Friday, June 21, 2013

Organic Pest Control

Queen Composter shares ways to rid house and garden of unwanted insect neighbours.

Happy Solstice!  Now that summer is officially upon us and gardens are blooming, Nature’s little critters are making an appearance and causing endless headaches. As a backyard vegetable gardener I appreciate the value of organic food because I understand how hard it is to keep destructive insects away from the plants without resorting to easy toxic pesticides. This makes me even more willing to pay for organic produce.

I use three different organic methods for dealing with unwanted insects in my house and in my garden: application of a green “pesticide”, removal by hand, or acceptance and living in harmony. I have found that green methods are never 100% effective and must be continually reapplied, which is why I suppose people use toxic pesticides for their “slash and burn” effectiveness.

The three critters that are making my life difficult at the moment are ants, caterpillars and aphids.


A sure fire sign of the temperature warming up around my home is the arrival of ants trying to get into my home. 
The sand or dirt pile around the nest hole.
This is in the cracks of the concrete by my garage.
The method that I find the most effective is a Borax mixture, which the ants ingest and take back to the nest. This is supposed to kill all the ants in the nest, including the queen, if enough is brought back. I mix approximately one cup of water with one cup of sugar and 1/8 cup of Borax and heat it up on the stove until everything is completely dissolved. I have seen different ingredient ratios (with a smaller amount of Borax) but they are less effective for me.  Then I clean the areas that the ants have been so erase any of the scent trails they have left for their buddies back at the nest. I have cats and small children and Borax can be toxic if ingested in large amounts, so I soak cotton pads in the mixture and put them inside a plastic container with a small hole cut out of the side for the ants to get in. I place the container near the ant entrance location. Sometimes I have to pour some of the mixture into the cracks of the door frame where they hide.  I also try to locate the nest and pour some down the hole. Other times just pouring boiling water down the hole does the trick, albeit temporarily because it never penetrates deeply enough to the queen.
Inside the hole is a Borax solution soaked cotton ball.
My raised garden beds and large planters are full of ants and after initially trying to rid my beds of ants, which began to feel like a Sisyphean task, I took the last approach, living in harmony with them. After all, the ants aerate the soil, which is good. As long as they don’t come into my home I’m ok with them in my garden. The problem with ants, however, is that they “milk” aphids for their honeydew secretions. So where there are ants I find aphids.


When I water my garden or my house plants I take the time to inspect them carefully, especially along the stalks, underneath the leaves and on new growth. If there are only a few, I brush them off and check again the next day. But sometimes they multiply quickly and before I know it I have an infestation. I use insecticidal soap and spray directly on the aphids. Commercial insecticidal soap sprays may contain soy, so I suggest making it from scratch. It's easy, just two tablespoons (or slightly more) of liquid castile soap and one quart of water in a spray bottle (any stronger may burn the leaves). The plants can be eaten right after spraying if thoroughly washed. Just be sure to check every day because once I have them I know they’ll be back.
So gross, yet fascinating, close up.
I have had ladybugs in my garden and they are effective at eating the aphids, but they also fly away.


Cabbage moths, those pretty white moths that my daughters like to chase, lay eggs on my plants. Their caterpillars eat all my Brussels sprouts and other plants related to the cabbage. I have garden cloth to lay over my young plants, which I forgot to do, and now I must deal with the green wiggly things slowly decimating my plants. I have found the best way to deal with them is to find them and remove them by hand. Sometimes I can enlist my daughters to help with this. I have read some tutorials on sprinkling my plants with a flour and baking soda mixture which kills the caterpillars when they ingest it. I may have to try this out if they start to take over again this year.
How can they be destructive when they are fuzzy and cute?
Organic pest removal is more work than more toxic methods, and it can be truly maddening sometimes. Occasionally I have to admit defeat and accept the intrusion, or even pull up plants. I also have to accept that my garden will look less than perfect. In the end it is worth all the efforts when I can eat my own organic produce.

How do you deal with pests?


Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

I'm just so glad you used the phrase "Sisyphean task." Interesting point about ladybugs. How could one get them to stay, I wonder. We have tons of snails around here. My friend used to get her daughters to collect them to keep them from eating her lovely greens. I don't have a garden, but my kids do love to collect the snails.

Christy said...

Haha Betsy! I guess English Lit is good for something. :-)

From what I've heard from other people who have purchased ladybugs for their garden, there isn't really too much to do unless they use the garden cloth over the infected plants. When the food is gone, though, they move one. But the aphids always come back because the next batch of eggs hatch after ladybugs are gone. Hopefully there are enough ladybug larvae to keep the process going. But in my experience it is a short term thing.

Luckily we haven't had a slug or snail problem (touch wood so far). However, now that I've said it the Internet gods will send them my way, lol.

Green Bean said...

My big pest this year are cucumber beetles. Last year, it was stink bugs. For both of those, hand picking (and then putting them in a jar and sending them to school with my resident bug boy) did the trick.

Christy said...

Yes, the most organic method, and sometimes most effective, is removal by hand. And it helps if the little ones like creepy crawlies - more hands make light work.

Since posting this the aphids have exploded on my quinoa and I hope I'm not fighting a losing battle. I've seen a few ladybugs but not nearly enough.


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