It can be tough to farm with no pesticides. Tomato hornworms, aphids, squash bugs and more can ravage your crops and rodents can destroy your equipment by building nests and chewing wires. Embracing your local critters is a great way to keep these pests in check without wrecking your ecosystem with harsh pesticides.
Obviously praying mantids, spiders and ladybugs are great for keeping pests out of the garden. But there are also assassin bugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps to help you control insects. Take braconid wasps, small wasps with clear wings that eat nectar as adults. They lay their eggs under the skin of a tomato hornworm and feed on the worm, eventually spinning a cocoon that looks like grains of rice or white protrusions on the hornworm body. The weakened worm dies after the adult wasps emerge and the cycle continues. The best part about the wasps is that you don’t have to touch the hornworm to get rid of it! Don’t forget to plant flowers that keep your predator insects happily in your gardens.
Rodents squatting in your barn or coop can be destructive. By encouraging natural predators such as snakes and birds and prey, you work with your ecosystem to control rodent populations without poisons or traps. Snakes are of little threat to you or your animals in general and they are excellent at evicting mice and other rodents. Keep in mind that many snakes can climb into the rafters of structures and you might get a surprise like I did one day – a five foot black rat snake fell from the rafters onto my head one spring while I was tending to the sheep! Birds of prey are also very helpful at controlling squirrel and field rodent populations. There is no such thing as a chicken hawk and vultures do not hunt live food, so don’t worry too much. If your poultry has places to hide, they are generally safe from birds of prey. And if you have livestock guardian dogs like we do, they will bark and chase raptors!
And don’t forget the bats, birds, opossums, frogs and other animals that feed on things like ticks, mosquitoes and other insects. Add bat boxes and leave spaces to encourage your natural coworkers to stay in your garden and help you.
Everybody can have a space in a biodiverse farm.
-Yvonne, Chief Nut