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Keep the soil moving to beat pests

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No organic chemical can control pests that attack roots

The battle against pests and insects attacking plants in the garden never seems to stop.

Some pests that attack the roots of almost anything, such as cutworms, wireworms and leather, can cause great problems for organic gardeners, especially on newly-dug land, because there is no suitable organic chemical you can use to control them.

One way to keep these pests at bay is to keep the ground moving between plants with a hoe.

This brings them to the surface, giving birds a welcome treat.

The most destructive pest in the soil is the cutworm, which lives just below the surface.

They feed on the base of plants during the day, cutting them off at soil level.

If you find plants that have suddenly fallen over, use a hoe to search the soil up to a metre around the plant to expose the grubs, killing any you find or picking them up and putting them on a solid path for birds to eat.

Leatherjackets, which are white and fat, also live just below the surface, and will eat almost any root they finds.

The larvae of the crane fly sometimes comes to the surface at night during the summer to feast on plant stems.

You will generally expose leatherjackets by hoeing, but you should also encourage ground beetles, which love eating them, along with cutworms and eelworms.

These natural predators like leaves to hide under during the day so make sure you have plenty of ground plants that will help them do their work when the sun has gone down.

Wireworms are the larvae of the click beetle and are thick, shiny worms with yellowish skins.

They make small holes in potatoes and carrots which look as if they have been attacked by slugs.

However, these little pests can attack any plant, but particularly like ones with fleshy roots – and this is their downfall.

If you have just dug a new area, try planting some wheat between crops and/or plants in a border.

The wireworms will be attracted to the wheat, which can be later dug up and burned.

Growing wheat in a border may not really be an option, but you can also use old carrots or potatoes to trap the pets too.

Cut the old veg in half and skewer one half with a stick and bury it. The stick is left exposed so you will know where the trap is so that you can remove and burn it, too.

Another trick is to split an old cabbage stalk and push it 5-7cm into the ground near the affected plants.

Just like the other traps, it should be lifted from time to time and the worms destroyed.

Ants do not usually trouble gardeners, though their habit for ‘farming’ aphids for their nectar can cause problems.

If you are troubled with ants, there is an organic method of control for these sweet-toothed insects.

Mix together equal amounts of icing sugar and borax and place some under a stone or piece of wood near where the ants roam.

They will soon find the sugar and take the borax back to the nest at the same time to destroy the colony.

Dealing with these ground pests seems simple when you compare it to the problems caused by caterpillars.

It appears that the leaves of brassicas (cabbages and brussels sprouts) are the main attraction for these pests.

If you spot any clusters of their tiny eggs on the underside of leaves, simply crush them between your fingers.

Caterpillars themselves are usually easy to spot, and if you find any they will have to be removed by hand and either fed to hungry birds or dropped into a jar of paraffin.

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