In the early days after your new plants are in the ground, they will be particularly vulnerable to pests. Here some of the most common and a few ways of protecting your plants to give them the best chance.
Aphids & Whitefly
These tiny little things are smaller than ants and you’ll often find them in colonies on the stems of veg plants. They absolutely love broad beans and tomatoes, but can make themselves at home on any plant really. They suck out the juices from the plant making the plant itself somewhat weak and deformed so act quickly if you find them by spraying them off with a strong jet of water. To prevent them it helps to plant lots of marigolds and tagetes to attract ladybirds and lacewings which will eat the aphids.
Pigeons will enjoy pecking at your brassicas and leaves. If you wake one morning to find all the leaves have been nibbled down to their stems, then pigeons are the most likely suspects. To prevent this happening we strongly recommend putting some netting over brassicas and leaves.
Cabbage Root Fly
These guys lay their eggs at the base of brassicas (broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower etc) and when they hatch the larvae tunnel down into the soil and feed off the roots of the plant. If your brassicas suddenly wilt, this is most likely to be the problem. To prevent this, cut 10cm circles out of cardboard, cut a slit into the centre and place them around the base of each brassica plant. The larvae will struggle to find their way down into the soil.
Lots of brown tunnels in your carrots is the result of carrot flies..they lay their eggs which, when they hatch, bury down into the soil and nibble on your carrots. The very best way to prevent this is a barrier of
horticultural fleece, or you can grow your carrots higher up on a raised bed as they can’t fly higher than about 50cm. You can also try planting onions and garlic chives in and around your carrots as the carrot flies don’t like the smell.
Lots of large holes in leaves or leaves stripped back to their stalks is an indication that you have caterpillars. They are most likely to be found on brassicas but they can be anywhere in the veg patch.
It’s definitely worth draping a layer of horticultural fleece over brassicas to prevent butterflies from laying their eggs in the first place. You can also try some companion planting – a row of nasturtiums planted next door to your veg will hopefully encourage the butterflies to lay their eggs there instead, leaving your veg relatively untouched. Check leaves, particularly the undersides, regularly for clusters of eggs which you can wipe off before they hatch. If you do get a caterpillar infestation, pick them off and move them elsewhere!
If you spot loads of tiny round holes in the leaves of any of your plants then you probably have Flea Beetles. Like fleas, they are very jumpy when disturbed! Covering plants with horticultural fleece will help to protect your crops, and make sure winter debris is cleared before planting as this is where they will have been hiding during the colder months.
If you already know you have bunnies in the vicinity, it’s a good idea to build a rabbit proof fence around your veg patch! This can be done quite simply, using bamboo stakes, approx 50cm tall, to weave into chicken wire. Even a low fence will help to keep rabbits out. If they are a massive problem, you may need to build a taller fence and bury the chickenwire into the soil to prevent them from digging underneath.
Slugs & Snails
A slimy trail and lots of holes in your plants is a sure sign that you’ve got slugs and snails. The very best way to keep this under control is to do a night time patrol with a head torch and a bucket…pop any slugs and snails that you find into the bucket as you check your veg beds and dispose of them as you see fit. If you have chickens they will love eating them for breakfast!
You can also lay barriers of grit and broken up eggshells around the base of plants to deter slugs, or get a slug trap underway by burying a small yogurt pot into the ground and filling with cheap lager to entice the slugs away from your crops. Copper tape around pots works well too.
The tidier you keep your plot, the better – removing fallen foliage from brassica plants, clearing up weedy areas and removing large stones, pots and other hiding places will really help. The family of slugs pictured above was found underneath one small pot… on the plus side, it does make it easy to find them all and relocate them!