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Learning to Manage Pests and Diseases Organically

Leics MG P and D group photo

Last Saturday saw our largest in-service training day for our Master Gardener volunteers yet, with 26 of them gathering at Leicester Botanics for a day dedicated to learning about organic management of pests and diseases with Garden Organic’s horticulturalist and soil science expert, Anton Rosenfeld.

Despite the pouring rain and cold, and the less than attractive bugs and plant materials at the centre of the day, there was a general concensus that it was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative session.  One of our volunteers even chose to come and study slugs with us on her birthday!

We learned about the importance of using a wide range of organic practices to ensure that our soil and plants are in good shape to prevent or reduce attacks by pests and diseases, thus reducing the need to wade in with heavy controls once the problem has occurred.  Anton explained how avoiding high Nitrogen levels in the soil reduces the excessive lush growth that aphids love, and sticking to a well planned crop rotation prevents pests, viruses and the like building up in the soil.

Hoverfly larvaRecognising that not all ugly critters need to be squashed and that some are friends that eat pests or pollinate our crops was also an important lesson to learn.  Hoverfly larvae may look like caterpillars but they hoover up vast numbers of aphids.  Cabbage white caterpillars are also predated on by a wasp whose larvae eat it from the inside out and reprogram it to protect them from attacks.  For a gruesome insight into this micro-world that has inspired horror films like Alien, have a look at these amazing videos here

After lunch we braved the foul weather for a visit to the glasshouse, where we saw organic trapping methods in action and discussed the challenges and advantages of growing under cover where poor ventilation can favour fungal infections but a contained area can also allow the introduction of predatory species.

As ever, our volunteers had a great deal of experience and knowledge to share and there was much animated discussion both of their own tips and some interesting traditions passed down from grandparents.  Derek shared his grandfather’s tradition of planting potatoes on Good Friday with a dollop of soot and a piece of rhubarb in each hole and we learned that while the acid rhubarb may have helped against potato scab, the soot would have been full of heavy metals and therefore not such a great idea.  Ruth and a group of school children had been carrying out experiments with slugs, surrounding them with rings of various substances believed to create barriers.  She reported that they slithered across everything!

The day ended with the presentation of certificates to 10 of our volunteers, two of whom have clocked up more than 400 hours with us over 4 years.

Thanks to Anton for such a stimulating day, to Leicester Botanics for hosting us and to Zeph’s Café from Oadby for bringing us a delicious jacket potato and cake lunch to keep us going.


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