Managing pests using nature – part one

Managing pests using nature – part one
Jacqui van Heerden

Traditionally gardeners have been very active when it comes to pests, with all sorts of creative interventions being undertaken. Recently these methods have seen gardeners turning to applying chemicals in the form of pesticides and herbicides.

The feedback we have received shows us how these chemicals used are finding their way into our water systems and air, increasing pollution and overall making the planet less healthy for us all.

There are other approaches to managing pests, which are more humane, and gentler on the earth without the toxic pollution that follows.  

By understanding how nature works we do not create work for ourselves by working against nature, for example, we put a plant in conditions that suit it, we are aware of how the natural elements move across the site and place plants accordingly so that they thrive. We watch and receive feedback from nature rather than making hasty insensitive “marks” on the landscape …

An invitation to sit in the garden and observe.

When establishing a garden, my own or a community one, I plan for the care and preventative pest management in the design. 

It is easier to prevent the pests in the first place by ensuring some key components are met.

Understand your site and plant requirements

An approach I use is to first understand my climate, site and my soil. My climate’s heat and cold zones allow me to determine which plants are suitable for my garden and will prevent me making bad choices creating loss of time, energy and money by planting a plant in the wrong place.  

As I live in the inner city my garden has a variety of microclimates, which offer different growing conditions e.g., cool and shady, hot and dry – once I map these I can grow a variety of plants that suit those microclimates.

Sometimes we can create microclimates on our sites, which mimic the growing conditions of a subtropical area, which then means we can grow subtropical plants. 

I have planted a banana tree, however, I find more effort is required and the plant is under stress and not as abundant as it requires more heat and moisture.  

Apparently plants when not well and under stress give off a scent which insects find their way too – this has been used to advantage with some growers deliberating planting decoy plants to attract pests away from others.


Select plants for the conditions of your garden and create diversity with different species and guilds to support each other. I use proven earth care techniques of guilds and companion planting and perennials to maintain vitality and yield. I understand that each plant occupies a niche with its own unique form and contribution to the whole. 

Caring for soil 

Keeping our soil healthy allows the soil to perform its important function in the various bigger cycles of the earth – the carbon cycle, the nutrient cycle and the precipitation cycle.

Minimise tilling the earth, keep it covered to protect the soil life, which does the most important work of keeping fertility up, sinking carbon, breaking down nutrients in the form the plants need it, maintaining soil structure and managing pH levels.

Ploughing and digging disturb the balance among soil insects, fungi, viruses, bacteria and other soil life. They break up the root channels and soil structural units (aggregates) so that the soil is not able to perform its intended function. These disturbances cause rapid loss of organic matter upon which the crop and soil organisms feed. 

The condition of my soil plays a major role in preventing pests. By keeping my soil life well fed with chop and drop, green manure and compost my plants are able to be well nourished and withstand pests. All organic material is chopped and dropped and used back on the garden either as mulch or material for the creation of new soil structure and nutrients. This keeps all the nutrients invested into the plant (sun, water, etc.) recycled back into the garden and not transported out. 

As I have a small garden it’s difficult to rest my productive beds so sometimes after heavy feeding of crops, I plant peas and beans or scatter a green manure if I feel it’s needed. I check my soil pH and moisture regularly with a small instrument that I place in the soil, so I am on top of any issues. As a guide, I also take a handful of soil and see what soil life is visible, the more soil life the healthier, I don’t turn my soil, I generally just use a fork if it feels compacted and leave the roots of some spent plants in to maintain the pathways for water and nutrients.  

Working on soil is a year-long effort and not just before the productive time of spring.  Soil is the foundation of all growing things. A healthy soil produces healthy plants and healthy plants resist attack from pests and diseases. 

To be continued … •

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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