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How to protect your growing plants

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

So you’ve done the first step and planted your seeds or plants but before you can reap the rewards you need to protect your plants from destruction...

... If you want to stay strictly organic and not use any pesticides or herbicides then you will need to spend a bit more time and money and be prepared to lose a larger proportion of your crop,  it’s up to you from now on what goes near the soil and onto the plants that you and your family will be eating.

If your plants do suffer then you can still save your crop, you might need to accept some leaf or root damage and although it’s not pleasant you can remove by hand a lot of pests such as slugs and snails, eggs or caterpillars, green fly etc. Diluted washing up liquid helps to remove them but you do need to be vigilant and check them daily if you can.

Slugs and snails:

Slug pellets (if you are using, which I do for high risk crops, use sparingly per the packet directions and remove any dead slugs before the birds eat them Alternative methods:  - Prevention so make sure you practice good hygiene ie clean out your greenhouse, move pots around, check underneath and in between pots. Remove all slugs and snails you find (last thing at night take a wander around the garden and you will see them emerging from their hiding places). - Top tip: don’t water plants at night it leaves a trail for slugs to follow from the water butt to precious plants, always water in the early morning.  - Alternatives to slug pellets: I have tried wool pellets (limited success but I don’t think it was wet enough for them to work am trying again this year), shells (egg shells crushed up, or we are using mussel shells having first enjoyed eating the mussels, then washed, dried and crushed. You can buy packets of crushed shell but need to use a thick layer around plants. Beer traps personally I’ve not had much success with these at all just seem to attract more slugs but worth a try as last a long time. Copper tape expensive and very limited success.

Birds and butterflies

(and whole host of other flying insects) You will need netting to keep away hungry birds, especially pigeons which seem to have a 6th sense for newly planted peas and can decimate the whole crop in minutes like a plague of locusts. Don’t delay, as soon as you plant outdoors set up a net which will go over the plants, plastic piping makes a good support and is easily adjusted. My top tip, I set up the net and the supports first where I’m going to plant and then I plant the plants under it, that way I know that it will cover them all. The other way around and the net never seems to be the same shape or size as the planted area! Make sure you buy the right net for the job: if the holes are too small then pollinating insects such as bees can’t get to the flowers to do their job, so if you are growing beans or fruit then you need a larger net size. If the holes are too big the net is useless, for example cabbage white butterflies which lay their clusters of yellow eggs onto all sorts of cabbage type plants and then hatch millions of destructive green caterpillars can squeeze through the medium size net, or they sit on the net and lay their eggs on the leaves below.

Mesh and Netting:

Standard mesh: 1.3-1.4mm Good for soil pests such as cabbage root flyonion flybean seed fly and carrot fly, as well as moth and butterfly pests.  Birds and mammal pests are also excluded. Although theoretically capable of penetrating mesh, mammals and larger birds seldom do, so there is rarely any need to add further protection such as bird netting. However, they are unreliable in excluding small insects such as aphids, flea beetleallium leaf miner and leek moth. Fine mesh: 0.8mm Good for very small pests such as flea beetles and whitefly, moth and butterfly pests, leaf miners (including allium leaf miner), greenflyblackfly, as well as soil pests such as cabbage root fly, onion fly, bean seed fly and carrot fly. Birds and mammal pests are also excluded. Ultrafine mesh: 0.3-0.6mm This size gives good protection against thrips, flea beetles and other very small pests. Birds and mammal pests are also excluded. Butterfly netting: Fine nets with a 4-7mm mesh give good protection against cabbage white butterflies as long as the foliage does not touch the net, and of course bird and mammal pests. You may find that your vegetable patch or compost bins attract mice and rats, plenty of ways to deal with them will leave that up to you humanely or otherwise!

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