Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Review: Naturally Bug Free by Anna Hess

Anna Hess' new ebook, Naturally Bug Free, is an excellent resource for gardeners who want to combat garden pests, but not with man-made chemicals.  It has a lot of the same advice as other books like Good Bug Bad Bug, and Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control, but at a fraction of the price.  The main difference is that Naturally Bug Free covers only the most common garden insects in detail (and not bacterial, viral, or fungal diseases at all) , but gives a systematic approach that can be used for the rest. Also, Hess' photography is much better. 

The cover, featuring (clockwise from upper left) a tomato hornworm parasitized by a good wasp, a movie-star praying mantis, an industrious honey bee, and an aphid farm managed by ants (which sometimes make poor life choices).

Hess lays out a number of steps gardeners can take to develop a well-functioning garden ecosystem, starting with an exhortation to 'know thy bugs.'  If an unknown bug arrives in your garden, you must find out it's function.  Is it a pest?  Is it benign?  Is it a beneficial insect that moved in to feast on a pest? What and where is the pest it's hunting?  Hess gives a number of resources she uses to identify new bugs in her garden.

After covering a number of garden pests common almost everywhere (based mainly on a Mother Earth News survey), Hess moves on to methods for encouraging friendlies in the garden, from good insects and worms, to birds, amphibians and mammals.  (Spoiler alert not needed by permaculture enthusiasts: maximize landscape diversity and provide habitat for the good guys.)  Some of the beneficials Hess sees in her garden are more prominent in her local environment--with nearby wetlands and high groundwater--than many readers will find in theirs (such as turtles and underground crayfish), but she gives a few pointers that readers anywhere can try.  Hess also points out that a lot of the beneficials have some annoying quirks, such as box turtles that eat tomatoes or birds that take one bite of a strawberry, but notes that their presence is net positive after considering the number of slugs they'll eat.  Even deer, which are definitely net-negative for a garden, can be a valuable source of meat for the gardener.

Hess also gives advice for the time period between establishing a garden and having a balanced ecosystem to keep pests in check.  In this regard, judicious timing of plantings and planting trap crops can be helpful.  Other helpful approaches can be choosing bug-resistant varieties from the get-go (the same approach is  helpful for non-bug pests, too, such as fungi and bacteria) and employing more labor-intensive direct methods of pest control like row covers and hand-picking.

A couple examples of strategic succession planting that Hess uses to time harvests away from peak periods of pests such as squash vine borers and cabbage moths.

The book wraps up by pointing out that even fruits and veggies that aren't grocery store-quality (i.e., that have some cosmetic damage), can still be delicious and nutritious with a little extra trimming.  We whole-heartedly agree, and we wish more authors would tout such an approach.

An excellent epilogue is an excerpt from another of Hess' books, Homegrown Humus, which is especially appropriate given the key role soil health plays in plant health, and consequently plants' ability to fend off pests.

Our only criticism is that, because Hess advocates ecosystem-level management of garden pests by encouraging beneficial predators that depend on a certain minimum population of pests to eat (i.e., a biological equilibrium), the book would more appropriately be titled 'Naturally Bug-Optimal.'  But 'bug-free' definitely rolls off the tongue better.

Have you read Naturally Bug Free?  What did you think?  What methods do you use to naturally control pests in your garden?  Let us know in the comments section below!


  1. Thanks so much for your kind review! :-)

    1. Thanks for the opportunity to preview it! I hope the succession planting graphic is accurate!

  2. Really worthy review. Thanks for sharing those info!