I know you might have cabbage white butterfly caterpillars on your brassicas, aphids on your beans and botrytis fungus on your zucchini – before you reach in the shelves of the gardening department of your local store for a so called “natural safe” organic version of a pesticide, such as Derris, Neem Oil, Pyrethrum, Copper, or something worse, to wipe out the green fly, caterpillars and botrytis – STOP – for just one moment! I do have a list of some organic and eco alternatives below, especially those you can make yourself – BUT – first I would like to take you on an exciting journey of discovery before you resort to grabbing that bottle.

There is an old saying “PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE”. What is lacking in the conventional approach to pests and diseases of plants is the knowledge about how to create a truly healthy environment and a vibrant balanced soil life – which leads to the plants becoming increasingly resistant to both pests and diseases. The accepted conventional wisdom is that pests and diseases are inevitable and growing food is a continual warfare – and indeed it is – if one grows a single variety of crop repeatedly (mono-cropping), consistently destroying soil humus, soil life, and natural fertility, and using chemical fertilisers and poisonous sprays in the process. However, there is exciting new knowledge (and some not so new) about how to help create and raise healthy soils and plants and crops with high levels of resistance.

Here is the plan:


a) Create a healthy, thriving, vibrant, living soil with an optimum humus content of 6 per cent, (as described in the section ‘How to Build Soil FertilityPractical Methods’, by the regular making and applications of compost, growing and incorporating green manures and using mulches.

b) Use Biodynamic 500 spray in the spring and autumn, and Biodynamic compost preparations regularly – see: Bio-Dynamic Gardening and Farming in the section – ‘Different Approaches’.

c) Also create the ideal soil mineral balance – see Biological Gardening and Farming in the section – ‘Different Approaches’.

Use all these strategies and you will see how your topsoil darkens, becomes increasingly deeper and becomes more and more crumbly and easier to work – in other words the creation of what is called ‘Good Tilth’. There are now a large number of present day horticulturists and farmers who have never experienced ‘Good Tilth’, because the chemical methods of the previous generations have destroyed that very tilth that provides vibrant living soils, with easily worked crumbly soil and high levels of water and nutrient retention.

A healthy soil helps produce healthy plants that are increasingly resistance to disease. Many farmers and gardeners, who practice organic, biological, bio-dynamic or other sustainable and regenerative forms of growing crops, have noticed for a long time that as the soil improves, and the bio-diversity of their properties increases, so do the pests and diseases reduce. This is something that we, and our neighbouring farmer, noticed on our farm over many years. We of course expected this, but for our neighbouring farmer it was a revelation, which turned him increasingly to more sustainable farming practices.

2nd: Create an environment in your garden or plot of land that has the most bio-diverse environment that you can achieve. Do this by growing as wide a range of vegetables and fruit and nut trees as possible. Environmental scientists have long recognised that the health of an eco-system is directly proportional to the number of species within it – the greater the number – the greater the health. Another way to increase the number of plant species in your garden, orchard or farm, is to plant companion flowers and herbs in amongst crops and in other areas of the property, especially those that attract bees and beneficial insects (those that predate the pests).

3rd: Rotate your crops. Crop rotations are where a crop of one family (or type) is not grown in one bed or area more than every three or four years and each year the crop is moved to the next area or bed. Growing the same crop in the same area year after year is asking for trouble. Crop rotation will help guard against attacks from pests and diseases by promoting generally healthier and more robust plants. There will be a reduction in the build up of pests and diseases in the soil, associated with a specific plant family. Rotating crops does not ensure complete control of pests and diseases, but it definitely helps when used with the other methods mentioned here.

4th: Take a look at the new generation of leading edge sophisticated Biological and Eco products that can be used to increase the health of the soil and to increase a plant’s resistance to both pests and diseases, which I have listed below. These are very exciting modern developments.


a) Use Biodynamic preparations regularly and carry out seed sowing, planting, composting and other garden work, as much as possible using the Bio-dynamic Gardening Calendar to bring about balance and healing in the soil. By working creatively with these subtle energies, gardeners and farmers are able to significantly enhance the health of their soils, gardens and farms and the quality and flavour of their food. See: the section ‘Different Approaches’ – Biodynamic Gardening & Farming.

b) Correct the nutrient balance in your soils according to Albrecht’s and Reams’ formulas, and build up your soil’s humus content to an optimum of 5-6 per cent. See: the section ‘Different Approaches’ – Biological Gardening and Farming. When soil nutrients are in balance and there is a healthy level of soil humus, the whole soil eco-system works at its optimum, soil life flourishes and everything becomes self-regulating; as Michael Astera has said:

“A wonderful thing about a balanced, mineralised soil based on the soil’s exchange capacity, is that everything else becomes easier; the soil pH self-adjusts to its optimum, plant disease and insect problems largely disappear.”

If you read Michael Astera’s ‘The Ideal Soil’, you will see it is possible to balance your soil nutrients by using natural organic compounds if you wish. Alternatively, you can use compound products that help correct the soil’s nutrient balance, and add beneficial soil organisms at the same time, by applying Eco Fertilisers that have been inspired by Dr Reams’ work, from companies like:

USA - 'AEA - Advancing Eco Agriculture' & 'ILA - International Ag Labs'

New Zealand – ‘Environmental Fertilisers’

UK – ‘Eco Worm’ & ‘Symbio’

Australia – ‘Life Force’, ‘Eco Growth’ & ‘Batphone’

As we have already seen in the section Biological Gardening and Farming, in the section ‘Different Approaches’, when soils and plants become healthier, plants seem to progress through several stages of overall health, which results in high levels of resistance to pests and diseases. Let us introduce ourselves to these progressive stages that lead to greater soil and plant health:

Phase 1

In the early stages of a plant’s growth and health, the plants needs for adequate sunlight, air, water, and minerals are all being met; and an efficient photosynthetic process is working, absorbing Carbon Dioxide from the air, water from the soil, and with the energy input from the sun, they begin producing plant sugars and carbohydrates. Initially, the sugars formed during this process will be simple sugars such as fructose, sucrose, and dextrose. As the process evolves, more complex sugars, begin to develop, which are used to create cellulose, lignin, pectins, and starches. These are produced in greater quantities as the plant becomes healthier.

As long as plants are photosynthesizing properly and producing pectins and other complex carbohydrates, the plants seem to gain resistance to soil borne fungi. Saprophytic fungi only become a problem when plants are unhealthy to the point where they no longer developing complex carbohydrates, this regularly occurs when simple chemical methods are used, which increases simples sugars in the plants, which lays them open to fungus diseases and predators that require simple sugars and proteins in order to thrive. As long as the plants are producing complex carbohydrates, fungi pathogens cease to be a problem.

Phase 2

As plants become even healthier, their photosynthetic energy increases, and they begin to transfer sugars to the root system, which excrete sugars into the soil, feeding beneficial micro-organisms in the rhizosphere around their roots. This increase in food for the soil microbes stimulates them to mineralize and release minerals and trace elements from the soil, providing them for the plants. Plants utilize these essential minerals to form complex carbohydrates and complete proteins. These complex sugars, when combined with Nitrogen are used to form amino acids, which are bonded together to form complete proteins.

Many insects have a simple digestive system that lacks the digestive enzymes needed to digest complex proteins. Plants that have been over stimulated through the use of Nitrogen fertilisers have elevated levels of soluble amino acids in the plant sap, which attract insect pests. Healthy plants which are forming complete proteins and have low levels of soluble amino acids, are not so susceptible to insects, because with their simple digestive systems they are unable to digest complete proteins. This would include insects such as aphids and white flies and especially larval insects such cabbage white caterpillars and many others.

Phase 3

As plants become even healthier, photosynthetic energy and efficiency increases and plants develop a surplus of energy beyond that needed for basic growth and reproduction. As a result up to 70% of the total sugar production is excreted through their roots, feeding and encouraging even greater populations of beneficial micro-organisms. Later, the plant begins to store this surplus energy in the form of lipids – plant fats – in both vegetative and reproduction tissue.

As energy and lipid levels increase, the cell membrane becomes much stronger and more resilient enabling the plants to better resist fungal pathogens and the probing mouthparts of aphids etc. It appears as though once plants achieve higher lipid levels and stronger cell membranes, they become more resistant to the airborne fungal pathogens such as downy and powdery mildew and late blight, as well as some bacterial invaders, notably fire blight, scab, rust, bacterial speck, bacterial spot, etc.

It should be noted that plants must have a thriving microbial community in the soil’s rhizosphere before they will develop to this stage of plant health, otherwise, they will lack the energy needed to develop higher levels of lipids.

Phase 4

The elevated lipid levels developed in Phase 3 are then used to build complex plant protective compounds called secondary metabolites (essential oils). The plant builds these essential oils, to protect itself from would-be parasites, UV radiation, or overgrazing by insects or herbivores. Many of these compounds, contain anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, as well as digestion (enzyme) inhibitors, which make them unpalatable to insects.

Once plants achieve this high level of performance they become immune to insect attack even from insects that have a better-developed digestive system, such as the beetle family. At this point, plants have a tremendous level of stress tolerance and can also cope with weather extremes reasonably well.

There is also evidence that when soil nutrients are balanced, the soil’s pH automatically settles to 6.4, and along with the health improvements already discussed, the plant’s sap also settles at pH 6.4, which pests and diseases find difficult to cope with; higher or lower pH levels than this and problems with pests and diseases increase.

By creating a vibrant, healthy living soil with a balanced mineral content, exceptionally healthy plants are produced, which can then resist pests and diseases.


The greatest mistake when growing any crop is to grow one crop of one variety over a large area and then repeatedly grow that crop over several seasons back-to-back, in other words mono-cropping. This form of growing food is a complete anathema to any kind of sustainable practice. It has lead to the worst extremes of destructive, unsustainable horticulture and agriculture the world has ever seen. The alternative is to create a rich and varied environment.

When planning your garden, or property, arrange to have as many varieties of vegetables, fruit and insect attractant plants that you can, including several varieties of each plant – for example – two or three varieties of plums and apples. Also encourage a wide range of insect eating birds, like blue tits and other north hemisphere birds, and white-eyes here in New Zealand. Encourage ground hunting beetles, centipedes, Ichneumon wasps and other predatory ‘friends’ that eat the nasties, by leaving wild areas and long grass in odd corners.

You might have begun to realise that none of the suggestions on how to optimise the health of your soils and plants are to be used in isolation, but ideally used together. Environmentalists are aware that one of the best ways to judge the health of any ecosystem is to study how many species of plant and animal life it contains. The number of species in any given ecosystem is directly proportional to the health of that system. Its strength and durability comes from its flexibility and its flexibility comes from its wide variety. With this in mind we should constantly be looking to increase the number of different species on our properties whether it is a commercial enterprise, a community garden, or a back garden – all will benefit from as wide a range of crops, natives, water, trees and animals. By animals, I don’t exclusively mean domesticated animals; it’s just that when a healthy balanced biodiverse ecosystem is created, birds, earthworms, bees and other beneficial insects, and many other forms of animals flourish.

Crop Diversity

Let’s start with the crops themselves. Growing a wide range of different crops from many different plant families will help in the creation of a bio-diverse system.

Here are a wide range of vegetables, and fruit, such as raspberries

Here are a wide range of vegetables, and fruit, such as raspberries

Here are a wide range of flowering plants and shrubs, as well as vegetables and fruit trees

Here are a wide range of flowering plants and shrubs, as well as vegetables and fruit trees

It is important to become familiar with the plant families that we use for food if we are going to grow a range of crops that compliment each other when they are growing and also to provide a varied diet for ourselves. Even growing different varieties of the same crop will help to reduce disease and pests and even increase yields. An example of this is the revival of an old technique used in China for centuries. Modern Chinese scientists have been experimenting with the ancient method of growing more than one variety of traditional rice together in one field, compared with the modern practice of growing a single variety. The mixed rice not only out-produced the modern single variety but disease was reduced by 94%! As a result they were able to grow this mixture of rice strains without the use of pesticides, whilst at the same time enjoying an 18% increase in production – and this was achieved with only different strains of one type of crop – mix many different species and the results are even more dramatic!

See: David Adam’s article Mixed Rice in nature the Journal of Science – 17th August 2000 –

Mixed Fruit and Nut Trees:

As with vegetables and other crops, so it is with fruit and nut trees – mix them. Even in commercial orchards they often grow more than one variety. Growing different varieties of apples is not only better for pollination, but it also helps in disease control, and a good mixture of species is even better – for example from our own 600 square metre (718 square yard) garden we grow:

3 varieties of espalier apples, + 2 varieties of espalier pears, + 3 varieties of espalier plums, + 2 varieties of Feijoas, + 3 varieties of Blueberries, + 2 varieties of Figs, + 2 varieties of Grapes, + 3 varieties of Hazel Nuts, + 2 varieties of Raspberries, + 2 varieties of Olives, + 1 Dwarf Cherry + 1 Peach + 1 Almond + 2 Lemons + 1 Orange + 1 Mandarin + 1 Grapefruit + 1 Tangelo + 1 Lime + 1 Boysenberry + 1 Blackberry + 1 Elderberry + 2 Kiwi Berries + 1 Persimmon + 1 Pepino + 1 New Zealand Cranberry + 2 Gooseberries + 6 Blackcurrants + 1 Whitecurrant + 20 Strawberries.

Bee & Beneficial Insect Flowers:

Having achieved a variety of crops, let’s now add flowers amongst or around the edges of the crops. This will introduce yet more biodiversity, as well as attracting bees to pollinate our fruit and vegetable crops and predatory insects that will prey on pests and help to keep them in check. Here is a list of flowers that bees and beneficial insects like:

Bergamot, Borage, Buckwheat, Calendula, Catmint, Chives, Cornflower, Cosmos, Crimson Clover, Dill, Echinacea, Lavender, Lemon Verbena, Nasturtiums, Peppermint, Phacelia, Poached egg plant, Red Clover, Rosemary, Sage, Sun Flower, Thyme, White Alyssum, Zinnia

It is also worth planting native insect attractant plants from your part of the world. A little research will provide you with a list.

White Alyssum planted around fruit trees attracts beneficial insects. Also, some seed companies now sell ‘Beneficial Insect Blends’ of flowers for gardens and orchards.

For further Information: Attracting Beneficial Insects –


Predators that help control pests will naturally increase when you create a bio-diverse environment and stop using toxic sprays. Here is a list of the most common ones:

Ants: Feed on fruit fly, codling moth, some caterpillars etc.

Beetles: Rove beetles, soldier beetles, tiger beetles etc., eat a range of insect pests

Birds: Friends as well as foes, many feed on hundreds of pests

Centipedes: One leg per segment, (plant-eating millipedes have many legs per segment). Centipedes eat caterpillars, slugs etc.

Dragonflies: Eat mosquitoes and other insects, sadly including bees

Frogs & Toads: Need water and damp dark places, eat slugs

Hoverflies: Eat aphids, scale insects, mites, young caterpillars, larvae of pear/cherry slugs

Lacewings: Eat aphids, scale insects, mealy bugs, mites, whitefly, etc.

Ladybirds & larvae: Eat scale insects, aphids, whitefly, mealy bugs etc.

Lizards: Eat slugs, snails etc.

Parasitic Wasps: Ichneumon wasps lay eggs on many pests and eat caterpillars

Praying Mantises: adults eat caterpillars, bugs, beetles etc., young eat aphids, sadly they also eat beneficial insects

Spiders: eat flies, mosquitoes, caterpillars, codling moth larvae, butterflies etc.

Useful Companion Herbs & Flowers:

ANISE Is a good host for predatory wasps which prey on aphids and it is also said to repel aphids. It deters pests from brasicas by camouflaging their odour. It improves the vigour of any plants growing near it.

BASIL can be helpful in repelling thrips.

BEE BALM Great for attracting beneficial insects.

BORAGE Deters cabbage root fly grubs. One of the best bee and predatory wasp attracting plants. Borage may benefit any plant it is growing next to by increasing its resistance to pests and disease. Plant near tomatoes to improve growth and disease resistance.

BUCKWHEAT Attracts hoverflies.

CARAWAY The flowers attract a number of beneficial insects especially the tiny parasitic wasps.

CHAMOMILE, GERMAN Host to hoverflies and wasps. Growing chamomile of any type is considered a tonic for anything you grow in the garden.

CHERVIL Keeps aphids off lettuce. Said to deter slugs.

CHIVES Planted among apple trees it helps prevent scab over time.

CHRYSANTHEMUMS C. coccineum kills root nematodes (the bad ones).

CLOVER Especially good to plant under grapevines. Attracts many beneficial insects. Useful planted around apple trees to attract predators of the woolly aphid. Clover interplanted with cabbage has been shown to reduce cabbage aphid and cabbage root fly populations by interfering with the colonization of the pests and increasing the number of predator ground beetles.

CORIANDER Repels aphids, and spider mites.

DILL Attracts hoverflies and predatory wasps. Repels aphids and spider mites to some degree.

GARLIC Plant near roses to repel aphids. It also benefits apple trees, pear trees, cucumbers, peas, lettuce and celery. Garlic accumulates sulphur: a naturally occurring fungicide which will help in the garden with disease prevention. Garlic is systemic in action as it is taken up by the plants through their pores and when garlic tea is used as a soil drench it is also taken up by the plant roots. Has value in offending codling moths, root maggots, snails, and carrot root fly.

GERANIUM (Bedding) Interplanted with Cabbage it distracts egg-laying cabbage root flies.

HOREHOUND (Marrubium Vulgare) Like many varieties in the mint family, the many tiny flowers attract Braconid and Icheumonid wasps, and Tachnid and Syrid flies. The larval forms of these insects parasitize or otherwise consume many other insect pests. For best results use horehound directly as a companion plant.

HYSSOP Deters cabbage moths and flea beetles.

LAMBS QUARTERS Planting around cabbages been found to be the best defence against cabbage root flies – it masks the cabbage’s scent.

LAVENDER Prolific flowering lavender nourishes many nectar feeding and beneficial insects. Lavenders can protect nearby plants from insects such as whitefly, and lavender planted under and near fruit trees can deter codling moth.

LOVAGE Good habitat for predatory ground beetles.

MARIGOLDS (CALENDULA) (Calendula officinalis) Given a lot of credit as a pest deterrent. Plant freely throughout the garden. The calendula you choose must be a scented variety for them to work. The sticky seed heads attract shield bugs, spider mites and slugs, and can then be thrown away with the pests.

MARIGOLD (FRENCH) (Tagetes patula) has roots that exude a substance which spreads in their immediate vicinity killing nematodes. For nematode control you want to plant dense areas of them. There have been some studies done that proved this nematode killing effect lasted for several years after the plants were grown. These marigolds also help to deter whiteflies when planted around tomatoes and can be used in greenhouses for the same purpose. Whiteflies hate the smell of marigolds. Do not plant French marigolds next to bean plants.

MARIGOLD (MEXICAN) (Tagetes minuta) is the most powerful of the insect repelling marigolds and may also overwhelm weed roots such as bind weed & couch grass! Be careful it can have an herbicidal effect on some plants like beans and cabbage.

NASTURTIUMS Plant as a barrier around tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, and under fruit trees. Deters woolly aphids, whiteflies, shield bugs, and other pests of the Cucurbitaceae family. Great trap crop for aphids (in particular the black aphids), especially the yellow flowering varieties. It has been the practice of some fruit growers to plant nasturtiums every year in the root zone of fruit trees to allow the trees to take up the pungent odour of the plants and repel bugs. Studies say it is among the best at attracting predatory insects. Do not plant near cauliflower.

OREGANO Can be used with most crops but especially good for cabbage. Plant near broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower to repel cabbage butterfly. Also benefits grapes.

PARSLEY Let some go to flower to attract tiny parasitic wasps and hoverflies.

PETUNIAS They repel the asparagus beetle, leafhoppers, certain aphids and general garden pests. Plant everywhere.

PHACELIA Good as a companion crop to most plants, as it is a nectar source for bees, parasitic wasps and other beneficial insects.

POACHED EGG PLANT Grow with tomatoes, they will attract hover flies and hover flies eat aphids. •

ROSEMARY Deters cabbage moths, and carrot flies. Use cuttings placed by the crowns of carrots to deter carrot root flies.

SAGE A companion plant to broccoli, cauliflower, rosemary, cabbage, and carrots to deter cabbage moths, beetles, flea beetles and carrot root flies. Sage repels cabbage moths and black flea beetles. Do not plant near cucumbers, onions or rue.

SUMMER SAVORY Discourages cabbage moths and black aphids. Honey bees love it.

SWEET ALYSSUM Direct seed or plant sweet alyssum near plants that have been attacked by aphids in the past. Alyssum flowers attract hoverflies. Their blooms draw bees to pollinate early blooming fruit trees

TARRAGON Plant throughout the garden, not many pests like this one.

THYME Deters cabbage root fly.

WORMWOOD An excellent deterrent to most insects. Don’t plant wormwood with peas or beans.

YARROW Yarrow has insect repelling qualities. It also attracts predatory wasps and ladybirds. It may increase the essential oil content of herbs when planted among them, which helps deter pests and fungus diseases.

ZINNIA All zinnias attract bees and other insect pollinators.

The lesson here is that diversity, rather than a strange plant combination, is the key to a healthy garden. Simply grow plants together that share common preferences for site, soil and season, and space them as closely as you can without crowding them. Herbs and flowers won’t fill up your dinner plate, but having them in your property can go a long way toward boosting populations of beneficial insects – your garden’s police force. Which insect attractant plants are best? Look in your own garden for answers by taking notice of plants that have many tiny insects when they are in bloom. Some have found that flowering Greek oregano and various thymes become very attractive to beneficial insects; other gardeners report great success with sweet alyssum, which often blooms all summer. Keep an eye open for plants that insects can’t resist. Some scientists think that when strong insect attracting plants are in bloom, pest insects within 15m (50ft) are likely to be kept in check.


To increase the beneficial effects of growing a wide range of different crops, employ the age old tried and tested system of crop rotations. Rotating crops means growing one plant family (or sometimes two or more) in one plot, not more often than once in three or four years. This helps to control diseases that build up in one family, if they are planted in the same place year after year, and this is where our understanding of plant families becomes most useful.

Plant Families:

To plan your crop rotation it is important to learn edible plant families and their different needs and how they help each other and fit into our biodiverse system. Here is a list of the most common in their family groupings:

Amaranthaceae: Amaranth, Beetroot, Fodder Beet, Quinoa, Silver Beet, Spinach, Sugar Beet

Amaryllidaceae: Chives, Garlic, Leeks, Onions

Apiaceae: Angelica, Carrots, Celery, Celeriac, Chervil, Coriander, Cumin, Dill, Fennel, Lovage, Parsley, Parsnips

Brassicaceae: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collard, Kale, Misome, Mizuna, Mustard, Pak Choi, Radish, Rocket, Swedes, Turnips

Cucurbitaceae: Cucumber, Marrow, Melon, Pumpkin, Squash, Zucchini

Fabaceae: Beans and Peas

Poaceae: Barley, Maize & Sweet Corn, Millet, Oats, Rice, Rye, Sorghum, Wheat

Solanaceae: Cape Gooseberry, Chilli Pepper, Egg Plant, Pepino, Potato, Sweet Pepper, Tamarillo, Tomato

Understanding edible plant families has important implications when growing crops. Some families are heavy feeders, others are light feeders and each family has its own feeding preferences – see below. Each family also has its own pests and diseases associated with it. By having as wide a variety of crops helps to balance out nutritional requirements as well as reducing the possible build up of disease.

Examples of Crop Rotations:

One example is the old classical four-course rotation:

1st year: Potatoes (heavy feeders, apply compost or composted manure) followed by a mixed winter green manure crop of Mustard and Oats

2nd year: Peas & Beans (light feeders, nitrogen nodules on their roots, enjoy the remains of the compost, good time to lime if needed) followed by over wintering brassicas and/or a Blue Lupin and Oats mix of green manure

3rd year: Brassicas, including Swedes & Turnips (heavy feeders, apply Eco or Organic Fertiliser)

4th year: Roots (carrots, parsnips light feeders – but celery, onions, leeks and garlic are heavy feeders, needing a rich soil including Eco or Organic Fertiliser and liquid manures several times during growth)

Next year each crop moves on like musical chairs – potatoes follow roots, peas and beans follow potatoes and so on. There are of course many different varieties of crop rotation systems, three-courses, five-courses, six-courses etc. One course could be devoted to tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Another course could be devoted to squash, melons, zucchini and cucumbers. Another could be to grow compost crops. It’s up to you, but remember to leave at least two years and preferably three, between members of the same plant family.

For those who prefer to grow only a few early potatoes when they are more expensive, or you are short of room, this three-course rotation might suit you best:

1st year: Apply two buckets of compost, or well-rotted manure per square metre and dig in. Grow: Early Potatoes, Carrots, Beetroot, Parsnips, Onions, Leeks, Garlic, Tomatoes, Zucchini, Squash, Celery, Celeriac, Egg plants, Peppers, Cucumbers – followed by a winter green manure crop of Mustard and Oats

2nd year: Lime (if necessary) to bring the pH to 6.4. Grow: Peas, Dwarf beans, Runner beans, Broad beans, Sweet corn, Spinach, Silver beet, Lettuce and other salad crops – followed by a winter green manure crop of Lupins and Oats, or Vetch and Oats

3rd year: Apply Eco or Organic Fertiliser. Grow: Brassicas, i.e. Cabbages, Cauliflowers, Broccoli, Kale, Brussels sprouts, Swedes, Turnips, Radish – followed by a winter green manure crop of Lupins and Oats to feed the hungry crops next year

Because we wanted to grow tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in their own plot and because we like growing sweet corn, squash, pumpkins and climbing beans for eating fresh and drying, together in one plot, called the ‘Three Sisters’ (from the traditional way of growing these three in Central America), we developed this six-course rotation:

1st year: Potatoes – heavy feeders, apply compost or composted manure at two buckets per square metre – followed by a winter green manure crop of Mustard and Oats

2nd year: Peas & Beans – followed by a winter green manure crop of Lupins and Oats

3rd year: Brassicas, i.e. Cabbages, Cauliflowers, Broccoli, Kale, Brussels sprouts, Swedes, Turnips, Radish – followed by a winter green manure crop of Lupins

4th year: Tomatoes, Peppers & Egg Plants – followed by a winter green manure crop of Lupins to feed the hungry crops next year

5th year: ‘Three Sisters’ – Tall Sweet Corn in the middle, Squash grown from the corners to cover the ground and Climbing Beans to grow up the Corn when they are half grown – followed by a winter green manure crop of Vetch and Oats

6th year: Roots: Carrots, Parsnips light feeders – but Celery, Onions, Leeks and Garlic need liquid manures during growth and or blood and bone fertiliser – followed by a winter green manure crop of Blue Lupins and Oats for the hungry crop of Potatoes to follow

You will have noticed that the Potatoes and Tomatoes, as they are of the same family, have two other crops between them, also Turnips and Swedes are roots, but as they belong to the brassica family, so they are put in the Brassica bed.


These are exciting times for those who want to use safe products for preventing and dealing with pests and diseases. There are three main types of products that will help you to create a healthy living soil, more resistant plants and biological ways of dealing with pests and diseases. These include:

Balanced fertilisers:

a) Which enhance plant resistance to pests and diseases.

b) Enhance the mineral density of food for human and animal consumption.

c) Increase beneficial soil life activity.

d) Build organic soil carbon levels and soil structure

e) Improve yields and crop quality.

f) Increase nitrogen fixation from the atmosphere and solubilisation of locked up phosphate reserves

g) Stimulate root growth.

Plant Health Boosters:

Which trigger or 'elicit' the plant’s natural defence mechanisms.

Example: (Naturezest

Biological Pest & Disease Control:

USA – AEA (Advanced Eco Agriculture) and Internation Ag Labs

‘SoilGard’ from CERTIS USA

Custom Biologicals

UK – Real IPM UK


and EcoWorm


Trichoderma viride spray & powder from

New Zealand – Enviromental Fertilisers

Daltons Organic Bio-Fungicide (from Bunnings)

Australia – EcoGrowth

Superior Fertilisers


Cabbage Root Fly

a) For those that live in countries where cabbage root fly is a problem, there are two types of barrier. One is to cut a 10-15cm (4-6in) square of either tarred roofing felt or foam-rubber carpet underlay. Cut a slit into the centre and a small cross-slit at the centre. You can then slide the sheet over the stem of the newly planted out brassica seedling as in the illustration:

This method has stood the test of time, and one that we used regularly when living in the UK. There is another method that is worth a try, which involves rapping aluminium foil around the stem of the seedling so that it is 5cm (2in) above and below the soil level, so that even if the fly lays her eggs next to the stem the grubs are unable to get to the stem and therefore the roots.

b) Another kind of barrier is netting. Standard netting erected over fruit and vegetables that are susceptible to birds, and very fine netting used to protect vegetables against cabbage butterflies and psylid flies, etc. If you have long rectangular veg beds, the easiest way is to bend thick black domestic water hosing in loops down the bed at regular intervals, then stretch the netting over and peg down with thick wire hoops.


Traps can be very effective. Here are some examples we have found exceptionally effective:

• Beer traps for snails and slugs.

• Grease bands and sacking bands, for the control of codling moth.

• Pheromone traps.


The best home-made slug trap is a soup plate, dog’s drinking-trough, or anything made of china, wide and shallow, sunk level with the soil and filled with an equal amount of beer and water. These are very effective traps and it doesn’t have to be expensive beer either, slugs are not fussy! You will need several ‘traps’ in the area where you are having problems and covers for them when heavy rain threatens. The slugs can’t resist the lure of free beer and die happy. Just clear them out regularly and refill from a jug of the mixture. The dead slugs are not poisonous to birds and animals (unlike traditional slug pellets) so you can throw them on the compost heap.

Codling Moths:

The wingless female codling moths lay their eggs in the ‘eye’ of developing apples and the grubs burrow in causing a mess and making the apple unstorable. There are two ways of controlling Codling Moths – the old homemade way and bought in pheromone traps.

1. Sacking: The best control is to tie bands of sacking round the bottom of the trees in early January (southern hemisphere) and July (northern hemisphere) and take them off and burn them in May (southern hemisphere) and October (northern hemisphere). The fully fed caterpillars drop to the ground, or fall in effected fruit after four weeks, and a number of them try to climb the tree to pupate in the bark cracks. They unwisely end their journey in the sacking and get burnt in the sacking in May (SH) November (SH).

2. Grease-Bands: When the sacking comes off in May (southern hemisphere) and October (northern hemisphere), the grease bands should go on. Any insect traffic up and down the tree will not be beneficial. Ants carrying aphids, the wingless female winter moths and March moths in some countries and other nasties, will be stopped in their tracks. You can buy grease-bands ready-made, from the garden sections of stores, or make your own ‘grease mix’.

Here are two recipes:


• 8 parts powdered resin

• 4 parts turpentine

• 4 parts linseed oil

• ½ part honey


• 16 parts powdered resin

• 3 parts treacle

• 3 parts linseed oil

Bring the mixture to boiling point, while being stirred over a slow heat, and then spread onto greaseproof paper (or non-stick cooking paper) while still warm.

It is important to spread onto the paper instead of directly onto the tree, as it is almost impossible to scrape off the bark. The paper should be long enough to encircle the tree trunk plus a little extra, and then tied on with string, top and bottom, 30cm (12in) up from the ground. In early January (SH) and July (NH), they can be easily taken off and disposed of with their captured contents.

You can also buy 'tree grease’ from companies that specialise in organic solutions, which you can spread on your greaseproof paper strips.

3. Pheromone Traps: These are usually used to monitor the presence of codling moths by attracting the flying males with female pheromone added to a sticky pad. This cuts down the mating population of male moths and therefore the grubs. These should be hung in the trees from Sept to March (southern hemisphere) or March to Sept (northern hemisphere). They have 2 sticky pads to cover the six-month period. Many companies sell these traps around the world, just Google to find local suppliers.

4. The Four-Fold Attack: For the control of codling moth, we use a four-fold attack –

1. Sacking,

2. Grease-bands,

3. Pheromone traps

4. A mid-winter spray, when there are no bees and beneficial insects around. Using a half and half mixture of Neem oil and Pyrethrum, which kills any female codling moths wintering in the crevices of the trees.

This four-fold method has been very successful in reducing the codling moths to a minimum on our apple and pear trees.


As you might have realised I am very impressed by the new generation of biological products, however, there are also some preventative sprays you can also make yourself, which we have used extensively over many years. The first, and most obvious one, is compost tea:

a) Compost tea

There are many claims for the benefits of using compost tea, however, the quality of home-made compost can vary considerably and as a result compost teas made from home-made compost can vary in their effectiveness. None the less, regular use of compost teas made from the best made compost can only have beneficial effects on plant health and increase resistance to pests and diseases

(for making the best compost, see the section ‘How to Build Soil Fertility – Practical Methods’ - COMPOST MAKING).

The Benefits of Compost Tea:

• Reduces the need for pesticides.

• Tea-applied microbes increases the number of beneficial organisms on and around the plant to out-compete disease-causing organisms for plant surfaces and food resources.

• Occupies the space around the infection sites so even if the disease-causing organisms do start to grow, they can’t penetrate into the tissues of the plant.

• High nutritional value for plants and soil

• Provides food to a) beneficial organisms that protect plants (occupies infection sites) b) Sustain and inoculate plants c) Help extend root systems d) Add nutrients to the soil

• Increases water and nutrient retention

• Increases essential micro-organisms numbers and activities

• Aids in the breakdown of toxins in the soil and on plants

• Enhances organic taste of fruits and vegetables

• Impossible to over apply to plants and soil because it is completely natural and organic

• Since you are able to spray the tea directly on the leaves of the plants, this puts the organisms directly on the plant as opposed to adding compost to the soil around the plant.

To make compost tea you will need:

1. An aquarium pump

2. Several feet of tubing

3. An aquarium airstone bubbler

4. A stick to stir the mixture

5. Unsulphured molasses (preferably organic)

6. Something to strain the tea, like an old pillowcase, tea towel, or a nylon stocking

7. A bucket – 20 litre (5 gallon) is best

An aquarium pump, tubing & an airstone bubbler

An aquarium pump, tubing & an airstone bubbler


1. Don't try to make compost tea without the aeration equipment.

If the tea is not aerated constantly, the organisms in it will quickly use up the oxygen and the tea will start to stink and become anaerobic.

An anaerobic tea can harm your plants.

20 litre (5 gallon) tub

20 litre (5 gallon) tub

2. It is best to use collected rain water, but if you can only use city water, run the bubblers in it for about an hour first, to blow off any chlorine, otherwise, the chlorine will kill all those beneficial organisms you've gone to the trouble of cultivating.

3. Fill the empty bucket a third full of compost. Don't pack it in; the airstone bubbler needs loose compost to aerate properly.

4. When it's going, add a tablespoon of molasses, dissolved in a little warm rainwater, then add and stir vigorously with the stick. The molasses feeds the bacteria already in the compost and gets the beneficial species growing really well. After stirring, you'll need to rearrange the bubbler so it’s on the bottom and well spaced. Try to stir the tea at least a few times a day. A vigorous mixing with the stick shakes more organisms loose and into the tea. Every time you stir, be sure to reposition the bubbler.

5. After 24 hours, turn off the pump and remove the equipment. If you leave the tea aerating longer than three days, you must add more molasses or the good organisms will start to become inactive because they don't have enough food. Let the brew sit until the compost is pretty much settled out, 10 to 20 minutes, then strain it into the other bucket or directly into your sprayer. You'll have about 9½ litres (2 gallons) of tea. This is the time to add liquid seaweed for trace elements if you want to. Use the tea right away, within the hour if possible.

6. You can put the solids back on the compost pile or add them to the soil. There are plenty of good bacterial and fungal foods left in them.

7. Spray once every two weeks during the growing season.

b) Bio-dynamic Equisetum spray 508

This homemade spray is a Biodynamic spray. Equisetum arvense (horse tail plant) is rich in Silica and has been shown to be very effective used as a spray against fungus diseases. Equisetum arvense or horsetail plant, grows in swampy wastes in Europe and Australia and small areas in New Zealand. The plant has a very high silica content. The preparation is used to reduce excessive water forces around the plants and so reduce the risk of fungal diseases, such as botrytis etc.

Making the preparation:

1. Harvest the plant in spring and dry it.

2. Add it to rainwater at the rate of 100g (3½oz) per 2 litres (4 pints) of water.

3. Bring to the boil and let it simmer in a covered pan for 20 minutes, then leave to stand for two days.

4. Alternatively, you can soak the leaves in cold water for two weeks – the preparation by then will have a good smell.

5. Add 18 litres (5 gallons) of water and stir as you would for Preparation 500, for 10 minutes (see the section: ‘Different Approaches’ – BIODYNAMIC GARDENING & FARMING).

Using the preparation:

6. Spray the diluted preparation on the ground around the plants you want to protect just before stress times, for example just before full moon or perigee, when the moon is closest to the earth (see Bio-dynamic calendar).

7. Preparation 508 can be used frequently throughout the season.

In Australia, Robert Williams has found that using the foliage of the mountain Sheoak, Casuarina stricta (which also contains high levels of silica) as a substitute for equisetum has had good results. I have personally used Sheoak instead of equisetum, as we have some growing on the boundary to our garden.

c) Liquid Seaweed 

Seaweed has mild fungicidal properties and deters some insects, whilst feeding the plant with a wide range of trace elements, which improves the plants overall resistance to pathogens. Spray on the leaves as a foliar feed every 2 weeks to help them resist pests and diseases.

Making the preparation:

Collect seaweed from the beach and half fill your tub, then top up with water and start to use after two weeks.

Using the preparation:

Add 1 litre (2 pints) of liquid seaweed to 5 litres (1 gallon) of water and spray foliage and soil. If you don't live near the sea, you can buy liquid seaweed concentrate from the gardening section of many stores, and just follow the dilution instructions.

d) Preventative Garlic & Seaweed Spray

This spray is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial...and an insect repellent.

Making the preparation:

To make 1 litre (2 pints)

• 3 cloves garlic, crushed

• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

• 10ml (⅓floz) liquid seaweed concentrate

• 1 litre rain water

• 1 teaspoon eco dishwashing liquid

Preparation & Use:

1. Combine the garlic and vegetable oil and leave to soak overnight.

2. Strain and add to the water along with the liquid soap and liquid seaweed concentrate.

3. Spray regularly as a preventative on fruit bushes and trees and susceptible vegetables.


Having done everything to create healthy resistant plants, there are times when pests or diseases get the upper hand. For these times here are some natural treatments and sprays that you can make and use at home. Just remember, that these sprays can also kill predators that may have taken years to build up in your garden or property! Only use these in emergencies!

Insecticide Sprays:

1) Traditional Indian Insecticide Spray:

(To make 3 x 1 litre (3 x 2 pint) batches)


• 3 cloves garlic, crushed

• 1 medium hot chilli, chopped finely

• 1 dessertspoon grated ginger

• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

• 3 litres (6⅓ pints) rainwater

• 3 teaspoons eco dishwashing liquid


1. Combine the garlic, chilli, ginger and vegetable oil and leave to soak overnight.

2. Strain and store oil until needed

3. Add ⅓ of the oil to 1 litre (2 pints) rainwater + 1 teaspoon eco dishwashing liquid.

Using the preparation:

Spray only in emergencies in the evening to avoid effecting bees.

2) A milder Rhubarb Spray against Aphids & Tomato Thrips:

To make 1.5 litres (3 pints)


• ½ kg (1 pound) rhubarb leaves, chopped

• 1½ litres (3 pints) rainwater

• 1½ teaspoons eco dishwashing liquid


1. Boil chopped rhubarb leaves in 1½ litres rainwater for half an hour.

2. Strain and stir in 1½ teaspoons of eco dishwashing liquid. Using the preparation: Spray the plants in emergencies.

3) Chamomile insecticide spray:


• Make chamomile tea, using 1 part fresh chamomile flowers (or less if dried flowers) to 3 parts boiling water

• Allow to steep for a few hours

• Add a few drops of eco dish washing liquid [1 teaspoon per litre (2 pints)]

Using the preparation:

Spray on plants that have insect infestations This spray can also be used to protect seedlings from damping off and mildew. Spray gently on seedlings and allow to dry in the sun.

Anti Fungal Sprays:

1) Baking Soda


• 1 litre (2 pints) hot water

• 2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

• ½ teaspoon of vegetable oil (to make the baking soda stick to the leaves)

• ½ teaspoon of liquid washing up eco soap


1. Dissolve baking soda in hot water

2. Add vegetable oil and eco soap and stir

3. Allow to cool

Using the preparation:

Spray on affected plants in the cool of the evening

2) Urine


• 250ml (½ pint) your own home saved urine [for use on citrus trees you can use 1 litre (2 pints) and no water]

• 750ml (1½ pints) water

• A few drops of eco dish washing liquid [½ teaspoon per litre (2 pints)]

Using the preparation:

Spray on infected plants – standing up wind! Particularly effective against grey mould (Botrytis).

3) Urine + Baking Soda

This is doubly effective and has the benefits of both ingredients. This is particularly effective against tough problems like peach-leaf-curl and sooty mould on citrus tree leaves (after you have eliminated the scale insects causing the problem).


• 750ml (1½ pints) hot water

• 2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

• ½ teaspoon of vegetable oil (to make the baking soda stick to the leaves)

• ½ teaspoon of liquid washing up eco soap

• 250ml (½ pint) home saved urine (for use on citrus trees you can use 1 litre and no water)


1. Dissolve baking soda in hot water (or dissolve in urine for use on citrus trees)

2. Add vegetable oil and eco soap and stir

3. Allow to cool

4. Add 250ml (½ pint) home saved urine and stir

Using the preparation:

Spray on infected plants – standing up wind!


I have included a short list of traditional organic pesticides and fungicides, but I would urge you to only use these so-called organic alternatives in extreme emergencies, because they don’t discriminate and will kill beneficial insects as well, including bees, the exception is Quassia, which is the safest!

Quassia chips:

Quassia is the safest of the organic alternatives because it has the advantage of not killing ladybirds and bees. It has many health uses, including getting rid of lice in children’s hair, but it is also good as a mild insecticide in the garden, It consists of chips of wood from the Quassia tree (Picrasma quassioides), which will keep for at least a year in a sealed container.

Infuse 100 grams (3½ pints) of Quassia wood chips in 1 litre (2 pints) of water for 24 hours and then boil for 30 min. Then dilute with 5 litres (1 gallon) of water and use as a spray.

As quassia tastes very bitter it should not be used on leaf crops if eaten within two weeks.

Obtainable from:

Australia Herb Cottage,

UK Buy Wholefood Online

USA Starwest Botanicals

New Zealand Fishpond,

Neem Tree Oil:

This is easily purchased from garden stores and is useful in emergencies. Spray on pests in evening to avoid harming bees. Repeat when necessary.


Pyrethrum is available in garden stores. Once sprayed it deteriorates quickly, so if it is sprayed in the evening, it should not affect bees the next day.


Mustard green manure:

Growing mustard green manure before, or better still, after growing a crop of potatoes, helps to control verticilliam wilt and potato eelworm. The active principle is mustard oil, which in the case of eelworm, hardens the eelworm cists so that they cannot hatch. It also acts as a fungicide against verticillium wilt.

After growing potatoes, sow a mustard crop with some oats mixed in. Mustard, as a member of the brassica family, does not make associations with mycorrhizae fungi, so adding some oats to grow with the mustard through the winter will maintain the mycorrhizae fungi in good health.

Tagetes minuta:

Block planting Mexican marigold (Tagetes minuta) at 15cm (6in) spacing for a season, can be very effective at eliminating soil nematodes. It can grow up to 2m (6ft), providing a good crop of compost material as well.


Health is natural. Pests and diseases arise when there is imbalance and subsequent stress on systems. Once imbalance is created there is a natural tendency to try to deal with the symptoms that arise with stronger and more destructive sprays and other treatments, which only creates more imbalances.

Monocropping creates imbalance. Short-circuiting the natural processes of plant nutrition by applying a limited range of water-soluble chemicals to the soil creates imbalance. Progressively destroying soil humus and soil life creates imbalance, and imbalances in soil plant nutrients creates further imbalances.


• Create a healthy and flexible bio-diverse environment with companion plantings in which to grow your crops

• Build up soil humus – optimum 5-6 per cent.

• Create correct nutrient balance in your soil, including trace elements

• Regular use of Bio-dynamic spays 500 and 501 along with compost preparations and other techniques

• Spray plants regularly with compost tea, liquid seaweed and other biological sprays discussed in this chapter for greater resistance

Do all this and you will witness a growing healthy environment, a continuing reduction in pests and diseases, healthy plants, and a healthier you and all those who eat your produce.