Non-chemical Vegetable Garden Pest Management


Demonstration plots at 3 Whitfield County community gardens were used to demonstrate non-chemical pest management methods: solarization; pollinator habitat development; and cover crops. In contrast to recent years, nearly all plots at gardens were occupied during 2020. Eight new gardeners managed at least one plot this year. Almost 30 plots were treated using solarization. More than 10 community gardeners, who have never used cover crops before, planted fall/winter cover crops.


Pandemic-related, short-term food shortages may have motivated interest in vegetable gardening among “first-timers.” Community gardens provide a setting for novice as well as experienced gardeners to grow their own produce. A national survey (sponsored by Bonide, Dramm and Premier Tech Horticulture) polled 1,000 respondents who indicated they had begun gardening in the last six months. Four out of five (80%) respondents indicated they will “probably” or “absolutely” continue gardening in 2021. Many gardeners, both experienced and novice, desire to limit or eliminate the use of pesticides in garden food crop production. Non-chemical pest management creates exceptional challenges. Gardeners and homeowners are increasingly alert to the need to protect pollinators and beneficial insects and are interested in enhancing habitat with landscape and garden plantings.


Three community gardens in Whitfield County provided locations to demonstrate alternative pest management practices and pollinator habitat enhancement. A Campus Garden was established at Dalton State College in the fall of 2018. Initial soil sampling and sample analysis was followed with demonstration of sequential cool- (Daikon radish) and warm-season (cowpea/soybean) cover cropping on a portion of the plots. A “low-maintenance” turfgrass area, adjacent to the campus garden plots, is being utilized for a continuing project demonstrating white clover overseeding to enhance pollinator habitat. Lakeshore Community Garden is a cooperative effort among gardeners, Dalton Parks and Recreation and Whitfield County Extension. All plots were occupied this season except for 9 plots most in need of repair that were overgrown with weeds. Solarization is a process which manages weed seed and disease organisms by heating the soil. Nine plots were covered with clear plastic in June. Plastic remained in place during the hottest summer months and was removed in September. Solarized beds were subsequently covered with cardboard and mulch to minimize weed growth. Several of these beds will be planted with “pollinator friendly” wildflowers for the 2021 growing season. Whitfield County Extension developed one raised bed as a pollinator garden demonstrating entirely pesticide-free methods. Seeds of a “bee-friendly” annual flower mixture were started indoors and developed for transplanting using seed cups fashioned from used newspaper. Newspaper was laid on the raised bed soil to provide a weed barrier. Flower transplants were planted through the newspaper barrier and a layer of mulch was spread above the newspaper on June 15. Blooms were evident within 3 weeks and flowering continued through September. Three weed plants removed by hand. Otherwise, the plot remained weed-free for the growing season. Tunnel Hill United Methodist Church provides space for nearly 50 community garden plots. Five plots were used to demonstrate solarization. White clover was planted in several garden paths to provide alternative ground cover and insect habitat. Winter cover crops were planted on 15 plots at the end of the growing season. A weekly column is provided to the Dalton Daily Citizen, a local newspaper with a circulation of 11,400. Gardening and home landscaping are frequently covered topics. “Whitfield Lawn and Garden” e-newsletter is delivered monthly to 110 recipients. These articles and other announcements of events of interest to gardeners and homeowners are posted, at least weekly, to the Whitfield County Extension Facebook page. A feature article on ‘Fall Gardening’ appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of Dalton Living. It included interview comments from the Whitfield County Extension A&NR Agent and a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer.


Among the three community gardens, more than 10 volunteers facilitated the demonstration of solarization on a dozen community garden beds; cover crops were planted on more than 25 plots; and three new areas were developed for enhanced pollinator habitat. A “prototype” snowshoe-sized crusher/crimper, developed for use on small garden spaces, was used effectively to terminate winter cover crops at the DSC Campus Garden. Interest in gardening is reflected in the participation of more than a dozen new gardeners during the 2020 growing season. More than 10 community gardeners, who have never used cover crops before, planted fall/winter cover crops. The pollinator garden plot resulted in frequent comments about the abundance of insects utilizing the habitat and the successful duration of flower presence throughout the growing season. Four Dalton State College students participated in undergraduate research projects by collecting plant and insect data from pollinator habitat sites and completing and presenting research reports. Demonstration plots at community gardens proved to be an effective method to introduce novel or unfamiliar pest control methods to both novice and experienced gardeners.

State Issue

Urban Agriculture


  • Year: 2020
  • Geographic Scope: County
  • County: Whitfield
  • Location: College Station, Athens
  • Program Areas:
    • Agriculture & Natural Resources


    Gates, Roger N
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