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Pest & Disease Control

Following on from various health scares to do with food and how it is produced, more people are becoming aware of the importance of eating food which hasn't been tampered with: by adding chemicals to enhance growth, for instance. There is no scientific proof, because independent research has not been carried out in any depth, to show whether these chemicals are causing harm to humans. But there is increasing evidence that certain diseases such as cancer and nervous disorders are on the increase and really, no one knows why.

Many people are unaware that as many as 200 different chemicals are used to grow lettuce, for example.These enable quick, leafy growth in the form of nitrogen fertilisers and also a myriad of pesticides to combat slugs, snails, whitefly, aphids etc. However, there is no research available to show what residues are left on the plant, whether washing is sufficient to remove them or if they are actually in the cells of the plant due to uptake from the soil. For example, some people may remember quite a long time ago one instance of this happening, where DDT used for crop spraying was found in the bodies of polar bears.

We know that the soil contains all kinds of chemicals in its composition but these would be in their natural proportions in a healthy soil. Can you be sure the additional chemicals used to grow crops are in such safe proportions?

So you may decide that by not adding these to the soil and spraying against pests and disease, you are reducing you and your family's exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals. Of course we cannot remove them completely, but at least we are giving ourselves the best chance of leading a long and healthy life.

So how can we stop everything being eaten or destroyed before we get to eat it?

Be Vigilant:The first and best defence, as with other things in life, is to be vigilant and deal with problems as soon as you see them rather than waiting till they get out of hand. Inspect all your crops every time you visit your plot and you can deal with a small infestation quickly.

You also need to identify the 'friendly' insects from the ones causing damage. Ladybirds and especially their larva eat aphids by the bucketful. So do lacewings, wasps and beetles. We need to encourage these predators by growing flowers which attract them, not spraying insecticide indiscriminately which kill them aloong with the aphids. You also need to be a little tolerant of a few pests in order for the good guys to have something worth coming to your plot for.

Erect Barriers: such as fleece (against the carrot fly for instance) or enviromesh ( against cabbage butterflies) are the second line of defence. Usually these are left in place only as long as necessary to get the young plants established. Netting can then be put on (small guage) so that wasps and bees can get in and out but butterflies cannot. There is better airflow and absorption of water when and if it rains.

Grow 'Companion Plants':many people have heard that Tagetes or Marigolds benefit the growth of runner beans. That's if the slugs don't eat them first! There may be something in the plant such as its perfume or because its flowers attract predators, that encourage the crop to grow well.  Planting a row of onions in between carrots is said to deter carrot fly. Most of this information is not scientifically proven; it's just what has been found to work with a lot of gardeners.