by Susan Munger, Master Gardener Coordinator, New London County
Some insects are very damaging in the vegetable garden. Barriers provide effective, nontoxic protection for plants. They work in various ways. For example, collars protect against cut worm damage. The stems of tender transplants are often chewed by cutworms, killing the plants before they get established. Cardboard collars should be placed around the plants when first put out. Sink the collar slightly into the soil so the cutworm can't reach the plant. Collars can be made from sections of paper towel tubes, coffee cup collars, or similar materials. Another effective way to deter cutworms is to place a nail against the stem when planting. The worms won't wrap around the nails.
Floating row covers spread over broccoli and cabbage transplants keep the cabbage moth from laying eggs on the plants; this protects them from damage by the hungry larvae that soon hatch. Put the row covers over the plants and anchor the edges in the soil. Do this when putting the plants out; if done a day or two later a moth may have already laid her eggs, in which case the larvae are trapped inside with the plants. Use enough row cover material to keep the plants covered as they grow taller. Row covers let in light and rain and should be left on the plants until they've finished producing and can be pulled up.
If slugs are a problem, lay a board down on the soil. The slugs will seek shelter from the sun underneath. Once there they can be easily scrapped off and destroyed.
Invite a toad into the garden by providing a cool, shaded shelter, such as an upside down flower pot with a hole broken in the rim. A nearby source of water will add to the site's appeal. Toads are voracious consumers of many pests, including grubs, crickets, and squash bugs.
Compost added to the soil helps retain moisture and improves soil structure. It can also be used as a mulch. A nontoxic environment attracts beneficial creatures and makes for healthy plants able to resist pests and diseases.