Organic Pest Control Keeps Garden Pests From Eating Your Vegetables Before You Do

Organic pest control allows us to keep more of our bounty for ourselves without poisoning ourselves in the process.

Among the pests that try to horn in on our harvest are:

  • aphids
  • cabbage worms
  • cutworms
  • corn borers
  • flee beetles
  • horn worms
  • Japanese beetles
  • slugs
  • snails
  • spider mites

------ not to mentions deer, bunny rabbits and other mammals! 

Fortunately, the raised bed method of gardening limits some of the damage that pests can do.  Since we water and harvest our individual plants more often than in traditional gardening, we are able to nip the damage in the bud, so to speak.

Organic Pest Control For Common Worms

The Tomato/Tobacco Hornworm

The large caterpillar (right) is the tomato horn worm, also known as the tobacco horn worm. It morphs into the large sphinx moth. In the garden it feeds on your tomato, pepper, eggplant, and potato plants, as well as moon flowers. Within one day, these pests can strip all the leaves from a tomato plant or pepper plant.

 The best way to control them is to hand pick them.  Feed them to your chickens if you have them, or drop them into a can of soapy water. 

If you don't like to kill them. hand carry them to a mulberry tree. Maybe they will stay there.

Check closely.  These caterpillars are masters of disguise. If you find one, there are probably more. Check all your tomato, pepper, potato and eggplants throughout the growing season.

The Parsley Worm

The parsley worm offers a challenge to gardeners who want to practice organic pest control.This beautiful caterpillar (left) will turn into the even more beautiful swallowtail butterfly.

Unfortunately for us, they like to feed on members of the carrot family which includes carrots, parsley, dill and fennelIn the wild they feed on Queen Anne's Lace.

Rather than kill them, why not plant a little butterfly garden. You can actually buy Queen Anne's Lace from major seed companies. Include some parsley, dill, and fennel just for the caterpillars. Hand carry those from your vegetable garden and deposit them in their own little Eden. 

I discovered this summer (2017) that if you leave the worm on the plant, it does indeed strip it. But don't pull the roots as the plant will come back and make more leaves. Just plant a number of the preferred plants so that you have enough to share.


There are many species of cutworms. They are white, gray, or brown. Turn over a spade-full of earth and you will find them curled up in the soil that you dig up.

They destroy a plant by wrapping their body around the stem where they feed,  and cutting it off at the soil line.

You can prevent potential damage and practice organic pest control by inserting a small stick close to the stem of larger plants, especially tomatoes. This prevents them from curling around the stem.

If you have moles in your soil, they will help you with the cutworm problem as moles are avid carnivores and will not touch your plant roots.

Cabbage Worms

The cabbage worm is  the larvae of a small white butterfly. Your first indication of cabbage worm infestation may be holes chewed in your cabbage leaves.

Prevention is the best way to handle this pest. 

  • Plant cabbage and other cole plants while it is too cold for the butterflies to be active.
  • Cover the plants with a garden cover so the butterflies cannot get to the plants.

If it is too late for that, lift the leaves and hand pick them, dropping them into soapy water. Last resort is an organic spray.

Corn Borers

Corn borers are about an inch long, the larvae of the corn borer moth. They are harder to apply organic pest control methods to because they are protected by the corn husks, but the spray may help.

I have no problem with cutting the damaged end from an ear of corn and using the good part.

Organic Pest Control For Mollusks

Slugs and Snails

If you think snails and slugs are finding a way into your beds, go out at night with a flashlight and check.

I do not like to kill snails so I make a perimeter ring of crushed eggshells or Epson salts around the plants. Snails and slugs do not cross it as it would shred their skin. That keeps me from having to kill them.

If your are not as squeamish as I, they can be hand picked and dropped in soapy water. Flat beer in a shallow dish will attract and kill them.

Organic Pest Control For Crawling and Flying Insects

Generally, Sprays are the best way to control these pests. Many are too small to pick, or they are intermittent visitors to the garden plants.


Ants will cultivate aphids, protecting them for the honeydew that they produce. This is interesting to observe if they are not on your garden plants!

Aphids bore holes in plant material and suck out the juices. The infested plant will often feel sticky. The only way to be rid of them is a spray, organic of course.

Aphids also like to colonize milkweed. Plant milkweed in your butterfly garden as it is needed for the monarch butterfly. and perhaps it will help with the aphid problem!

Spider Mites

Spider mites are tiny and live on the underside of plant leaves. They weave little webs and chew holes in the leaves. They can make lace of garden foliage.

For smaller garden pests such as spider mites and aphids, make a spray by adding 12 garlic cloves to a quart of water in a blender along with one tablespoon of cayenne pepper. Blend, then bring to a boil on the stove or microwave. Cool down, strain, and put in a spray bottle. Spray the underside of the leaves as well as the top. Insects often hide there in the shade.

More organic garden pests sprays

Plant marigold flowers liberally in your vegetable garden.

They protect from harmful grubs. Marigolds also inhibit soil nematodes which can damage plant roots. They stimulate growth and deter bean beetles, aphids, potato bugs, squash bugs, and maggots.

Organic Pest Control For Mammals 

Moles are particularly fond of grubs. A real nuisance in a lawn, moles can actually help a garden by plowing the soil and eating pests.

They do not eat plant roots as they are strictly carnivores. 

If moles and voles are a problem, check this next page for ideas.

As for deer and bunny rabbits,  if they are an ongoing problem, the best way to keep them out of your beds is to build a frame of chicken wire and lightweight wood sticks that will set down over the beds. You can lift it up to tend to the garden. This will also work for quail and other birds.

Bunny rabbits dig, so you may have to dig a trench and set the fence 6 inches or so in the trench, then put the soil back around it.

A final word about garden pests

With raised bed gardens such drastic measures as above probably won't be necessary. Unless you have a huge infestation, do not use sprays that will also kill  beneficial organisms as well as pests.  Instead hand pick what pests you can. Use your scissors to snip off any damaged leaves and carry to the compost bin. Do not leave them in the bed!

Do not use Sevin powder in your garden. Though it will not harm humans who wash their vegetables after treating with it, it will kill butterflies, bees and other pollinators as well as beneficial insects. 

Do not buy praying mantis eggs. The praying mantis is an ferocious predator and will eat beneficial insects as well as the pests. Instead, encourage good insects to hang around. Go to to find out how.

Have a recipe for organic garden spray? Other ideas for controlling garden pests? Please share.

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