Last week I was reminded that summer has arrived once again in Tallahassee. I was walking through my beautifully sheet mulched garden, admiring all of my almost-ripe tomatoes when I saw them! The caterpillars were back and chomping on my tomato plants!
My first thought was to bombard them with my BT and my diatimaceous earth with a little Neem added in to make it all stick, when I remembered this mantra from my permaculture class: "all creatures have a place in the permaculture garden." And I admit, I had kind of invited them in by not following some of these simple suggestions ahead of time.
1. Grow with seeds suited for our area. Grow plants from heirloom seeds, let the strongest plants go to seed, and save the seeds for next year. Then you'll have strong plants that are more equipped to survive a caterpillar attack.
2. Don't add too much nitrogen to the garden, something we all tend to do. This just creates green, lush, sugary plants that are weak and more prone to diseases and that attract the bugs that destroy them. Instead add the appropriate organic material to make your soil healthy and balanced.
3. Plant in guilds (my favorite thing for people and plants). Intersperse vegetable plants throughout rhe garden next to their helpful companion plants, herbs, and flowers. This confuses pests and encourages pollinators.
4. Rotate your crops. When you plant the same crop in the same spot year after year, you build up rhe "bad" nematodes and other bad bugs in the soil that are specifically adapted to eat that particular kind of crop.
5. Build healthy soil by giving it organic sources of the minerals it needs. Encourage earthworms in our soil and help it hold moisture by never, never tilling it. This just destroys the tunnels and air and water pockets in the soil.
In the meantime, practice some yoga poses as you search, bending and twisting and stretching under your tomato plants. When you find a big caterpillar, squish it!
Summer is on!