Those buggie bugs that bug you

Time to say goodbye :(
Time to say goodbye 🙁


There is nothing worse than putting time and money into a garden project, just to have an army of aphids appear and destroy your precious green babies. Last year, for me, it was earwigs.  Some might argue that earwigs aren’t a garden pest. Well, there were an abundance of earwigs in my yard last year and they destroyed every home-sprouted seedling I planted. I wound up BUYING replacement plants from Home Depot. So much for doing it the frugal way!

After I got through the earwig onslaught, along came the aphids. Aaaaargh! This year I found a colony on the stalks of  a dill plant. I don’t care so much for dill, so I pulled it out, hoping they wouldn’t find their way to the Tuscan kale. Alas, it was too late, as you can see from the pic above. I’ll pull the kale out too, which is really ok because it’s probably getting too hot for it to grow well, anyway.

I am not the only one being bugged by bugs! Today, my friend Melissa F. asked me, on Facebook, if I had any hints about keeping the bugs from ravishing her veggies (I hope the bugs at least gave the veggies a phone-call afterwards.)


Anyway, Melissa, I know what you mean and YES I do.


Tough on grease. And bugs.
Tough on grease. And bugs.

My short answer was to use a 1TBS/1 Quart solution of Ivory dishsoap and water, put that in a spray bottle, and spray the bugs. If you are dealing with aphids, try squirting them off the plants with a sharp stream of water first, like with a spray bottle so your plants don’t get flooded. Then squirt the hangers-on with the soap spray. Some plants are sensitive to the soap treatment, so it might not be a bad idea to gently squirt them down with plain water after a few hours.

Here is how I (mostly) handle the various bugs: prevention. Healthy soil = healthy plants. And healthy plants are much less likely to harbor bug colonies, like aphids.

*Make sure you start with good soil. Where we live (Inland Empire, Southern California) the dirt is red clay and much too hard for most plants to thrive in. It doesn’t drain, either. I amend it by mixing up 1/3 each: compost/mulch combo (bagged from the garden center,) sand, and dirt. If I have some Perlite on hand, I put that in too. (I can expound on the virtues of Perlite another time.)

*Continuously add more organic material to your new soil throughout the season.  Save some coffee grounds and eggshells, let them dry out, and pulverize them in a blender or food processor. Sprinkle this around your plants and gently dig it into the soil.

*Mix a tablespoon of plain Epsom salts into a gallon of water, and water your pepper and tomato plants with it once a month. Put some in a clean spray bottle and spray the plants with it, too.

Eggplant on the left, Thai basil to its right

*Plant other flowers and herbs in with your veggies. I use marigolds, basil, garlic, cilantro.  Let the herbs “bolt,” or flower, so that good insects are attracted to your garden area. Do not kill the spiders and the lizards!

*Water at the same time, the same amount, every day. (That won’t be difficult, right?) Also,  don’t use sprinklers that broadcast spray, especially if your plants are spread on the ground. Wet, soggy leaves attract pests.

Can you see the Cabbage Worm?

*Once you find some bugs on your plants, use the soap spray. When you find the green “caterpillars” (Cabbage worms) on the brassicas (these are your broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, etc. plants) – usually on the undersides of leaves, simply pull them off  the plant and feed them to your dog.

*Be on super high-alert around your tomato plants. When you see black coffee ground-like crumbs on the leaves, go Tomato Hornworm hunting. They are green caterpillars that look like Cabbage worms on steroids. These guys can get so big, even your dog may be afraid. Drop them in a bowl of beer, or squish them. Be a good neighbor and DO NOT throw them over the fence!

*Attract blue jays to your tomato plants, because blue jays LOVE tomato hornworms: put some raw peanuts in a bowl that is set on a stake plant-high. Make sure there is water nearby, too. Skip the blue jay attraction if your dog is a good hunter, though 🙁

When I experienced the earwig convention in my garden last year, I handled them with beer: I buried a small bowl so the edge was surface-deep. I poured in some beer and checked back the next day – like most conventioneers, they just wanted to party at night. The bowl was “swimming” with dead earwigs!

However, my aphid problem got worse, the ladybugs I bought did NOT stay in my garden (ladybugs love to eat aphids and you can order them from Home Depot online. Some garden stores also carry them in stock.)  I had to bring out the big guns – the Ortho. Seriously, I hated to do it because I didn’t want to kill the good bugs, or the lizards’ food supply. It only took a couple of applications, though, and things became controllable.

The last resort

This year, I keep an emergency spray bottle of the Ivory dishsoap water with an ounce of the Ortho mixed in.

Look at the “big picture,” though: We’ve been buying our produce from grocery stores for so long now, we believe that the fruits and vegetables have to look perfect in order for them to be good. Accept a few holes here and there where the worm ate your chard. It’s okay! And, if all else fails, pull the plant out. You’ll be ticked off right now, but another growing season is around the corner and you can try something else.


  1. Tina,
    Thank you for the amazing advice. It will be truly helpful in my future endeavors. I started tomato plants with some success in a whiskey barrel several years ago. One day I spotted those horned worms and realized there were five on one plant. I was horrified and have not planted anything edible since (I am not grounded enough to pick them off with my hand). I have to admit that combined with the horror was a genuine sense of intrigue. Where do they come from? We had never had them before, we have certainly never seen this beast crawling around looking for delicious fruit So how had they arrived?
    Our lovely neighbor threw one over the fence one year and it landed in our pool. By the time it was discovered it was the size of a small snake. We joked that entire summer about worms falling from the sky and landing on unsuspecting tomato plants.
    But seriously my renaissance friend, I am committed to starting some herbs and then perhaps I can work my way up. Thank you again. Your writing is as beautiful as you are and I am enjoying your blog. Xoxo. See you soon.

    • Tina DeSoto

      Melissa: TOMATO WORMS FREAK ME OUT! I can handle bugs, but I definitely have a bug-size threshold. Did you ever see the newer King Kong movie? There is a scene where they fight off this horde of giant bugs and worms. Aaaaak! That must be how you felt with the tomato worm in your pool!
      I appreciate it when my mom comes over. The giant worms don’t bug (!) her at all. I, on the other hand, have to wear gloves, and I sound like a baby crying. A baby crying AND cussing.

      I think you should plant some basil in that whiskey barrel. If it gets water and some shade from the later-afternoon sun, it will be fine. Then you can make “Miracle Sauce.” I am going to post the how-to today.

      Thank you for your compliments! It means more than you know, especially coming from someone I admire and enjoy so much. Hooray – It’s summer water polo season! Time for jugs of hard cider and Hangar 24 in the parking lot 🙂 -Tina

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