Natural Control for Pests in Italian Gardens
The weather here in Italy is lovely right now with glorious sunshine, blue skies and warm temperatures- but we are not the only ones to make the most of it...!
As spring advances the pests in Italian gardens are multiplying by the hour in our vegetable gardens and flower borders- and they really mean business! Hungry and voracious after a winter hibernating underground, under leaf matter and in hedgerows they have their eyes on your vegetable patch.
The Flea beetle (Phyllotreta spp) is a tiny, industrious and social little insect that jumps rather like a flea when disturbed- giving it its name. Despite its minute size it can ravage small seedlings and young leaves in the vegetable garden by appearing in vast numbers that quickly set about eating tiny holes in the leaf's surface thus nearly destroying the plant.The adult flea beetle emerges from its hibernation in early spring and has a flying range of around 1km, it soon lays masses of eggs at the base of the plant which soon hatch into tiny larvae that feed on the roots of the plant. On emerging they meet en masse in the nearest vegetable patch and begin devouring brassicas and other leafy, salad vegetables - leaving the leaves with large areas that appear to have been peppered by shot from a shotgun.
The flea beetle is a particularly nasty little pest, in that it is extremely mobile and difficult to eradicate- without using harmful, toxic pesticides. Covering the plants with a fine mesh after seeding can prevent the beetle from reaching the plant and the planting of more desirable 'trap' plants like the Chinese giant mustard (Brassica juncea 'Crispifolia') between rows or around the vegetable garden can reduce the infestation but its effects are somewhat limited.
Mulching the young plants with straw can benefit the plant by helping water retention and aiding healthy growth, but by far the most effective treatment is a simple crushed-garlic and hot chilli spray... let's do it the Italian way.
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 1 heaped tablespoon of chili powder
- 1 sliced onion
- 1 tablespoon of pure soap
- 1 large bucket of hot water
Crush the cloves in the water and allow it to rest for a couple of days. Then pour the mixture through muslin or an old sheet and the remaining liquid can then be used as spray.
Hot chili powder can also be dusted on the leaves of plants (preferably when leaves are slightly damp) to repel the flea beetle and other leaf eating insects. The application of simple potash at the base of the plant will deter the emergence of the insect after its larval stage.
By Jonathan Radford