You want your garden to be an oasis of safety and health — and you know that toxic pesticides are harmful to your family and to the environment. Good for you! But what can you do about those destructive pests?
Here are five kitchen-cupboard ingredients that no organic gardener should be without, that will help you solve all your pest problems n/aturally, inexpensively and effectively. Some of them will really surprise you!
With the EPA’s recent phasing out of common pesticides such as Dursban and Diazinon, we are now realizing that many of the chemicals that we thought
were “safe” were never actually tested to see what their affect on children, women, and the elderly could be. The time has come to reassess our
dependence on pesticides.
For anyone contemplating the switch to organic gardening, here are the five must-have ingredients that should be in every gardener’s toolkit:
Many cultures around the world have used garlic as a natural antibiotic and
antifungal remedy. When garlic is combined with mineral oil and soap, it
becomes a very effective pest control product. However, when it is sprayed,
it is not a selective insecticide. It can be used to control cabbageworm,
leafhoppers, squash bugs, whitefly, but will also affect beneficial insects
so be careful where and when you apply this product.
Recipe: Allow 3 ounces of finely chopped garlic to soak in 2 teaspoons of
mineral oil for 24 hours. Add 1 pint of water and ¼ ounce of liquid dish
soap. Stir well and strain into a glass jar for storage. This is your
To use: Combine 1-2 tablespoons of concentrate in 1 pint of water to make
the spray. Do be careful not to make the solution too strong. While garlic
is safe for humans, when combined with oil & soap, the mixture can cause
leaf injury on sensitive plants. Always test the lower leaves of plants
first to make sure they aren’t affected.
Fungal diseases can be a serious problem for gardeners, especially in the
heat of the summer. Powdery mildew and black spot seem to be the most common
diseases that cause gardeners to reach for the spray bottle. Now, instead of
reaching for a chemical fungicide, gardeners can open the fridge for an
excellent fungal control – milk!
In 1999, a Brazilian scientist found that milk helped control powdery mildew
on cucumbers just as effectively as a synthetic fungicide. Since the study
was published, the news has traveled around the world and encouraged
gardeners and farmers alike to try milk as a fungal control for a variety of
diseases. So far, there has been success reported on the use of milk to
control powdery mildew on a variety of different plants. In addition, it has
also been found to be an affective control of black spot on roses.
Any type of milk can be used from full milk to skim to powder. However, the
low fat milks have less of a chance of giving off any odour. The recipe
calls for milk to be mixed with water at a ratio of 1 part milk to 9 parts
water and applied every 5-7 days for 3 applications.
Slugs are attracted to chemicals given off by the fermentation process. The
most popular bait has been beer. However, not all beers are created equal.
In 1987, a study at Colorado State University Entomology Professor Whitney
found that Kingsbury Malt Beverage, Michelob, and Budweiser attracted slugs
far better than other brands.
Whatever the type of beer you use, you can create your own slug trap. Use
cottage cheese, margarine, or similar size plastic containers. Put between
1/2 and 2 inches of beer in each container and place the containers around
your garden, especially around plants prone to slug damage. Never, sink the
containers with their rims flush with the soil level or you run the risk of
drowning ground beetles, important slug controllers. The rims should be 1″
above the soil’s surface. You will probably need to empty the container of
drowned slugs every other night.
The range of slug traps is only a few feet so you need to supply a few traps
throughout your garden.
Floating Row Cover
The easiest method of pest control is to prevent damage in the first place.
Using a physical barrier like a floating row cover will prevent insect pests
from reaching your plants and chewing them or laying their eggs on them. I
find floating row covers a must when growing carrots to prevent carrot rust
fly damage and when draped over my broccoli, I prevent imported cabbageworm
from defoliating my plants.
Floating row cover is a fabric made of spun polypropelene fibres. The fabric
itself is very lightweight and will sit on top of your plants without
causing any damage. The fabric allows both light and water to penetrate it
but prevents even the smallest insects like flea beetles from getting to
The fabric is sold at most garden centers under many names like Reemay,
Agrofabric and Agribon and comes in a variety of different weights. The
lighter weight fabrics are best for use during the summer. The heavier
fabrics do hold in some heat and are best used in the early spring or late
fall. The added bonus is that they can also help extend the gardening season
by a few weeks!
Weeds are some of the hardest pests to control organically without resorting
to physically pulling each one out. If your weeds are coming up in small
clusters, it is easy to deal with them by pouring boiling water over them.
However, if you’ve got a large area, the best way to control them is to
smother them, also known as sheet mulching.
I prefer to use either newspaper or cardboard to smother my weeds instead of
plastic. Both newspaper and cardboard degrade naturally and will, over time,
add carbon into my soil, helping provide organic material. In addition, most
newspapers are now printed with soy-based inks, which will also degrade in
If you decide to use newspaper, make sure you place it at least 4-6 sheets
thick over your weeds. One layer of cardboard is usually sufficient to get
the same effect. It takes at least a month to kill most weeds so I find the
best way to use this method is to place the newspaper or cardboard over the
weeds in the fall. Come springtime, the weeds are dead, the mulch has
degraded, and I’ve got wonderful soil to work with.
For anyone who is concerned about the aesthetics of newspaper or cardboard,
you can also cover the mulch with grass clippings, compost or bark mulch for
a nicer look. Make sure whatever you use is free of weed seeds.
Arzeena Hamir is an agronomist and garden writer with Organic Living
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