Traditional gardening has accustomed us to categorising living things in a binary way. Thus we divide friends and enemies, which we happily call parasites, pests or weeds. Garden shops are full of products designed to eradicate them (always temporarily). However, these animals and plants, if we stop for a moment, can prove to be not only allies but also precise barometers of the state of biodiversity or soil quality.
Rome was not created in a day
I am not neglecting the damage caused by slugs and aphids. But in this article I intend to rehabilitate these species. It is a question of breaking out of the straitjacket of binarity to conceive of the ecosystem as a whole in interaction. Like Rome, a functional biotope cannot be created overnight. Once again, the example of the forest or the wild meadow shows us that nature, in all its living participants, is very self-regulating. Your garden will take time to become relatively autonomous. In the meantime, you will obviously have to take action against slugs, aphids, carrot flies and voles. We will see what these animals are used for, but also how to prevent them without eradication and without pesticides.
I will not dwell too much on mammals (voles, moles, even on the edge of fields or forests, rabbits, badgers or wild boars). Hedges and trees are the best first line of defence, both to keep them out and to encourage their natural predators such as birds of prey or magpies and crows to come in. The presence of a cat and/or a dog will also help.
In these rainy days, I imagine you have to deal with bans of hungry snails and slugs. At least that's the case with me. Despite its slimy appearance, which may seem off-putting, and its unbridled appetite for salad seedlings, the slug is also an ally of the vegetable garden. By attacking weaker plants, they help to regulate certain diseases. Its excretions feed the soil with nitrogen and phosphorus. It also plays an important role in the formation of humus and transports fungus spores. Notwithstanding all this and while waiting for its natural predators (toads, hedgehogs, birds, ground beetles, etc.) to settle in your garden, here are a few tips to protect your courgettes.
Sheep's wool or wool balls around your plants can do the trick. The slug will not be able to crawl on it. The wool can also be used as a mulch and, as it decomposes, fertilise the soil. Slugs do not like copper or the smell of coffee grounds.
However, the coffee grounds should be used sparingly, as the caffeine disrupts the development of the bacteria vital to the soil. If you have potted plants, what works very well is to place them on saucers filled with water. However, I have decided to feed them by planting more than I really need. Fences of radishes or lettuce around the squash and courgettes and everyone is happy!
Overall, it is best to aim to regulate biodiversity and attract predators. Against aphids, Colorado beetles or tomato worms, there are a whole series of ornamental or aromatic plants that do the job perfectly. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the most effective companion plants. I will start with the sovereign marigold against aphids, nematodes, cabbage worms and so on. It is also efficient against Colorado beetles, which have no natural predator but which will be attracted by this plant. However, there is a small downside: the marigold is a hoover for gastropods...
I would also add, as valuable ornamental plants in the fight against these insects, the nasturtium, which also attracts the wonderful ladybirds that feast on aphids. Marigold is popular with pollinators and scares off white flies. Borage is effective against slugs, beetles and tomato worms.
There is also a whole series of aromatic plants that are effective against these "pests" and are also great for seasoning. Basil, for example, is energetic against whitefly, Colorado beetles and ants. Sage protects against cabbageworms and flies in general.
I could go on and on, but I think this is enough to start with. Of course, in addition to their protective actions, these plants are beautiful and smell good. They beautify, embellish and defend your garden, which is not really the case with pesticides.
I will not talk about what we call "weeds", which will be the subject of another article. A final word on birds, however. I personally love them, but it is true that they can attack fruit trees (buds and fruits) as well as leafy vegetables such as cabbage. Since they don't like random shiny things or noise in general, a few old cd's (if they still exist) or cans, even rusty ones, hung on a tree or a stake should be enough to keep them away. And again, dogs and cats can also do the trick. On the other hand, the feline will have the unfortunate tendency to attack low nesting species such as chickadees, which, for my part, is a bit of a problem.
I hope that this article has been able to clear up some misunderstandings about species that we too easily label as pests. Only that which proliferates exponentially and is not regulated becomes a "pest". When I speak of regulation, I do not necessarily mean by the hand of man. A healthy ecosystem tends to be self-regulating. What we can do is to try to develop this biodiversity, even if only on the scale of our garden, however big it is. So I'll leave you to plant a few beautiful marigolds, a nice sage and some basil!