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How to get rid of bugs or insect in the soil of your vegetable gardening

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  • Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer.
    – Community Bot
    Commented May 9 at 12:48

6 Answers 6

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You never, ever, want to kill your soil. This is basic Soil Management 101.

If you want to keep your growing medium arthropod- and annelid-free, then build planters or raised beds that do not have contact with the soil, then add only a soilless planting medium.

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With some exceptions (cicadas - but these live off plants already in the soil) you likely don't want to get rid of bugs or insects in the soil before planting. When you study horticulture one of the first things you learn, which is the basis for many elements, and which came as a surprise to me, is the soil microbiome, which includes bugs and creepy crawleys that live in the soil, is vital to the health of the plants. (They create a microbiome which facilitates the bacteria and fungi providing nutrients to the plant in return for exodates which the plant gives back, and they help each other grow).

Getting rid of bugs in the soil means modifying/killing off parts of the microbiome—because it's all a connected community.

Also, most bugs are unlikely to have any interest in you or be detrimental to the plants (there are, of-course exceptions)

I can think of some ways you may be able to modify the environment which will discourage bugs:

  • Change the pH of the soil so it's outside their normal range if you are planting plants that like particularly acidic or alkaline soil.
  • Solarize the soil (maybe by covering it in plastic sheets to bake in the sun)—if it gets hot enough it will kill off the plant life and microbiome.
  • keep the soil waterlogged (may be difficult to do in a flowerbed that is free draining). This will kill off/force the migration away of things that need air to breathe. Unfortunately this includes the aerobic bacteria you want.
  • You MAY be able to get some affect by turning over the top 6-12 inches of the soil. This will put the aerobic bacteria in anerobic conditions and anerobic bacteria in aerobic conditions, and will modify the microbiome, likely disrupting bigger critters. (Ever noticed that different types of worms exist in different types of soils/composts? There is a reason for that. They are tied to their food supply which is tied to the microbiome). Turning over the soil in this way is controversial (google no-till) - but it can also kill many weeds which may be dormant in the top part of the soil (google "weed seed bank -marujana")

If you are worried about bugs you may be better off focussing on disrupting their lifecycles—most of which will be on or around the plants. Neem oil is often helpful here, as are companion plants, and of-course there are other sprays as well if you don't care for the organic root).

AFAIK (and I could well be wrong) Pre-Emergent weed killers are a thing but not pre-emergent pesticides.

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    There's no controversy (in the US, at least) about no-till. Tilling the soil destroys the soil structure and brings weed seeds to the surface, where they increase the weed load for the next several+ years.
    – Jurp
    Commented May 9 at 13:28
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    @jurp Agree, save there is plenty controversy about no-till in USA -epicgardening.com/till-or-no-till gardeningknowhow.com/gardening-pros-cons/… and gardenmyths.com/till-vs-no-till are just a few commentries of many which try to be balanced.
    – davidgo
    Commented May 9 at 19:11
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    We are at just over 1/3 of farm acreage (and growing) 'no till' in the USA. From 2017: No till was used on 37% of US acres for which a tillage system was reported, up from 35% in the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Variation by state is substantial, ranging from 79% for Tennessee to 6% for Minnesota (see Figure 1). Variation for geographically contiguous states can also be large. For example, the 6% share in Minnesota contrasts with 35% in Iowa and North Dakota and 52% in South Dakota" farmdocdaily.illinois.edu/2019/07/…
    – MackM
    Commented May 9 at 23:11
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Apparently high-grade nuclear waste won't do it.

https://www.sciencealert.com/tiny-worms-living-near-chernobyl-have-evolved-a-remarkable-new-talent

&

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/chernobyls-bugs-art-and-science-life-after-nuclear-fallout-180951231/

Then again, should you be doing something worse than high grade nuclear waste to a place you plan to harvest food from?

I'd say not.

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    I'd add that we need to stop killing so many insects and other non-charismatic creatures. We will all die if they all die.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented May 9 at 21:20
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It depends on what types of bugs you want to kill, but beer works well for some bug species.

You can place the beer in shallow containers, preferably glass. Shot glasses work well, especially if you fill the bottom with a few small pebbles (to avoid spending too much money on serving beer to bugs). Simply fill the shot glasses with some cheap beer, and bury each shot glass so its rim is just slightly above the surface of the soil. Within a few hours, or days, depending on the particular pickiness of the palette of your pests, you should have a bunch of critters who can be counted amongst our world's many victims of alcohol abuse. OK, maybe that was a bit dark and gloomy, but you get the idea.

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diatomaceous earth, found at many retail stores is safe and is used to rid insects with exoskeletons by scratching and drying the insect's body. It can even be used in the feed of some animals, it is non-toxic.

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  • That must include beetles, seems like a lot of those in healthy soil
    – Xen2050
    Commented May 11 at 10:47
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Change Where You Plant: Each year, switch where you plant your veggies. This messes up bugs' plans because they're used to finding their favorite snacks in the same spot.

Buddy Up Plants: Some plants are like bodyguards for others. For example, marigolds scare off tiny worms called nematodes, and basil keeps away annoying bugs like mosquitoes and flies.

Cover Up: Put a comfy blanket of things like straw or leaves over your garden beds. It stops pesky weeds from growing and makes it hard for bugs to get to your plants.

Call in the Troops: Let good bugs like ladybugs or praying mantises loose in your garden. They're like your garden's secret agents, hunting down pests like aphids or caterpillars.

Natural Bug Sprays: Use bug sprays made from stuff like neem oil or soapy water. They're gentle on helpful bugs but tough on the ones eating your plants.

Feed Your Soil: Give your soil some love by adding compost or other natural stuff. Healthy soil is like a party for good bugs, and they'll help keep the bad bugs in check.

Pick Them Off: Keep an eye on your plants and pluck off any pests you see. It's like playing detective in your garden!

Keep Them Covered: Wrap vulnerable plants in a light fabric to stop bugs from snacking on them. It's like putting up a force field around your veggies.

Set a Trap: Plant some tasty treats for bugs away from your main veggies. Once they're all gathered there, you can deal with them without harming your main crops.

Bug Baths: Pour some special bug juice into your soil to help fight off pests that live underground. It's like giving your soil a spa day!

Keep checking your garden regularly, and don't worry if it takes time to find the best tricks for your garden. And always read the instructions carefully when using bug sprays, so you don't accidentally harm the good bugs or your plants.

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