EVERY SUMMER gardeners face a small scale crisis. Out there in the vegetable patch are chewing, burrowing, nesting bugs with the power to destroy all the wonderful fresh food raised. Aware that chemical warefar in the garden, like nuclear warfare in the real world, is as dangerous to victors as to the vanquished, it is best to consider options carefully.
Attempt peaceful coexistence first. Don't spray unless pests are actually damaging plants.
If you suspect insects will become a threat, give them something else to interest them besides prized plants. Try growing 59 cents worth of zinias from seed to lure beetles away from a fenceful of climbing beans. Set traps. Baited with scent, commercial Japanese bettle traps will kill more of these destructive pests than can be imagined. Pour sweetened water into any contraption that lets greedy insects in and discourages them from leaving (a hummingbird feeder will drown hundreds of pests for every tiny bird it attracts).
Remember, only a few of the thousands of insects around are actually destructive in the garden. Ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantises, spiders, centipedes, many wasps, beetles and flies (as well as frogs and birds) will police the garden if you don't kill them off first.
Discourage pests by growing plants they dislike along with those you want. Onion, garlic, hot peppers, pungest herbs, marigolds and nasturtiums are "flora non grata" to many bugs. Or use organic treatments -- blend garlick and hot peppers into a pest repellant or toss soapy water over aphid-covered plants like grandma used to do.
If all else fails, engage in swift, limited action. Baccillus thuringinensis (or Thuricide) affects only chewing larvae. Use it on cabbage loopers, horn or bud worms without harming helpful insects. Rotenone works on aphids, beetles, leafhoppers and some worms, but is toxic to fish. Sevin is a quick acting chemical that kills destructive beetles and worms, but it is toxic to pollinating bees as well. Use any insecticide with care, reading and following directions and keep away from children and pets.