What is eating my plants?

WHAT! Something was eating my soybeans! That is not the way to start the day. The sun is shining, you’re minding your own, just walking through the garden and there it is! Damage to the leaves, stem or the vegetables!

It’s not time to panic (yet) but it is time to take immediate action. Don your inspectors cap and begin investigating your plants very carefully, inch by inch from the soil to the very top to see if there is something still on your plants.

Insects have an innate survival instinct and will hide out of site of predators so be sure to closely examine the underside of the leaves.

If you look closely in the center of the photo, you will see 3 faint white lines where a caerpillar stitched together a leaf to hide. Identifying the culprit will help to an extent, but you need not worry about finding a proper name for an insect to pick it off and step on it immediately. (I still have not figured out this species of caterpillar.)

That is your first best defense. Eliminate by hand as many of the intruders that you can find. Too many instead go about finding something to spray and trust that the situation has been addressed sufficiently but rarely is that the case!

This is without a doubt the ugliest, nastiest, caterpillar that I have every seen! I found total of three on my soybeans and promptly dispatched them. I have not yet found a name for them.

Horn worms like the one below can cause extensive damage to tomatoes in literally overnight. It’s much better to take them off by hand and squish them under foot than to wait for an organic pesticide to kill it.

This is what it looks like after a couple horn worms have sniffed out your tomato plants. These are two cherry tomato plants that had the tops chewed off within one day.

Aphids (shown in this photo below) like to hide under tomato leaves while they suck juice right out of the veins. A few here and there don't seem bad until they start replicating. Without an integrated pest management plan in place, they can quickly overwhelm your plant and bleed them dry.

Remember to spray very well under as many leaves as possible. Try to adjust your sprayer to as fine of a mist as possible. I sometimes use a small broom to help move leaves and hold branches while I precariously spray with the other hand, balancing over a raised bed.

Preventative is always better than reactionary.

Don’t be afraid of spraying your plants before there is any sign on insect activity.

Ultimately your salvation lies not in the hands of an organic bug killer but in eventually balancing the environment of your plants. An organic gardener should always be about building organic matter whether from bokashi, vermi-composting or backyard compost

Having come from the Sir Albert Howard philosophy of sustainability, I firmly believe that soil that is fertile and abundant in microorganisms will virtually eliminate all but the most minor insect damage. The term “competitive exclusion” is a term bokashi people understand.

When you have a preponderance of friendly microorganisms it crowds out disease pathogens. Insects do not prey on healthy plants. They typically attack plants that are stressed in some way and play their part in enforcing natural selection. Some suggest that plants give off hormones when they are stressed which is readily identified by insects.

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