The Q&A Archives: Something is eating my garden

Question: I just planted some newly growing vegetables in my garden. I checked on the plants last night and it looks like something is eating the leaves of my cucumbers and green beans plants. I see dime sized holes in the dirt. Is this moles? How do I get rid of them and not have to spray chemicals on my plants?

Answer: The holes in the garden may just be coincidental, but you can certainly mulch over the soil to discourage whatever is living there. Use several thicknesses of newspaper spread over the bare soil which will not only suppress weeds and slow water evaporation, but will also discourage ground nesting pests. Cover over the newspaper with a few inches of compost. At the end of the season you can dig everything into the soil to help amend and enrich your garden bed.

If the feeding is at night, you might suspect snails, slugs and earwigs. In most gardens there's a balance of beneficial insects and destructive insects. Once a population of bad guys gets established, a crew of good guys usually shows up. Since you're growing organically, you'll probably want the insects to battle it out, with the good guys gaining control. You can encourage beneficials by having something in bloom at all times, and by avoiding the use of pesticides (which will kill good guys as well as bad guys). Even organic (botanically derived) pesticides can harm beneficial insects and should be used only as a last resort. Most pesticides are pest specific, so it's important to positively identify the destructive insects and use a product that targets them and them alone. At this point I'd try to identify the damaging insects. Go out after dark with a flashlight and see if you can determine what's causing the damage. I suspect, if the feeding is at night, that you're dealing with slugs, snails and/or earwigs. You can trap these critters by providing a dark, damp hiding place. Try an upturned terra cotta pot in the garden, propped up with a small stone. The pests will hide inside during the day and you can empty the pot each morning and replace it in the garden. You can also try dampened, rolled up newspaper traps in the garden to lure the bad guys. Simply toss the papers in the garbage each morning and place new traps out in the late afternoon. Hope these approaches help you control the pests in your garden!

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