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Vegetable Garden

12 Garden Pests We Don’t Want To See In Our Veggies

April 30, 2014

Sometime’s it seems there are more bad guys in the garden than good. When we emptied a large strawberry container this week in a HSE garden that caters for adults with intellectual disabilities, we found four of the ten pests listed below in one container alone! When we’re gardening without chemicals it can be a challenge but not impossible to either get rid of, or contain the pests and the first step is identifying the good guys from the bad, something covered a couple of weeks ago with the 12 Friends We Want to See in Our Gardens blog post.

Companion Planting Nasturtiums

Companion Planting Nasturtiums

To identify the pests we need to see them first so the first rule of thumb when dealing with pests organically is vigilance. Check your vegetables regularly, daily if possible and if you spot anything unusual, try to find out what it is and deal with it immediately – it’s very unlikely it will go away on its own.

One of my favourite books to help identify pests and diseases is the RHS Pest & Disease book and I’d recommend it for all gardeners shelves. After vigilance there are several things we can do to prevent a build up of pests, from good soil management, hygiene, crop rotation, companion planting as well as learning pest life-cycles (the weevil below is a case in point), using fresh compost and encouraging beneficial wildlife – all topics covered in my workshops. To help you begin the pest ID, here are a dozen I’ve come across, though there are many more.


Leatherjacket – root eating cranefly larvae

1. Leatherjackets

Not the ones we wear, but little grey-brown grubs. Leatherjackets are the larvae of crane fly and are root eaters. They’re fleshy with no legs and can grow as big as 50mm. For more information on how to identify and get rid of them, take a look here.

photo credit: E_Journeys via photopin cc

photo credit: E_Journeys via photopin cc

2. Cutworms

Cutworms are moth larvae that generally live under the soil and are again, root feeders.

They’re larger than the leatherjackets mentioned above and are a green, grey, brown colour about 2.5 cm long. Supernemos are available online if you’ve noticed a particular problem with these grubs or the leatherjackets.

cabbage white caterpillars3. Caterpillars

Cabbage white butterflies and moths start appearing around May and lay their eggs on the undersides of Brassica leaves (kale, cabbage, broccoli). The eggs hatch and the caterpillars feast on the leaves of seedlings you may have lovingly grown, leaving gaping holes and if left unchecked, no leaves whatsoever.

There are a few ways of dealing with caterpillars organically. First of all cover the bed your Brassica are growing in with netting made with holes small enough the butterfly can’t squeeze through to lay her eggs. Make sure the net is fixed to a frame and not sitting directly on top of the plants or the butterfly will lay her eggs through it. If you do spot signs of caterpillars, pick them off the plants and destroy them or move them to a sacrificial plant such as nasturtiums where they can chomp away without damaging your precious leaves.

snails4. Slugs & Snails

I could spend every lesson in every workshop discussing slugs and snails as they’re the bane of gardeners lives! Instead I wrote a blog post that has 15 ways of dealing with them organically and a few more comments have been added to the list. Take a look if slugs & snails are your nemesis.

Carrot Root Fly Damage

Carrot Root Fly Damage – spot the larvae

5. Carrot Root Fly

I think I’d heard about carrot root fly long before we began growing veg but only came across this pest recently. Boy does it do some damage. I won’t go into detail here as I dedicated a blog post to it after we discovered it in Callan community garden, but trust me, you really don’t want this pest in your garden.

aphids7. Aphids

Greenfly, blackly – most of us are familiar with aphids in one guise or another.

They love our roses and they love our broad beans and they breed like mad. Here’s a post all about them with a few suggestions on how to keep on top of them.

spidermite8. Red Spidermite

My polytunnel became so infested with red spidermite last year I had to take everything out and wash the tunnel and everything it contained from top to bottom because the spidermite had infected it all. It was a demoralising experience that I don’t want a repeat of, ever. How did it happen? I took my eye off and didn’t spot them early enough. It was a hot summer and I didn’t keep the polytunnel damp enough – red spidermite thrive in hot, dry conditions. There’s no excuse as I’ve seen infestations a couple of times. Here’s a post about a red spidermite attack we spotted early enough in Goresbridge Community Garden a couple of years ago you might like to look at for tips and suggestions.

weevil grub

photo credit: Scot Nelson via photopin cc

9. Weevils

Whether the weevils are after your legumes as in pea and bean weevil or after your strawberries, as in strawberry weevil, they’re a curse as the distinctive orange headed larvae eat the roots and the adults eat the leaves. The Irish produced Supernemos are said to be effective against strawberry weevils and may well be the answer.

Beet leaf miner10. Leaf Beet Miner

Beet miner’s are maggots that have hatched from fly eggs laid between the layers of leaves. There’s no cure, organic or otherwise, other than vigilance. Once you spot them, remove the infected leaves and the plants will recover. This post explains them in more detail.

Cockchafer (May Bug) aka root eater11. Chafer Grubs

The first time I came across one of these grubs (cockchafer pictured on the left) it reminded me of the enormous widgedeygrubs our children are fascinated with on ‘I’m A Celebrity’.  Almost the size of your thumb they eat roots and once they pupate the cockchafers will become Mays Bugs or Billy witches. We tried watering Supernemos onto the raised beds in Leighlin Parish Community Garden the first year we came across them and didn’t see them again as a result.

12. Gooseberry Sawfly

gooseberry sawfly

gooseberry sawfly larvae

Lots of people were tweeting about gooseberry sawfly larvae damage last year – a caterpillar than can literary strip bushes bare in just a couple of days. They’re also partial to currant bushes which I learnt when they took a liking to our red currant bush. Here’s a post on how to deal with them. I heard a tip recently suggesting laying rhubarb leaves at the base of bushes to deter this fly – something I’ll be trying soon.

There are many more pests and just when we think we’ve seen them all, along comes a new one. Lots of people have mentioned the weevils this year and ants seem to be causing a problem too. Ants won’t damage your garden but they do harvest aphids, a sprinkling of cinnamon or semolina powder seems to sort them out however.  I have a general rule of thumb in our garden – as long as the bugs aren’t trying to eat our vegetables, they can stay.

Have you come across any pests that have had you hopping mad at the destruction they’ve caused?

Vegetable Garden

Slugs & Snails – Slug Defence Gel

June 10, 2013

How are you finding the slugs this year? Quite frankly I’m fed up with them already and we’re only half way through. Despite various attempts at protecting seedlings I’ve lost all bar one of my own kale plants as well as chard and beetroot seedlings and have had to re-sow them. I can completely understand why people get so exasperated with these destructive and hungry little creatures!

sluggel.jpgI don’t mind slugs and snails too much in my flower beds as they don’t seem to do as much damage there, but in the veg patch it’s a different matter.

Mr slug didn't like the gel at all!

Mr slug didn’t like the gel at all!

We’ve been suffering the same problems with slugs and snails in the community gardens too.

In Goresbridge the beer traps have worked very well in the polytunnel and are full every time we check them.

Today in Callan community garden we’re trying a different product that I haven’t spotted before – Slug Defence Gel that one of the gardeners Siobhan picked up in the local Woodies store.

You can see from the photos, it’s exactly what it says it is on the bottle – a liquid gel. We’ve added a ring of it around the brassica plants that we planted out in the garden today, as well as squirted a ring around the entire bed in an effort to dissuade the slimy creatures. Continue Reading…

Vegetable Garden

Help? What do I do with my strawberry patch?

May 10, 2013

“My strawberry patch is overrun with weeds and I don’t know what to do… can you help please?”

This was a question asked by a customer recently who’s strawberry beds were full of weeds, just like our own.

strawberry flowers

Strawberries are flowering in the polytunnel

Like my customer, I’d left the strawberry patch to last as it really was the most weedy, daunting job in the vegetable patch this year. It had been neglected for several months and with no weed membrane or mulch surrounding the little plants that had been transplanted there from runners last year, it was now seriously out of control.

Strawberry Patch

Strawberry patch: before, during, after

Three days later (on and off) and the strawberry patch is looking fabulous and we’re hopeful that we’ll have a good crop of fruit this year, but it took some work to get it there. On my hands and knees pulling up dandelions, dock, creeping buttercups and thistles, I was almost ready to throw in the towel but kept going as I knew from previous years that this lovely Cambridge variety of strawberries can provide a bountiful harvest.  Continue Reading…

Community Gardens

New structures in the community garden

May 6, 2013

As spring belatedly arrives, the small community garden in Goresbridge begins to take shape…

New Structures in Goresbridge Community Garden

Can you spot the new structure that’s appeared between the beds? We managed to lure Peter back into the garden with his handyman skills and he’s built a lovely arch out of the old posts and wire that we found in the shed last week. We’ll be training the runner beans up and over it in a few weeks time.


Bridget’s learning how to toil the soil gently with the tip of the spade and knock the lumps of clay out.

Goresbridge Community Garden

It wont be long before the beds are full of flowers and vegetables

Inside the polytunnel the warmth has helped the plugs plants to come on. Thankfully we only found a couple of slugs and snails this week so no more seedling devastation for now. Continue Reading…

Community Gardens

Pests, Plugs & Posts – all in a morning’s work

April 27, 2013

The polytunnel at Goresbridge Community Garden is full to overflowing with plug plants for the village planting scheme. A couple of weeks ago we looked through the catalogues and chose a variety of plants for the flower scheme and they arrived last week, typically just after the morning class had finished, in two cardboard boxes.

Plug plants potted on for the village planting scheme

Plug plants potted on for the village planting scheme

Potting upA few of the gardeners went back to the garden later in the day and transplanted most of the plants from their plug trays into modules. Unfortunately not all of the trays were cleaned and when we arrived at the garden this week we noticed that some of the plants had been nibbled.

snailLiam started to check under each tray and lo and behold, the polytunnel was like a boarding home for molluscs. Every single pot and module had at least one if not three slugs or snails hiding under it and they were immediately dispatched. It did however, give the gardeners a dilemma. We’re gardening without chemicals which means NO regular slug pellets but the worry is that there’s a lot of money’s worth of plants that might potentially be breakfast for our hungry ‘little friends’.

Tidy Garden at Goresbridge

Grow mat pictured at the front donated to the garden by

Should we or shouldn’t we give in at the first major hurdle? The answer is no, we’ll do our best to manage the situation without the chemicals. We checked the tunnel and every pot in it from top to bottom and eradicated each and every slug and snail – there were just too many for the bird table and I think the ones that were placed on it managed to slither away before they were eaten. We then set about garden hygiene – tidying, moving and getting rid of anything unwanted that might lurk under it. Community gardeners will be popping in and out of the garden throughout the week and checking whether they’ve moved back and in the meantime I’ve been brushing up on this old post I wrote last year giving 14 methods of organic slug control. I’ll let you know how we get on!

the fruit and flower bedAside from a big garden tidy up, the fruit bed was weeded and raked over ready to take a sowing of some annual flower seeds that we’ll be adding to the bed the Bridge Boys prepared last year. Also Peter was lured back by the banter, tea and biscuits to build something that I’ll unveil in the next couple of weeks out of recycled bits and pieces that had been left in the compost shed.

reuse recycle

Things are certainly looking up in this pretty little garden. How are your own growing preparations going?

Vegetable Garden

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

April 11, 2012

Slugs, slugs, slugs…. what’s the best solution to ridding our vegetable patches, gardens and borders of these slimy little beings without automatically reaching for the slug pellets? It’s the question I’m asked the most and everyone has their own answer.

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

Before you start obliterating the garden of every last slug in sight however, it’s important to know that not all of them are baddies. Leopard slugs (which we found with a mouth stuffed full of cat food one evening!) also eat dead animals and hunt other slugs.  Defra have a page here containing the most common which will help with identification, and I’d recommend you take a peek as slugs can do great work for us in our compost heaps.

So now you know your leopards from your common or grey keeled varieties, what can you do to get rid of them?

From beer to salt, copper to egg shell’s, I’ve heard lots of tips and advice over the years. Here are the most common fifteen:

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

No. 1 – Encourage predators

Birds, frogs, toads, Devils coach-horse beetles and hedgehogs all like to snack on slugs. Ducks and some hens (sadly not mine!) enjoy snacking out on them too if you’re lucky enough to have them. Turning over soil will expose the slugs to birds in dry weather.  If you let your poultry roam the  garden but are worried about your seedlings and plants, covering the soil with horticultural fleece should be enough of a deterrent to keep them away.

No. 2 – Beer traps

Bury shallow plastic containers around your garden (take away containers are the ideal size) and sacrifice a drop of your favourite brew. If you can’t bear to give up your drink, pubs may give you something from the slop bucket if you ask nicely. Be careful not to fully bury the container though – leave a small ‘lip’ above the soil level so that beneficial beetles don’t fall in and drown. Alternatively pour some beer into a spray bottle and spray all the weeds. As the slugs like the beer so much the idea here is that they’ll eat the weeds, leaving your veggies alone. You’d have to question whether you want your garden to smell like a brewery though.

No. 3 – Egg shells

I’ve tried these and I personally didn’t notice a difference. However, as we have hens and use a lot of eggs I heard a new method recently that I’m going to try. Collect and wash egg shells then heat in the oven to harden them. Put the egg shells in a food processor and blitz until small, then place a protective ring around seedlings. A friend swears by this! You could also use sawdust, sand or seaweed – all of which are might to hinder the slugs movements.

No. 4 – Copper

Mr G spent ages stripping the copper out of some old electrical wire a few years back, patiently stapled it around the raised beds and placed a slug in pole position to test out the theory that slugs don’t like copper. The slug smooched his way over the wire and straight into the veggie bed. The trick with the copper is to use lots – thick bands can be purchased at garden centres, or even better if your budget will allow, buy copper tools that discard tiny pieces into the soil.

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

No. 5 – Traps

If you don’t like to kill creatures of any description you can trap slugs safely. Cover an area with cardboard or black plastic before sowing. The slugs will all hide under it so that when you expose them a few days later you can pick them off. Slugs also like grapefruit so leave halved and emptied shells lying around (dome side up) with little doorways cut into them. The slugs will head into them, hiding away until you can  collect them up and add them to the compost heap.

No. 6 – Instant Death

If you prefer to permanently get rid of slugs the quickest way is to put boiling water into an empty milk carton, pick them up and drop them in. I’ve read that after a few days this foul-smelling solution can be watered onto soil which will detract other slugs from venturing onto it, but have yet to try it. I’ve another friend who simply cuts them in half with scissors – I guess when you’ve seen slugs wipe out your entire seed collection the war is on!

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

Leopard Slug

No. 7 – Microscopic nematodes

‘Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodite’ also known as NemaSlug are available online that can be watered onto plants. They’re supposed to be very effective but the downside is that they’re quite pricey and will have to be re-applied after six weeks or so.

No. 8 – ‘Safe’ iron based phosphate slug pellets

Such as “Growing Success Advanced Slug Killer” or Ferramol Phosphate which is approved for organic farming. Unlike ‘regular’ slug pellets these will only kill slugs and snails. Regular slug pellets are usually made from poisoned cereals containing Metaldehyde or Methiocarb which (because they are food based) are also attractive to cats, dogs, birds and hedgehogs.

No. 9 – Caffeine

Slugs and snails do not like coffee. Sprinkling coffee grounds around plant bases will act as a repellent, as does filling a spray with cold, strong coffee and spraying slugs.

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

Slug Damaged Bean

No. 10 – Bran

This came out tops in a Gardeners World trial a few years ago. They placed a ring of bran around each plant ensuring it didn’t touch the stems. As slugs are almost entirely made up of water, the bran had a desiccating effect which killed them. Salt would have a similar effect but as its toxic to all but a few salt tolerant creatures and plants, and not good for the soil it isn’t recommended.

No. 11 – Planting flowers and herbs

Some plants are known to repel slugs so placing plants such as Astrantia, Lady’s Mantle, Dianthus, Foxglove, Geranium, Peony, Lavender, Phlox, Alyssum and Lobelia, African violet, Strawberry Begonia and Gloxinia may help. It’s unlikely that anybody with a standard vegetable patch/allotment arrangement would go to this trouble but may be worth trying some. I can’t help but think how lovely a lavender hedge around my patch would look and smell though, and attract lots of bees and hoverflies in too.

Slugs ~ 15 ways to deal with them organically

Slug Protection

No. 12 – Start seedlings off indoors 

Once they’re a decent size of around 10cm or so in height, transplant them outside. If you’re unable to do this, place a cut-in-half clear drink bottle around seeds/seedlings until they’re bigger and stronger (leave the lid off to allow for ventilation.

No. 13 – Watering

Slugs prefer dark, damp conditions so if they are a problem in your garden, avoid watering in the evenings.

No. 14 – Diatomaceous earth and or rock lava

These have been used as a barrier around plants as their sharp edges lacerate the soft-bodied slugs, ultimately leading to dehydration and death.

No. 15 – Garlic

Slugs don’t like the smell so you could try crushing a clove and adding it to the watering can, sprinkling the mixture over areas worse affected.

Have you any sure-fire tips for saving your vegetables from slugs? Have any of these worked for you? 


Keep a Look Out for Hedgehogs and Wildlife

October 21, 2010

Keep an eye out for hedgehogs and wildlife in the garden

We were delighted to find a hedgehog in our garden last year.  We’ve never seen one this high up before and often wondered how we could encourage them to our veggie plot.

Hedgehogs are meat eaters that like to snack on slugs, caterpillars, beatles and earthworms and we certainly have a supply of those little critters as organic gardeners.

We’d sadly seen dead hedgehogs at the side of the main road down below, but not a hint of one up here, dead, injured or alive.  Then out of the blue, as we were locking up the chickens one evening towards the end of last summer, we spotted a one eyed fellow tucking into the chicken pellets.  I can’t begin to tell you how excited we all were.  Every evening for about a month we caught sight of him somewhere near the hen house and were careful not to alarm him.  Ian nicknamed him ‘One Eyed Jack’ and we encouraged the children to stay up (not difficult) and watch him snuffle around the pen at the back of the house at the weekends.

As the nights were drawing in we dug out an old guinea pig hutch, and half buried it in the undergrowth close to the hens in the hope that ‘one eye’ would find it and hibernate. Sadly, when we took a peek a few weeks later, it was still empty.

And then one evening this summer as we were putting the hens to bed, underneath the hedgerow we spotted a hedgehog.  We’re not sure if it was ‘one eye’ – we couldn’t get close enough to tell as she/he was under the prickly Rosa rugosa. It was definitely a hedgehog though and not an old broom.

So hopefully this little fellow will find his/her own place to settle for the winter months and we’ll get another peek next year.

Look out for wildlifeI like the idea that wild creatures are able to live around us, and we’re barely aware they’re there.  We’ve seen a couple of badgers within a mile of us but wouldn’t have a clue where their set was.

We often see signs of foxes in the garden and one day whilst I was working at the computer, I looked up to see two young ones frolicking in the field opposite.

One of our favourite discoveries this year was when we were clearing the main crop potatoes and unearthed this little fellow. I was surprised to read that most amphibians here (apart from newts) only need water for breeding, leaving it to spend most of the year on land. There they feed on flies, worms and other invertebrates in the shelter of nettle beds (so another great reason for not having gardens that are too tidy!). That would explains why we sometimes see them here even though we don’t have a pond, just a natural spring down the lane.

If you’d like more information on hedgehogs, with interesting facts and diagrams on building your own hibernating shelters, check out the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. Hedgehogs hibernate around October/November time, often in compost heaps or wood piles, so bear them in mind when you’re tidying up the garden before the winter.

photo credit: via photopin (license)