Pest Management Permaculture style: ‘observe and interact’

Garden pests come in all shapes and sizes and if they go undetected or are left to their own devices, they can cause a serious amount of damage to your crops in no time at all. Even in our temperate climate our plants encounter attack from a wide range of pests.

Last year we mainly had trouble with the white cabbage moth and their caterpillars and a pesky wallaby that took a liking to the soft feathery tops of my carrots manicuring them into a neatly chewed hedge early one Winter’s morning.

This year it’s been both black and green aphids and I was devastated when an army of black aphids annihilated our healthy crop of garlic and shallots and not a ladybeetle in sight. Next year I’ll be getting on to the problem earlier.

On the other hand we’ve also been delighted to witness nature taking care of two other problems through natural checks and balances. Firstly, the powdery mildew that dessimated our zucchinis and cucurbits last summer due to unseasonal wet weather was largely resolved with an explosion of thousands of ladybeetles. These little helpers feasted on the stuff and helped to keep it under control.

The second was an explosion of bush rats that was severely curtailed by a succession of visiting diamond pythons. If only all the other problems were so easily resolved.

We’re still learning how to best deal with pests and have tried a few eco-techniques including exclusion netting and home-made oil sprays with mixed results. I’m still of the opinion that plant diversity is the best pest management solution as is supports a balance of both pest and beneficial predators in the garden.

By growing a range of food plants we hope to eventually narrow down the most viable and pest resistant varieties that best suit our garden and local climate. This year for the first time we’ve trailed broad beans and were attracted to them for the fact that they’re easy to grow, are an abundant producer, are useful at improving soil through their efficient uptake of nitrogen through their specialised root nodules and are relatively pest and desease free…well that was  until we noticed the tell-tale signs of another pest at work but this time the signs were a little different.

It was only a matter of time before Chris caught sight of the scoundrels one sunny afternoon, swinging precariously on the bent limbs of our broad bean plants! To his surprise, a pair of Australian King Parrots were having the time of their life, chattering to each other as they carefully dissected the pods feasting on the sweet young beans.

As King Parrots rely on a diet of fruit and seed they had no trouble seeking out the easy pickings of our broad bean crop. This pair in particular are very comfortable in our garden having visited us often for a drink from the bird bath on our deck or enjoying the sweet fruit and nuts from our native Bloodwood tree.

They say that familiarity breeds contempt but I ask you how could anyone grow to dislike these magnificent creatures as the Australian King Parrot or Alisterus scapularis can only be described as beautiful.

Like most birds, the male of the species is truly magnificent with his vermillion coloured head, breast and lower underside and vivid green wings and tail feathers. As soon as you catch sight of this rather large parrot you can’t help but be truly inspired by the wonders of nature.

Anyway, beauty and nature aside, there was pest management work to be done and while Chris considered pegging a few rocks in their direction, I took the more sensible approach and erected a simple loose netting structure over the broad beans. This was enough to deter the birds yet would still allow beneficial insects in. In a few minutes using garden stakes and bird-friendly netting the problem was resolved and to my satisfaction, our beautiful birds lived to see another day.

So will broad beans be added to the regular list of vegetables to grow in our garden? Most definitely. Apart from a minor setback they’ve been pretty much pest free, have needed little attention and have also been a hit in the kitchen.

We’re still harvesting produce from both of our broad bean patches but next year we’ll put in a bigger crop and be sure to use netting earlier on to deter any passers by, no matter how beautiful they are.

Uncle Robot has been back again doing some sensational stone work in our Permaculture garden and I’m looking forward to sharing some photos of our next project….a water garden in the making.

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