How Do You Grow Crops With Fewer Pesticides?

Control of pests and diseases is obviously a critical activity in your garden. Knowledge of pests and diseases will help you to decide whether the problem is caused by a pest, a disease, a mineral deficiency in the soil or perhaps an environmental factor. Proper identification should be the first step in controlling the problem and, more importantly, in preventing it from happening again. However, before you start reaching for those chemicals, note that pest problems don't necessarily require pesticides!

A “pest" can mean a lot of different things, but in a gardening context it's basically nuisances that hamper your crops, such as:

  • Slugs and snails
  • Problem insects
  • Weeds
  • Critters like deer and moles
  • Plant diseases such as black spot

The four factors of production

Let’s get back to the essentials for a minute. The four factors of production are the elements that are needed to maintain your plants in good condition throughout their life cycle. So, which ones are they?

Healthy soil 

Healthy soil is key. Plants that are fed well, just like people, will be much more resistant to pests and diseases. A plant may look healthy if given a heavy amount of nitrogen; often found in chemical fertilisers. It might also grow quite quickly as a result, however, it also is very attractive to pests.


Picking the right crops and locations

Healthy crops are achieved with the right growing conditions, and they will then be more capable of resisting pests and diseases. The right choice of crops will also help to deter pests and diseases. A crop growing in an area that it’s not naturally suited to, is more likely to be preyed upon. 

Crop rotation 

Cultivation of the same plants in the same plots year after year can increase the possibility for occurrence of pests and diseases in the soil. In such cases, they will sinply transfer from one crop to the next. Crops should be moved to a different area of land each year, and tey should not be returned to the original site for several years! For vegetables, a three to four year rotation is usually recommended as a minimum.

Good hygiene 

If you keep infected plant material (be it alive or dead), left lying around, pests and diseases can “survive” in future crops. Debris should be cleared up and disposed of; for example by composting the debris. The composting process will kill some pests and diseases and it will also produce compost which obviously works wonders as a soil improvement and source of fertilization.

Recommendations for using garden chemicals

If you do decide to resort to using garden chemicals, please keep the following recommendations inmind:

  • Buy them in small amounts. Skip the large "economy" size. 
  • Favor ready to use products over concentrates.
  • Avoid combination products, such as ‘weed and feed’, so you don’t waste your time and money over-applying one or the other.
  • Spot-spray the products, and only on targeted pests. Do not broadcast-apply pesticides over large areas!

Use pesticides as a last resort. If you keep using non-toxic methods, then over time you can reduce pests and the damage they cause. Note that the risk of health problems depends not only on how toxic the ingredients are, but also on the amount of exposure to the products. So keep the chemicals to the minimal you absolutely need, when all else fails!

Further reading:

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