My wife and I stood with a farmer in her vineyard in Greece, on the western island of Cephalonia. The hills rose behind us into the mountains, and in front, the ground sloped gently down to the Ionian Sea. The grape leaves were green in the hot sun, and not a blemish on them.
The farmer laughed at our questions about garden pests. She said garden pests had never existed in Greece. She fertilized her soil with sheep in winter and picked her grapes in the summer and never worried about pests. Farming, for her, was that simple.
Coming down from Delphi, the road winds in and out of the rocky cliffs, and on the last rise above Itea, the Gulf of Corinth appears, blue and shining, and for thousands of acres down to the water, olive trees, and not a pest upon them.
There are miles of well-tilled fields along the roads from Pirgos up to Patras, onions, cabbages, lentils, and chickpeas, patchworks of tomatoes and sugar beets, then fields of pumpkins with the vines withered in the reddish dirt, and finally ripe round watermelons with green and golden stripes; and in all of that farmland, there is not a single pest.
In Athens, fig trees grow from the broken sidewalks where pulpy fruit drops between the cracks and the seeds sprout, and nobody bothers to cut them down or tend to them, but still the trees grow tall and the branches sag with the weight of fresh figs, and there is not a sign of pests upon any the trees.
For reasons of climate, soil, and plain old luck, the gardens of Greece have been blessed since the age of Achilles.
South Texas, of course, is far from Greece, and this is not a land free of garden pests. Gardening today is actually more difficult than it was for our ancestors. Native Americans tilled the soil in a time of garden purity, before Europeans introduced non-native pests to the soil.
The worst of our pests came from Asia in the 20th Century. These plant-devouring insects proliferated mainly due to industrial agriculture. The chemicals meant to kill them only made them worse.
But, as we have learned on our farm in Rockport, you can virtually eliminate the pest problems from your garden. We cannot restore the American Eden, but we can recover the garden purity of former days—a purity that is highly effective in practice.
In this series on natural pest control, we will explore strategies to fight pests; including some ancient techniques that may surprise you. Next week, we will discover how garden design–the placement of the plants themselves–can repel pests from your garden.