegetables. Ironically, the most important way of increasing the level of protection provided by natural pest control is to not use pesticides!
This is because pesticides or other harsh chemicals can alter the natural balance in the garden, leading to a vicious cycle of highly-stressed plants attracting more pests, which leads to even less healthy plants.
The natural balance in the garden is founded on healthy soil that has a high diversity of soil organisms.
As you can see, keeping your vegetable garden as healthy as possible, while maintaining the natural balance of your garden is the best way to create a vegetable garden that is as resistant to pests and diseases as much as possible. This doesn’t guarantee that your vegetable garden will not be affected by pests or diseases, but that it will be harder for pests and diseases to affect your plants and that if they do cause harm, it’ll be easier for you to get rid of them.