Predator vs Pest


Pests can be a really big issues in vegetable
gardens, although the specific pests that we have to deal with, and the damage that
they can cause, can vary enormously with the climate and ecosystem that we are growing
in. Dealing with pests can require a lot of time
and resources, and methods used to eliminate them, or at least to reduce their impact,
can have some problematic side effects. In my family scale gardens I avoid pesticide
sprays and poisons, both the conventional kind, and those that are used with organic
operations, as there always seems to be a risk of collateral damage with these types
of approaches. Depending on the pest, I prefer to use barriers,
traps and in some cases I hunt them down and kill them. But I also like to work towards the possibility
that predators of some pests could be part of the ecosystem within and around the gardens,
and can help to reduce the damage caused to my vegetables. I’ve had some success with this approach,
but a lot seems to depend on finding an appropriate balance between the population of the pests
and the potential predators. Slugs are one of the main pests in my vegetable
gardens and they can cause a lot of damage in some seasons. I’ve tried a lot of different ways to deal
with them, or at least to reduce their numbers, and for the most part these days I use various
methods to kill them myself. There are some things that eat slugs that
I could introduce, especially ducks, but they’re not really appropriate in the context of my
gardens, as it is an open site that is shared with a lot of other people. Here in Ireland, hedgehogs are one of the
main natural predators of slugs, and we’ve created quite good habitat for hedgehogs around
these gardens, but it’s hard to know if they are around as they are nocturnal creatures. A few years I caught a large healthy hedgehog
in a live trap that I had set up to catch whatever was eating my broccoli plants, and
it was great to know that at least one of these slug eating garden companions was hanging
around. But over the last few years I’ve suspected
that it probably had moved on, and earlier this year there were loads of slugs and small
snails in my gardens. I had let my guard down, and i hadn’t been
making as many slug killing patrols in my gardens as I used to, and I figured that there
weren’t any hedgehogs around to help. But more recently I’ve caught several videos
of a healthy hedgehog patrolling the gardens and i’ve noticed fewer slugs. If I had use poison to kill the slugs in the
past then I likely would have killed this hedgehog as well. But I also suspect that if I had been much
more successful in keeping the population of slugs down in my gardens by other means
then this hedgehog wouldn’t have taken up residence. And it also makes me wonder how many slugs
it would take to keep a hedgehog happy and well fed enough to stick around, and if I’d
be be willing to tolerate that number of slugs in and around my gardens. I’ve also struggled with aphids in the gardens
especially in the protected microclimate of the polytunnel where they can seriously stunt
some plants. There’s a number of different methods that
I’ve used to deal with this pest in the past, including rubbing them off with my fingers
to kill them, washing them off with a hose, or spraying them with soapy water. But I’ve also been encouraging ladybird or
ladybug populations, who are great natural predators of aphids, especially during the
larvae phase when they can apparently eat enormous numbers of aphids. Within the diverse plantings in the Polytunnel
Garden, there always seem to be a number of ladybirds around, and when I find one in the
landscape outside, I often bring it into the polytunnel to boost the population. But I’ve realised over the years that if I
want to rely on the ladybirds kill the aphids, I need to give them time to do the job, and
to not react to a presence to a lot of aphids in the gardens earlier in the season. Apparently ladybirds need to eat a lot of
aphids in order to lay their eggs, or they won’t lay them unless there’s going to be
a plentiful food supply available when the larvae hatch. But if I use some other method to get rid
of the aphids while the eggs are maturing, then the larvae may hatch into an environment
where there isn’t enough for them to eat, meaning that fewer of them will survive or
stick around long enough to reproduce again. In order to maintain a healthy population
of ladybirds to deal with the aphids, I actually need to tolerate a certain amount of aphids
in the garden, and to accept that they have a faster reproductive rate than their predators. I need to be patient enough to let the ladybird
lifecycle catch up with the growing population of aphids. I do keep an eye on things, but these days
I try not to worry when I start to see aphids in this garden, and instead I try to grow
healthier plants that can better tolerate the presence of aphids. Rats are another very common companion in
gardens and farms here in Ireland, as they are in many places in the world. There are some health risks associated with
rats being around, and some people find this really problematic, and other people are simply
really freaked out whenever they see them. Personally, I think rats are quite amazing
animals, and I don’t mind them being around, and I’ve come to accept that with lots of
places for them to live in a natural landscape, and a diversity of things for them to eat,
they will always have a background presence. I get concerned whenever their population
seems to be getting too high, but my biggest concern is when they start to eat crops in
the gardens, including eating the sunflower microgreen seeds, damaging a lot of tomatoes
and even eating the carrots that are still in the ground. Over the years I’ve use several different
methods of controlling the rat population, though I have stayed away from poisons, and
I’ve been largely successful with keeping their numbers down. This year I thought I would experiment with
trying to leave space to see what impact the natural predators of rats would have. I was hoping that if I stood back and waited,
the local populations of foxes, owls and a few species of birds would step in, and I’ve
also been trying to encourage a few of the neighbourhood cats to hang around my gardens
more often. Over the past few months I have set up a wildlife
camera in a number of different locations to see what kind of activity there might be
of both rats in their potential predators. So far I’ve observed four different cats making
the rounds in my gardens, which I thought would deal with the rat population quite effectively. No doubt they are killing a few rats, but
I did get footage of one of the cats sitting on top of my compost pile eating some of the
scraps, and right beside it, there was a rat quite contentedly doing the same thing. So I became less convinced that the cats were
helping out with this, especially as the rat population seemed to be increasing. I haven’t seen any signs of owls, though
I know there’s at least two nesting families in the area, and unfortunately any of the
other birds of prey that come close to the gardens, tend to be chased off by the large
population of jackdaws and rocks that nest nearby. So, for a while I was concerned that my little
experiment was not going to work, and I began to take a much more active role in culling
the population of rats, but then more recently I realised that a fox had stepped in to help. I first became aware that a fox was making
the rounds of my gardens when it picked up my wildlife camera from inside the polytunnel
and ran off with it, probably thinking that it was an egg. I’ve since caught other videos of this fox
at night, and in the past few weeks it’s been a regular daytime visitor, even coming around
when I was working in the gardens, and I’ve even witnessed it catching a rat. Now that I know that there’s a fox in the
area, it will be interesting to see how effective it is at keeping the rat population down,
and I wonder how many rats it takes to keep a fox happy enough to stick around? It seems that one of the key issues with relying
on natural predators is tolerance and patience, which can be tough with some potentially problematic
pests. If I’m going to rely on there being a hedgehog
in the vicinity to help with the slugs in my gardens, then I need to have slugs in my
gardens, and probably more than a few of them. But even a few slugs can be a problem, especially
with young crops which can be seriously damaged by slugs in a very short period of time. I could change the approach and work to clear
slugs out of only some areas of the gardens, and to rely on traps and barriers to protect
the plants that are most vulnerable, and to try to be less concerned but watchful in other
parts of the gardens. Not so sure if I want to take this risk. I’m a bit more comfortable with the interplay
between the rising and falling populations of aphids versus ladybirds, especially as
I get better at avoiding stress in the plants that I’m growing. I still try to be observant and occasionally
I rub aphids off of some of the plants in the spring, but for the most part I let the
ladybirds do the work of keeping the population down, and always try to have a diverse range
of habitats for these predators to live in the polytunnel. With the possible buildup of rat populations,
I’m less certain. I am don’t know how much I can rely on the
fox or other predators, or what I could be doing to assist them or accommodate them. I’ve also been quite frustrated with the damage
to crops that even a few rats can do, and I know that some of my neighbours are less
tolerant than I would be. But on the other hand, we now have a really
healthy fox hanging around, and I doubt that would have happened if I have maintained my
usual role of keeping the rat population control.under In all of these experiences I’ve come to see
the importance of trying to better understand ecosystem dynamics, especially the balance
of populations between pests and potential predators, and there’s so much more to learn
about all of this. The weather, seasonal fluctuations and the
availability of other food sources no doubt has been an issue, and it’ll be interesting
to see if similar patterns of populations occur again in the next few seasons. Providing hedgerows and wildlife corridors
can be of benefit to creatures like the hedgehog, but the same habitat can provide perfect cover
and habitat for the rats. An open area around the gardens and the compost
pile might make it easier for the predators to catch the rats, but it might make life
more difficult for the hedgehog. And as the ecosystem evolves and the biodiversity
increases, there’s always the possibility of things preying on the predators, even with
the ladybirds. I suspect that the family of wrens that have
been regular visitors into my polytunnel garden were eating a lot of the ladybird larvae,
as well as other insects. It’s difficult to understand my role within
all of this, but I’ve come to believe that in these cases if I intervene too much then
I may need to always take on the responsibility of dealing with these pests. This complex interplay between lots of different
species in an evolving landscape will no doubt change in the future, and the risk of loosing
cops will always be there. For now, I am focussing on developing long
term resilience and understanding, and not just on the short term gain of the crops that
I’m currently growing. But this requires a certain amount of excess
capacity and abundance, which I currently have, in which I’m able to tolerate the lose
of some crops while I figure it all out.

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58 thoughts on “Predator vs Pest

  1. I love the fox, very interesting approach. I am very curious to hear how the rat population will fluctuate more long term. Nature always needs time to balance out, really curious to think about if the saved time later on is worth the stress the pests give short term. And from season to season, I would recon that next year the fox will be there from the start maybe keeping the rat population down more steady.

  2. "If I want to rely on ladybirds to kill the aphids, then I need to give them time to do the job, and to not react to the presence of a lot of aphids earlier in the season."

    This is an amazing insight to me. To work with nature rather than against her, perhaps we must teach ourselves to take the more expansive view.

    (ETA, my lofty thoughts were brought down to earth by that beautiful image of the rat and cat hanging out on the compost together, lol!)

  3. great video. i think understanding the dynamics of the ecosystem around your large gardens is a topic you will always be learning about the long you live and farm there, so good luck!

  4. Thanks for sharing, Bruce. As always β€” a lot of insight. I've pretty much adopted the same philosophy but not so much from considering all of the factors involved as just that I don't have the time to deal with them. Wonder if you're still doing chickens and how that works out with the fox. I have 8 roosters in my outer run and the foxes are only a threat to the rabbits. I also wonder if you have rat snakes like we do in North Carolina.

    BTW my biggest problem now is moles. They've decimated my millions of earthworms that were important forage for my chickens. I'm tempted to intervene since black snakes don't seem to do the job.

  5. Bruce, I can only imagine how invaluable your research will be for future generations of gardeners and food producers. Your willingness to take a long-term view and delve deep into the understanding of systems provides a wonderful contrast to the quick and reactive thinking I've seen in other modern sources of knowledge. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for you, as everything that seems to be a failure is instead worked into a learning experience, developed into a deep understanding of the world around you. You are producing lessons that can be carried on to future generations. Just as you compost food scraps to provide enrichment to your soil, you take what appear to be negative experiences and recycle them to further not only your goals, but the ecosystems you live in and interact with. As always, you are truly an inspiration.

  6. Cool video. I have an ants nest about 10m away from my lot, I watch them carry away pests all day. The only downside is it has to be hot enough outside for them to bother. Maybe build yourself a portable ant terrarium you can leave open and transport around your lot.

  7. I have a few comments that I hope may help you considering our past conversations and what I know about your garden project. First, the slugs. You have clay soil from what I understand, and this most likely indicates that you have a very high percentage of nitrate nitrogen in your soil (as opposed to ammonium nitrogen found in sandy and more acidic soils). This makes for a certain size of cell wall in plant growth, specifically, very very large and weak cells that are very easy and therefore lush and delicious to little critters. These large cells are what result in the slugs devouring your plants at all stages. They're simply delicious to slugs. If you added sand to your soil or aerated it somehow with airy amendments (preferably not organics as clay is very rich in organics), this should allow for more fungi to thrive and therefore more ammonium nitrogen to be produced which allows for stronger, smaller, more tightly sown together cell wall growth that is resistant to sucking insects and is most important for early vegetative growth in plants. Secondly, I am right with you on the rats and am fond of them as well, other than the health concerns and damage they cause. Rats like low lying cover as that is where they thrive. I've seen a house that is flooded with rats thanks to the large amount of low lying ivy plants. Then, just down the street, a house having no rat problems because the owner had removed all low lying cover and has space between every plant in their landscaping. It makes a huge difference in rat population to get rid of low lying cover such as ivy. If that doesn't help, I know a man who trapped hundreds of rats over the gardening season and that seemed to help. Thirdly, the aphids. They are there because of root rot, the environment in which they thrive in. You could see one aphid and that may indicate thousands of larvae beneath the soil which can't really differentiate between alive and rotting roots once they go off. I've researched that oyster mushroom mycelium attracts and traps these creatures and oyster mushrooms are the easiest to grow even terrestrially. Again I would suggest this has to do with your clay soil and the inevitable compaction that occurs with that as clay soil simply holds significantly more water than sandy soil or soil inbetween sandy and clay soil (silty) leading to root rot, which stresses the plant which puts out certain stress signals which attracts gnats to lay eggs there.

    I really like your cautious approach in destroying all pests and predators as some gardeners/farmers do, as this often results in a never ending cycle of chemical application and such, where the predators are never allowed to grow enough to kill the pests and so on leading to more pest issues and more chemical applications etc. However, your place in the garden is incredibly important and obviously you shouldn't do nothing. Just by simply breathing you significantly benefit plants assuming that they are getting adequate light, humidity, and heat (and wind unless you are growing plants from the jungle floor which have adapted otherwise). Humans have a huge role in a thriving ecosystem I am convinced of that. You will find your place surely. And you have already done that just by being in the garden!!

  8. I'm really enjoying your videos, especially this one. I appreciate your perspective and hope to have as much patience as you when I start large scale gardening.

  9. Go raibh maith agat as na fΓ­seΓ‘in thar cionn, Had the same experience with aphids on corn, decided not to intervene and within days ladybugs had begun laying dozens of tiny orange eggs on the corn leaves which soon turned into the relatively huge larvae which raced up and down the corn plants every day devouring the aphids, and then they went into their cocoon spell before emerging as lovely multicolored ladybugs. The irish for a ladybird is "bΓ³Γ­n dΓ©" which directly translates to "god's little cows". Bainim me taitneamh agus eolas as do chuid fΓ­seΓ‘in i gconaΓ­

  10. I've found that leaving the greenhouse open during the day and closing the doors only at night works well to reduce pest numbers. Plants that are stressed by aphids and mites produce chemicals called alarm signals that announce to predators that food is available. The problem is that because pests reproduce so rapidly, at least until the predators arrive to cut their numbers, you have to suppress your instinct to attack the pests yourself. After a week or two, though, you can spot aphid larvae and the carcasses of aphids that have been hollowed out by parasitic wasps that have come in through the open doors. In spring I go out early on sunny days and collect up to 20 ladybirds that are sunning themselves on wooden posts and nettles. When left alone in a container for half an hour, many will mate and then lay eggs on my aphid-infested greenhouse plants. It helps to keep some 'sacrificial plants' in the greenhouse – rocket is a good one, as some individual plants seem to have no resistance to aphids – to provide an alternative supply of prey. But the main thing is not to let the plants in the greenhouse overheat: high temperatures seriously weaken the plants' resistance to aphids and (worse), spider mites.

  11. I’m with you on you approaches to everything except the rats. As far as I’m concerned these can’t be culled quickly enough.

  12. Rabbits are more of a problem for our garden in the Pacific NW. Since we also have slugs, aphids and rodents, wouldn’t you have rabbits in Ireland?

  13. Yeah, I have had domestic fancy rats and they are seriously awesome creatures, except they breed so very quickly. Great job on your garden wisdom and terrific video!

  14. perennials are things that bugs, birds, and other critters see as stability. They move in because of that and create real stability.

  15. You could plant nonproductive plants between your beds to act as decoys for the aphids. They love plants that are naturally sappy.
    I've heard copper tape works well as a slug deterrent. You could also use a cover crop instead of mulch where possible. I know there a a good many that are nitrogen fixers which would perform the same function.
    The only tip I have for rats is a lever bucket trap. It's a pair of boards balanced on the edge of a bucket with bait in the center. The "bridge" falls away when they try for the bait and they fall in.

    Btw, it was really weird not having the polytunnel wall in the background!

  16. I love this video. You are so insightful and very personable. While watching though, a couple random questions popped into my head. What is the weather like over there at this time? Seriously, I'm freezing here in Colorado. Secondly, why doesn't Bruce have more of an Irish accent? Hmmm

  17. @RED Gardens, Very well made video, as usual. Thank you.
    I too have seen foxes return to once human habitat. Hopefully this will have an appreciable impact on the rodent population with time.
    One thought about the cats… the particular cats you have aren't hunters. Behavior is very much learned among animals and not having the skill, or drive, to murder small animals precludes usefulness in your case.
    Lastly, are you finding that your soil amendments(compost, manure, etc) are actually increasing the volume of your soil? If so, is it possible for you to have raised beds without the slug-attracting wood or stone border?

  18. greeting from Croatia
    One duck on 100 square m will reduce the slug population.
    Don't let them go in the garden ,instead make tunnel perimeter around with mesh or portable fence.
    For aphids use a nettle liquid.
    Couple hens on the compost pile will reduce the rat population.

  19. My family hunted game and gardened as a youth. We bartered with the local dairy producers. We raised chickens for eggs and dinner. I had pets of many varieties that brought enjoyment. The pests are merely doing as created. Curse you pestilence I reallly wanted that.
    They can and do decimate ones food source and can harbor illnesses. With all the time effort and resources we apply to providing it does become necessary to dispatch the critters that become adversarial to our goal. Sorry critters. Ya gotta go.
    My cats have brought me mice and play with them. Bad kitty!

  20. 0.38 – β€œ…I hunt them down and kill them.”

    Great line Bruce 🀣! There seems to be a perennial argument on The Guardian gardening pages about this approach. There’s a lot of wishy-washy handwringing about killing and deterring pests. My take: biodiversity essential, chemicals have their place (only in exceptional circumstances), bottom line – I’m not going to all the effort of growing food just for nature to get a free lunch.

    Scissors are essential for dealing with slugs. However, I'd have words with those cats – bloody useless!

  21. For slugs also encourage amphibians with a few wildlife ponds. Also encourage ants as they will eat them at all stages of their life cycle.
    For rats encourage regular visits by foxes by helping worm population and availability (dig over beds and use green mulches).
    To encourage ladybirds let elderberry bushes grow.
    Cabbage white caterpillars can be placed in an escape proof open container for wasps to feast on…

  22. Cats are bad for small birds and mice (whuch are good for bumble bees). Cats won't touch rats unless its a life or death situation in an enclosed space

  23. I have a patch of Jerusalem artichokes that seem to encourage and tolerate large aphid colonies. That patch provides me with all the lady bug instar I could want. Also, learning to ID the eggs of predators vs pest has been helpful. Previously, I destroyed all eggs I found on my plants. Still though, a proper balance of who eats who, is going to leave entirely too many pest. So, I like your healthy plant approach.

  24. Hoverflie are my favorites aphid hunters, but have noticed a fair amount of common red soldier beetles lately, they also predate aphids but eat pollen :(. It may be worth dedicating a small strips of land or even containers for flowerbeds to attract and repel such beasties, like types of Marigold will efffectively repel whiteflies. And if the rats are too much of a problem, weils disease is something to be carfeful off, buy a decent ratting dog or head down your local and see a man about a ferret.

  25. Ah, you've spoken my mind exactly! I keep telling people 'The more you interfere, the more you will need to interfere'. Like you I am trying to find ways to tolerate crop losses while providing habitat and food for predators. I'm mainly doing this by simply having more land, planting more crops, growing more perennials. With pests like leek moth becoming ever more invasive I'm investing in netting. Sadly there's no sign of hedgehogs for the gazillion slugs on my plots, so it's me and the scissors. I read somewhere that apex predators were the sign of a healthy ecosystem. So, foxes, hawks etc. I'm still waiting for owls to realise the easy meals our infestation of parakeets makes.

  26. Throw some chickens into that mix and it gets more confusing.
    I found my best strategy is to plant at least a third more then I need and share.

  27. You need to get a different cat. We have three different ones and only one is what we would call a mouser. The other two are relatively indifferent to mice but our mouser will attack on sight.

  28. Lot to think about here , as you know we have racoons and skunks to deal with. They are a little bit bigger then rats , and the ones in Toronto carry knifes .

  29. You might find a few good solutions to your rat problem in 'Shawn Woods' channel. No shortage of traps, demonstrating very well which works for what, from mice to skunks (and boars if I remember correctly)

  30. I really enjoy the time and details that go into your videos. Your analysis of problems is extremely enlightening and appreciated. Your channel seems more like a journal for you going through your different problems and what worked and didn't work. It is one of the only channels out there like this. Many are telling you what works. Often times when dealing with entire ecosystems it is better knowledge to learn what doesn't work and understand why it doesn't work. Instead of a 30-second video saying to get ladybugs to solve pests, you made a 10-minute detailed whitepaper study of what worked and didn't and why. Thank you so much for making these.

  31. With cats – they are individuals. Some are hunters to rival The Terminator – others not. We have a semi-feral cat who is scared of mice (!!) and the sweetest lap cat who has caught 4 rabbits in a day. As they get older they seem to prefer hassling us for a tin to hunting πŸ™‚

  32. If you want to bait the fox into staying, make a fox den. They are quite a few videos on YouTube. I put them around my farm to bait cyoties. Cyoties like killing them and the pelts of cyoties are great for gloves… Plus knowing where they think free food is, fox den, keeps them away from my ducks, chickens, and kidding goats.
    I justified the "expence" as they are to few of them in the area and one farmer near by noticed his barn looked less infested in about two months of me putting a den in.

  33. Not sure if you have companies that carry beneficial insects, but here is what I use. I am in Florida zone 9B. Bugs are a big problem and I don't like any kind of poison either. For aphids I use Green Lacewing. In the last two years I've had very little problems with them. I also use general assassin bugs for things like caterpillars and such. Here is a link to the company I use, perhaps you can find something similar there.
    https://www.arbico-organics.com/category/beneficial-insects-organisms

  34. How about setting a trap like this? : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SIlYiiCGLI
    I think THIS IS the best way to solve your problem.

  35. I can sense your excitement about just having discovered a whole new field you can learn about. Have fun and please keep sharing your experiences.

  36. I accidently introduced minute parasitic wasps into my polytunnel I think on a bought basil plant. The aphids quite quickly became metallic brassy golden blobs And werent a problem any more.

  37. I've had an invasion of slugs this year. It was awful because their favorite food were young plants. But then not one, THREE hedgehogs settled in. They've clean all the slugs to last one. From last months of summer through autumn I haven't seen a single slug around. Now they're overwintering under a heap of old hay and under the wood pile. Hopefully they will stay around next year too.

  38. could you keep some plants that would be an aphid habitat for the 🐞? we used to have a bush that was an aphid hot bed and left it to be the 🐞 main hub. though i'm sure you have limited space so maybe that's not the best idea

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