Aphids: scourge of the spring garden

March 4, 2008 | By | Comments (0)

By Lauren Bonar Swezey, Sunset special projects editor

Believe it or not, it’s true. Everything is NOT hunky dory in the test garden these days. We’ve had our first attack of those cursed tiny (1/16 inch long) gray aphids. They’ve hit our cauliflower!

Aphids1_2Aphids in general aren’t that bad, especially when they hang out on the tips of new growth (such as the green ones you might find on your roses). It’s easy to blast them off with a strong spray of water. But get those clinging, soft-bodied insects inside cauliflower curds and the wily creatures are nearly impossible to extract. So what’s a gardener to do?

I asked Ryan, our test garden coordinator and expert CSA farmer who grows lots of veggies at Blue House Farm in Pescadero, how he controls aphids. Here are his tips:

• Prevention is the best medicine. Aphids attack stressed plants. Make sure your plants are getting the best care possible—adequate sun, water, and air circulation.

• Don’t over fertilize. Too much nitrogen produces lush growth – a magnet for aphids. Most cool-season veggies grow perfectly well with just compost mixed into the soil before planting. If your soil is particularly poor or sandy, you can also mix in an organic fertilizer (follow package directions).

• Plant vigorous varieties. According to Ryan, some heirloom varieties aren’t as vigorous as modern hybrids. If you prefer certain heirlooms because of their romantic past, just make sure you give them perfect garden conditions.

• Monitor the crops. At the first sign of an infestation, blast the pests off with water or spray with an organic insecticide, such as insecticidal soap.

Once the pests have infested your broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and other cool-season crops, here’s how to get rid of them (well, MOST of them):

• Soak in a tub of water. Right after harvest, drop the whole head in a tub of water for 20 minutes or so. Swish it around to release the insects.

• Blast with water. While holding the heads in your hand, blast them with a strong stream of water. Beware! You’ll get wet.

Of course, you could also just not worry about the aphids and savor the added protein. Bon appetit!

More about safer pest controls

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