If we could garden without any interference from the pests which attack plants, then indeed gardening would be a simple matter. But all the time we must watch out for these little foes little in size, but tremendous in the havoc they make. As human illness may often be prevented by healthful conditions, so pests may be kept away by strict garden cleanliness. Heaps of waste are lodging places for the breeding of insects. I do not think a compost pile will do the harm, but unkempt, uncared-for spots seem to invite trouble. There are certain helps to keeping pests down.
The constant stirring up of the soil by earthworms is an aid in keeping the soil open to air and water. Many of our common birds feed upon insects. The sparrows, robins, chickadees, meadow larks and orioles are all examples of birds who help in this way. Some insects feed on other and harmful insects. Some kinds of ladybugs do this good deed.
The ichneumon-fly helps too. And toads are wonders in the number of insects they can consume at one meal. The toad deserves very kind treatment from all of us. Each gardener should try to make her or his garden into a place attractive to birds and toads. A good birdhouse, grain sprinkled about in early spring, a water-place, are invitations for birds to stay a while in your garden. If you wish toads, fix things up for them too. During a hot summer day a toad likes to rest in the shade. By night he is ready to go forth to eat but not to kill, since toads prefer live food. How can one "fix up" for toads? Well, one thing to do is to prepare a retreat, quiet, dark and damp. A few stones of some size underneath the shade of a shrub with perhaps a carpeting of damp leaves, would appear very fine to a toad.
There are two general classes of insects known by the way they do their work. One kind gnaws at the plant really taking pieces of it into its system. This kind of insect has a mouth fitted to do this work. Grasshoppers and caterpillars are of this sort. The other kind sucks the juices from a plant. This, in some ways, is the worst sort. Plant lice belong here, as do mosquitoes, which prey on us. All the scale insects fasten themselves on plants, and suck out the life of the plants. Now can we fight these chaps? The gnawing fellows may be caught with poison sprayed upon plants, which they take into their bodies with the plant. The Bordeaux mixture which is a poison sprayed upon plants for this purpose.
In the other case the only thing is to attack the insect direct. So certain insecticides, as they are called, are sprayed on the plant to fall upon the insect. They do a deadly work of attacking, in one way or another, the body of the insect. Sometimes we are much troubled with underground insects at work. You have seen a garden covered with ant hills. Here is a remedy, but one of which you must be careful. This question is constantly being asked, 'How can I tell what insect is doing the destructive work?' Well, you can tell partly by the work done, and partly by seeing the insect itself. This latter thing is not always so easy to accomplish. I had cutworms one season and never saw one. I saw only the work done.
If stalks of tender plants are cut clean off be pretty sure the cutworm is abroad. What does he look like? Well, that is a hard question because his family is a large one. Should you see sometime a grayish striped caterpillar, you may know it is a cutworm. But because of its habit of resting in the ground during the day and working by night, it is difficult to catch sight of one. The cutworm is around early in the season ready to cut the flower stalks of the hyacinths. When the peas come on a bit later, he is ready for them. A very good way to block him off is to put paper collars, or tin ones, about the plants. These collars should be about an inch away from the plant. Of course, plant lice are more common.