When the summer sun provides a daily flush of fresh produce we are lulled into a happy, comfortable state. Then the daylight begins to escape us and the warmth dissipates. In the last month or so you may very well be asking yourself, “Why are the spider mites, aphids, and white flies having a heyday all over my plants?” Everything was going so well. The tomatoes were prolific on the vine, the broccoli, eggplant and peppers were beautiful. It was easy to become complacent surrounded by all that bounty, and then came those vicious little beasts, devouring everything in their paths. You just wanted your warm weather plants to go quietly in their sleep, in a few more weeks.
If you aren’t watching closely, the shift can be drastic. It can appear that the bugs landed overnight, but the truth of the matter is that these pests start with a few individuals. They just happen to multiply really fast in the right environment. Ask yourself this and answer truthfully, “Was I being attentive to my garden?” If you’re not sure, try to honestly answer the following questions:
Were you diligent about checking the soil moisture before watering?
Did you move aged plants out once they were spent?
Did you prevent overcrowding?
Did you feed, turn and monitor your soil?
And, most importantly, did you keep an eye out for signs of problems?
The significant reduction in sunlight and drop in temperatures destabilize the summer crops. The plants have less energy and less time to grow. Their metabolism automatically starts to slow down as they move from flowering and seeding to dormancy or death. The immune systems of plants moving into this stage of their lives are compromised, and the bugs are Mother Nature’s way of cycling the remaining energy back into the system. Just as worms and microorganisms decompose the dead plant material in your compost pile, these bugs are making use of the valuable energy stored in the plants stems and leaves.
It may seem premature for the pests to take advantage of your plants before you are done working with them, but an imbalance, such as overwatering or lack of soil nutrients, in addition to seasonal changes would tip the scales in the pest’s favor. It’s also hard to know what’s been going on outside of your greenhouse that may have also given the pests a leg up. Maybe they had a great year in the “wild” and now they’re moving in to keep up the party.
The important thing is to mourn the loss of your summer crops and promptly move them out. Hopefully, by now you have your cold weather starts in the soil. They should be your primary focus. Make sure they are not overcrowded and that they are being watered appropriately. This may be a good time to test your soil to see if there are additional nutrients you can give the cold weather crops to help boost their immune systems. Luckily, there are a number of non-toxic ways to give your plants a rest from the onslaught. We recommend everything from natural dish soap sprays, to cooking oil on yellow plates, to hand removal of heavily infected plants. We are by no means the experts of pest management although, so we suggest getting in touch with the people at Gardens Alive!
We’ve heard of gardeners taking drastic measures to get rid of pests including replacing all of the soil in their greenhouse or freezing out the greenhouse. These methods aren’t wholly effective because no greenhouse can be a completely closed and/or sterile system. You are after all, working with dirt. In the same way that our bodies sometimes become overwhelmed and we get the flu, so too this happens to our greenhouses. It’s a reminder to check in, evaluate our lifestyles and habits and either make changes to ensure better health or just take a break. Your greenhouse may not produce as much for a couple months or need some extra TLC, but then it will come back stronger than ever. The pests come in cycles the same way our crops cycle, it is Mother Nature’s way and we wouldn’t have it any different!
Author: Stacey L.L. Couch