I am totally new to gardening, let alone organic gardening. This year, I read up on companion planting. I have one bed of lettuce & peas, another bed of squash, corn & pole beans, a bed of onions, and then individual mounds of melons, tomatoes and peppers adjacent to the „three sisters” bed. In the last 24 hours, I have had 3 people tell me I am going to fail unless I use chemicals. Is it that hopeless? Recently, my peas developed that „lacey leaf” problem somebody else noted. There is also evidence of minor insect consumption on all my other plants except the onions. I searched and found some green worms, about an inch long, with two white stripes running down their backs. I am not sure if these are the culprits or if they are feeding on the culprits, and I can’t seem to get a straight answer from anybody. I asked my county ext. Agent if they were cabbage loopers, and he said I was close but wouldn’t tell me what they were (he was too busy laughing at me for thinking I could be an organic gardnener).

I don’t know what to do. I have been picking off the worms as I find them, and I have been spraying everything down with soapy water, including the undersides of the leaves, in the hopes of slowing the damage. I know a lot of people don’t like to use soapy water, but I didn’t know what else to do. I can try cayanne tea, if somebody would tell me how to make it. My mother-in-law told me to use Sevin like she does (not that it saved her crop, which was completely obliterated by cutworms this week. I am going to wrap foil on the stems in my garden to prevent that.). The ext. Agent told me to spray on Dipel, which is a Bt, but I don’t know anything about it. All the gardeners here (Zone 5, Nebraska) seem to think organic gardening is a pipe dream. Will somebody PLEASE tell me there is hope and what I should be doing?

Be assured there is hope. I’m quite new to organic gardening, but I live in a place where we pride ourselves on organic products. So, that being said and I’m certainly no expert, but I know the folks on this list are going to come through with answers. Making pepper sprays is as easy as hot water a blender and hot peppers. You don’t need the solid parts. And make sure you let the conction sit for a bit to steep (like tea). I also read sources like Organic Gardening magazine’s site (www.organicgardening.com). I also have found that the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (Rodale) to be extremely helpful. One thing to keep in mind is something I’ve learned from a regional gardening guide (Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades) is that if you organically garden you will loose some stuff to nature, and that’s okay. For example until I figured out that I had a) wire worms and b) how to deal with them I lost 60% of a Pac Choi sowing and 50% of a spinach sowing. Two cut potatoes later I haven’t lost much since.

We live in a society that’s always looking for a quick fix and doesn’t like to tolerate anything that goes against our plan. In the garden, that means that any sort of insect or disease damage automatically gets sprayed with whatever chemicals and poisons are on hand, without much regard for safety. The problem is that people spray at the very first sign of any damage, and sometimes even before. Very rarely would a garden pest reach catastrophic proportions (I’m reminded of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s „On The Banks of Plum Creek” when they had a grasshopper plague so terrible they lost EVERYTHING and couldn’t walk without crunching hoppers beneath their feet). And no one, except the organic gardeners, of course, seems to realize that when you kill off a pest, you’re effecting the beneficial insects in your garden. If they have no food, they’ll leave, and you’ll have an even BIGGER pest problem to deal with. A little bit of insect damage and a little bit of disease in the garden is a normal thing. It’s just nature doing her thing. You CAN use organic sprays, etc. to get things under control and to have a little peace of mind.

Check out Home Brewed Pest Control at http://www.co.broward.fl.us/ppi00200.htm for some ideas for organic pesticides. Anyway, chemicals won’t get rid of MY biggest pest (unless I want to poison him with cyanide or something), which is Mr. Bunny Rabbit who decided that young beans and peas are good eatin’. :) Luckily he left most of the peas and only ate the first two leaves off the beans – they’re all growing from the top! Whenever anyone’s doubtful, preach to them. Don’t worry about how dumb they may think you sound. If they have any brains whatsoever, they’ll at least listen. And years down the road when their nervous systems are disintegrating because of overusing pesticides, maybe they’ll have enough brain cells left to realize that you were right all along. :) Last time I had a veggie garden (in high school), I basically just stuck things in the ground and let them grow. I didn’t even pull weeds! I don’t recall any insect damage or disease, and we had more food than our family of 4 could handle! :)