Composting 101 (Whiteflies killed my garden)

Unfortunately, the whiteflies have taken over our garden and I had to pull up all of the plants that were growing in both the tiered raised garden as well as the squarefoot gardens. We didn’t get a whole lot of produce from the gardens – definitely some great tomatoes and a few jalapeno peppers. Kind of a smattering of a little bit of food here and there. I have learned a lot from the experience and have some better ideas for next year – lessons learned if you will. We’ve decided to start our own compost for the garden/greenhouse and this post will focus more on what we need to do to get a good compost going.

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The photographs above show me pulling up all of the dead/dying plants in the squarefoot gardens next to the deck. There was a fair amount of plant material that we could put into the composting barrel. The barrel we bought at Lowe’s a couple of weeks ago and it took a long time to put together. I have posted a link for the barrel at the end of the post. The nice thing about having a barrel on a stand is that it allows you to rotate and mix the compost inside the barrel instead of staying stationary. This should reduce the time of getting a good compost down from a year to a month or so.

The gardens look a little sad now that nothing is growing in them. The only plants I kept were the okra plants since they seemed to have held up OK against the whiteflies. Now that I know what to look out for, the most important thing is early action against these guys. I know now that I waited way too long to take care of the whiteflies and they ended up destroying the garden. When watering my tomato plants they would disperse like a small snowstorm and then settle back onto the leaves. The “flies” (they aren’t really flies and are related to aphids) lay their eggs on the underside of leaves and can hatch anywhere from 4-12 days after being laid. Gross! Looking into the research, I should have 1) smashed the eggs that were visible underneath the leaf and, 2) sprayed the suckers earlier. Literally, they are suckers because the nymphs and adults suck the juice out of the leaves, stems, and buds. If not under control the plants will turn yellow (as our tomatoes did), have stunted growth, and will eventually die.

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There are several ways to get rid of whiteflies and I really wish I had known what they were earlier so that I could have possibly prevented them from taking over the garden. There are some sticky traps on the market that can be used as an early monitoring system – once the whiteflies show up it is time to go to something more serious to take care of them. The natural predators of whiteflies include ladybugs, lacewig, and a predatory wasp. Details on these can be found under the first link for whiteflies. Then, there are more preventative measures which include insecticidal soap (I tried this and it did seem to work, I had to use it daily and as soon as I didn’t the guys came back in force so I likely did not use it early enough). There are other sprays such as seaweed spray, repellant plants, and shoofly plants. Direct measures include vacuuming (seems dangerous to me! what if you damage the leaves?) as well as more serious sprays. Again, I didn’t really want to use a serious spray if I could get away from it but it may have been worth it to try. Whiteflies can also indicate that the plants are low in magnesium – so stores sell this as a supplement for plants.  I’ll be better prepared next year if the whiteflies come again. I plan to invest in the sticky traps to get early notice that the suckers are back. I may buy ladybugs as a natural predator as well as invest in horticultural oil and try to make the alcohol spray that many websites suggest. The only problem with that is you need to be careful to ensure that the alcohol does not damage the plants. You can see from the photographs that I completely tore out the plants from the gardens and have removed the weeds, etc. Let’s hope that the okra make it! I check the new garden beds in the greenhouse daily for whiteflies in the hopes that I can prevent another infestation this year.

With the new composting barrel and all of the plants that I pulled up this weekend, we started composting! A compost pile can take care of itself with little intervention as long as the set up is done correctly.  There are both stationary and rotating compost bins. We bought the rotating barrel. Both types need to be turned periodically to introduce oxygen so that the bacteria can break down the material. This was a good choice for us because the rotating barrel model allows for heat and moisture retention, which speeds up the composting process. Since I am growing more plants and maybe replanting in the squarefoot gardens it would be great to supplement with some good compost. There are brown and green elements that are necessary for a good compost – green includes things like grass clippings and kitchen waste whereas brown includes newspaper clippings, wood chips, and dry leaves. We started ours with grass clippings and dried leaves from the yard and added a lot of plant material from the garden. We also added an activator called Ringer 3050 that we bought off of Amazon. Once we added that, the barrel was rotated and left to sit for the next week or so. The compost should be mixed every week and I will check it this coming weekend to make sure that the moisture content is OK. We want it to be slightly damp. After a month or so, the compost should be broken down and look like dark, crumbly soil. I’m pretty excited to see if we can get the composting right. If so, we can probably reduce a lot of our kitchen waste and end up having better crops!

Composting Resources:

Composting Barrel:

Composting Activator:

Whitefly Resources:


3 thoughts on “Composting 101 (Whiteflies killed my garden)

  1. […] The first thing I did was slice and/or chop everything using our fancy new knife set and bamboo cutting board that Dad got us for Christmas. By the way, this is our first “big” tomato that we harvested this season! We have had a ton of cherry and grape tomatoes so far, but I was really excited to have this one ripen. We have many more to come – white flies will not get our tomatoes this year ( […]


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