Home gardening accounts for an astonishing 75% of all pesticides used in North America, making it several million pounds used per year. Most of these are used to control insects on fruits and vegetables.
From the garden, most of these chemicals find their way into streams and rivers as runoff, and from there into the oceans.
Organophosphates are the most common type of insecticide, and include malathion and parathion. These chemicals are effectively nerve agents, very similar in composition to weapons like Sarin gas, and were derived from Nazi research into chemical weapons during World War II. They act by inhibiting neurotransmitters in the brain and nervous system, causing paralysis, convulsions, and death. They are dangerous to virtually every animal on the planet. Their primary benefit over older pesticides like DDT, is that they are not persistent and breakdown very quickly in the environment.
Fortunately, there are a number of natural alternatives to these potent and dangerous chemicals, most of which are harmless to people and animals.
Natural Solutions for Your Garden
The most common problem gardeners face is insect damage to their plants. With proper cultivation and gardening methods, this problem can be drastically reduced before having to resort to other methods. This means having well-prepared soil, adjusting the pH balance as needed, good drainage and air circulation.
As your garden continues to grow and take shape, remove and dispose of any struggling plants. Be sure to keep your compost area well away from your main gardening area, as the compost heap will be sure to attract pests.
Mulch and Compost
Clear a Perimeter
Be sure to keep your garden area clear of debris and things that will attract insects. If you have fruit trees near your garden, dispose of any fallen or rotting fruit immediately.
Use natural fertilizers for your garden. Clean manure is a good choice, as are seaweed fertilizer sprays. They are useful for strengthening soil and promoting plant growth. The seaweed sprays contain helpful minerals and trace elements like iron, calcium, sulphur and magnesium.
Mix up your garden beds with a variety of plant types interspersed throughout. This makes it difficult for plant specific pests to propagate and spread throughout your garden bed. Some plants are also effective at warding off insects, including for those plants around them.
If you’ve used your gardening tools on infected plants, be sure to sterilize them before using them on healthy plants.
Finally, you can call on the power of nature itself to help you in your fight. By attracting or purchasing insects which feast upon the particular pests that are bothering your plants, you can remove them quite naturally. Praying Mantises, Hover Flies, Ladybugs, Chalcids, Brachonids, and even Mud Wasps, are all insects which will help you battle common varieties of garden pests.
Diatomaceous earth can make an effective barrier to most insects, and works by carving open the insect’s exoskeleton and drying them out. Ants will generally not cross a line of diatomaceous earth, nor will most insects. It doesn’t affect earthworms at all, or, unfortunately, slugs.
Sprays made with natural soaps are also effective against small, soft-bodied insects, like aphids and spider mites, and will destroy the eggs of larger insects as well. Against larger insects, though, it is unaffected.
There are a few variations on a theme you can concoct to keep those pesky pest devils at bay. Depending on the severity of your garden pests, you can try a mixture of garlic, hot peppers, baking powder or plain old soap. You might want to try some of these squirty concoctions.
Solutions for Specific Pests
Whether it’s aphids, slugs, snails or rabbits, there are few things you can do to keep nature’s destructive intruders at bay. And what’s more, there are plenty of ways you can do it naturally. No chemicals, no harmful substances, no threat to your health or the environment – just the go-to organic method.
Aphids, also known as plant lice, are so common that practically every plant has a species that suffers from them. Small, soft insects that use their needle-like mouths to suck the sap whilst simultaneously injecting the plant with their own toxic saliva, they are astonishingly BORN pregnant so multiply very quickly!
They can, however, be combated in a number of ways. Try growing plants that attract aphids and predators, or plants with a strong scent such as chives, basil and mint, as aphids are repelled by these strong odours.
Slugs and snails are two of the prime perpetrators when it comes to inconveniencing (nay, outraging!) the common gardener. Usually identified by their oozing, slimy trails and bite marks on your plants where they’ve slithered out for a midnight chomp, they generally hide in the shadows during the day and emerge for a night time nosh-up.
Because they have soft bellies, crushed up, scattered egg shells around the affected plants are like sliding over razor blades to them.
One of the best solutions, however, is the beer trap (a shallow dish of beer); they find a splash of real ale irresistible, slide along to have a slurp, fall in, and drown. They die in the throes of intoxication and the gardener has one less pest to contend with. It’s a win-win.
Slugs can also be controlled with barriers of fine sand, and copper wire or tape. Ensure that the wire or tape is not uphill from any plants, or water that contacts the copper could drain into the plants, injuring or killing them.
Additionally, beetles, toads and lizards are all natural enemies of these slimy interlopers.
Forget sweetly nostalgic reminiscences of Watership Down or cute tales of Peter Rabbit, those floppy eared fellas might be cute but they’re also relentless, persistent, sneaky and fast! And, as any gardener knows, they love chomping away on your fruit and veg.
A good defence against these furry and hungry hoppers is to surround the affected patch with fencing similar to chicken wire. Any potential, pesky Bugs Bunnies also loathe the smell of garlic, so you could concoct your own pesticide spray.
Caterpillars are the split personalities of the gardening world whose double life is both a blessing and curse to the gardener.
As caterpillars they’re relentless furry worms with a greedy appetite, but one way to get rid of them is simply to pick them up and move them away from the garden. Like slugs they also have soft bellies, so a liberal scattering of crushed eggshells around plant bases will keep them away.
But if you’re in full-on, take no prisoners, exterminator mode, you can excise them forever with the pesticide spray mentioned above.
However, once they’ve metamorphosed into beautiful butterflies or fluttering moths, you can leave them alone as then they’re your horticultural collaborators, deterring pests and helping your perennials bloom.
A Few Other Tips
- Just like the human world, the weak are vulnerable, so try to grow plants which are healthy and free from disease from the beginning.
- Inspect leaves and plants for any discolouration or damage and, if necessary, deadhead, pinch off and remove entire plants that become diseased.
- Water your plants regularly to keep them healthy and replenished. Use organic fertilizers and compost to protect them from malnutrition.
- Once weeds spread they can get out of control and destructive, so keep a weed-free environment to minimise the risk of attracting pests.
- You don’t always have to lunge angrily at wasps and bees with a rolled-up newspaper. They’re natural predators and love to gorge on any passing pests, so embrace them and encourage them to set up home in your garden as the miraculous winged wonders they are.
So there you have it – a few tried and tested ways of combating those unwanted garden intruders.
Avoiding chemical pesticides with the use of natural substitutes will help your garden grow well, and more importantly, safely for you and for the environment as a whole.
With contributions from Colin Dunn and Dixie Somers