Anyone who gets near me for more than five minutes will hear me mention kale. Roasted kale, raw kale, kale in smoothies—heck, I wouldn’t be opposed to kale on toast. So you will understand my chagrin when I skipped blithely into the Fortress Garden yesterday only to discover …
On my kale.
A lot of aphids.
This did not make me happy. Do what you will with me, but leave my kale alone. It’s hands-down my favorite crop and, until this year, seemed impervious to pest infestation. I bolted for the house and mixed up a quick batch of insecticidal soap (1 part Dr. Bronner’s Almond Castile soap to 10 parts water) and sprayed away like a madwoman.
The good news is that it worked. I gave the solution a day to do its thing, turning the gray-green plump aphids into wads of blackened carcasses, then I went at it with the hose, blasting the debris and any survivors into oblivion. Luckily, I caught the infestation quickly. Although I did get rid of one plant that was so heavily infested it was beyond salvage, the others seemed fine.
Hmm. So what’s a gal to do? I’ve discovered in my garden that the aphids really seem to like the cruciferous veggies, and last year, I lost my entire crop of Brussels sprouts. Admittedly, I wasn’t on the ball, so this year I’m taking a more proactive approach, trying to prevent the presence of aphids in the first place.
Because I’d already sprayed, introducing ladybugs would be a no-no, but when I get my broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages and cauliflower going, then I can get ahold of some of the little darlings and set them out for some aphid snacking. And planting garlic and onions amidst my cruciferous buddies can stop the Evil Aphid Empire from establishing a stronghold in the first place.
In an amazing synergistic revelation, my recent craving for a banana cream pie (I make it with flaked coconut in the crust and in the custard, trust me, it is awesome) revealed another aphid repellent: banana peels! Apparently, bananas are aphid kryptonite. Chopping the peels and burying them around the base of susceptible plants will keep the little suckers at bay, and I get to eat a delicious pie. Win-win, right?
The other concept, of plant sacrifice, appeals to the girly girl gardener in me. Setting up a bed of aphid-attracting flowers a short distance from my edible plants will—at least until the aphids wreak havoc—provide some attractive color. Zinnias, asters, cosmos and several other flowers are beautiful and will help lure aphids away. Likewise, planting for aphid predators can attract ladybugs and lacewings: yarrow, mint and dill are all good and usefu,l as well.
The important thing is if I can get ahead of the aphids, I can avoid spraying. Organic or not, a pesticide is still a pesticide, and insecticidal soap doesn’t differentiate between the aphids and the ladybugs. Love thy predators, my people, for they are the salvation of your salad greens.