How to Keep Your Vegetable Garden Free of Root Maggots
One of the best crops a first time gardener can grow is radishes. They come up fast, mature quickly and they’re darn tasty too. The first time I successfully grew them on my own I was amazed at how well they did. The pride I felt when I plucked a little scarlet orb from the warm dark earth was something akin to accomplishing a massive feat.
I. Had. Done. It.
I planted seeds and produced my own food. I hustled over to the hose to wash off the soil and have a snack, I turned my perfect radish over only to discover the massacre that was the other side. It was pockmarked, eaten and wormy, root maggots had enjoyed my first radish for me. I’m pretty sure I shrieked and threw it down. I was 24 at the time and I was determined to find a way to beat root maggots. 21 one years later, I’m writing this for you, it’s been a long row to hoe, as they say, but I think I’ve figured out a few ways to beat those pesky root maggots at their own game.
Root Maggots are a worldwide pest and cause a lot of trouble for home gardeners, as well as commercial, I’m sure. The flies that lay the eggs that turn into root maggots look much like house flies, only they’re a little smaller and gray. Radishes are not the only crop hurt by root maggots; turnips, cabbages, carrots, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, and many other cool weather crops are all favorites of this pest. Root maggot damage can be as devastating as a full crop failure, wherein every plant dies or fails to thrive because the roots have been damaged. Or the crop can be infested with maggots when harvested, making them inedible. Either way it’s completely disappointing. I hope my list of defenses will help you avoid root maggots and propel you towards a happy growing experience.
Keep a garden journal with a map of your yearly garden and never plant in the same place twice, therefore putting the brakes on an infestation. You can also disrupt the cycle by planting crops not normally associated with the pests, like onions, squash or even a cover crop.
Floating Row Cover
Use it. Most garden centers sell it and will help you locate it on the shelves. Hold it down with bricks, rocks or landscape staples (you can make those by cutting old hangers into three-inch staple shaped U’s). Once you plant your seeds, water them well and cover with row cover. Once covered you can water directly through the the row cover; well, I should say MOST row cover I’ve encountered can be watered through. You’re trying to keep out the fly that lays the eggs by covering the soil around your crops. If you can’t find or afford row cover you can also mulch heavily to keep them out.
Plant a Fake Out Crop
Plant a half package of radish seeds–because they’re quick growing and relatively inexpensive to buy–and let the root maggots have a go at them. Then harvest that crop and destroy them. Meanwhile plant across the garden, cover with row cover and get growing.
Plant Companion Plants
Marigolds and onions drive off maggots so be sure to use plenty of them in your garden. When I plant radishes I put an onion start every eight inches or so, to mark the row and also to keep maggots at bay. I put marigolds in for pops of color and also for their anti-maggot properties.
If you do have root maggots you’ll want to remove and destroy the infected plants as soon as possible. Get them out of your garden completely and do not compost them, destroy them. I usually bag them and toss them in our next bonfire.
Don’t Give Up!
If you’ve got root maggots in the garden there is hope for successful crops, you just have to work at it. There’s no easy-answer cure, no pesticide, no place root maggots do not thrive and because the flies look for soil to lay their eggs, YOUR garden is exactly what they’re looking for. Use the defenses I’ve found that works for me but also look to your local Cooperative Extension Service office, they’ll have lots of information for your particular part of the country.
About Laura Sampson
Laura Sampson is an Alaskan micro farmer who is passionate about real food. She is the owner and lead contributor of the Hey, What’s for Dinner Mom? blog that curates recipes, gardening tips and other healthy lifestyle advice.
The views and opinions of guest authors do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Full Circle.