Fighting pests without hurting the environment

From Wikimedia commons


by Catherine Haug, August 8, 2016

(Image, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Keeping pests under control can be frustrating, especially in the garden. Doing so without harming our environment can be even more so, as many recommendations just don’t work well and we may resort to toxic herbicides/pesticides.

The Summer 2016 issues of Environment Defense Fund newsletter has an interesting article by Jim Motavali on this topic, which I paraphrase and enhance here.

Why we should care

Perhaps summer’s most notorious pest is the mosquito, and it’s getting a lot of attention now because of zika and other viruses carried by the mosquito, such as West Nile, dengue, malaria and encephalitis.

Big Ag uses many pesticide sprays that poison not only our air and soil, but also our bodies when we eat the sprayed food. Perhaps the most notorious are the neonicotinoids, a.k.a neonics, that are applied to the seeds, then taken up systemically by the growing plant. Those of us who care about honey bees are probably most familiar with this class of pesticides, as they are suspected in the catastrophe of colony collapse disorder. The state of Maryland has recently banned this class of  pesticides.

Many seeds have been genetically modified to be resistant to pesticide/herbicide sprays that are used on common crops: corn, soy and canola. These GMO crops are used to feed livestock, and are common in processed foods for humans. Because of the crop resistance, the toxic chemicals can be very heavily sprayed without harming the crop. Unfortunately, the harm is passed on to humans. The chemicals remain present in the meat or milk of the livestock, and in processed foods, especially the oils made from the seeds. They are taken up by our bodies where they are suspected in causing problems such as “cancer and asthma, blood disease, and reproductive and nerve damage in humans.”

Alternative solutions

Insecticides, etc.

  • Oil and dish soap garden spray is a natural insecticidal spray to make at home: 1 cup vegetable oil and 1 Tbsp mild liquid dish soap (detergent). Experts say this is one of the safest pesticides for use in gardens, as it is virtually non-toxic to animals and birds, and can be used on veggies up to harvest.
  • Ground cinnamon: sprinkle on orchids to kill fungi.
  • Habanero or jalapeño pepper spray can repel deer from your garden, landscaping and shrubs; see my earlier post derived from an article in the Daily Inter Lake: On Gardening (May 2, 2009 DIL) for a recipe from Bill Clanton).
  • Saucer of beer to keep slugs and snails under control in our gardens; see my earlier post for more about this and other solutions for the garden: Tips: Natural Pest Control in the Garden.

Smart Planting

  • Trap cropping can be used to keep pests off favorite fruits or vegetables. This involves placing other plants nearby that attract  pests even more.
  • Plant different crops in alternate years on the same land/location. This  can “promote higher yields and healthier soil, while cutting down on specialized insect predators.”
  • Intercropping: growing two or more mutually beneficial crops in close proximity; for example, basil next to tomatoes.

Bug vs bug

This means encouraging natural enemies (see also Arbico Organics (5))

  • Try attracting beneficial insets with a mix of 5 oz of sugar in a quart of water.
  • Ladybugs (buy these online) are a great example, especially for protecting citrus fruits;
  • Assassin bugs (buy these online) devour caterpillars, leafhoppers and aphids;

Pest-proof people

DEET is effective against mosquitoes and other pests, but is it safe? A 2014 EPA review concluded that DEET does not present “any risks of concern to human health or the environment.” EWG (Environmental Working Group) adds that DEET “is generally safer than many people assume,” but warned against 100% concentrations.”

Commercial alternatives to DEET may be less irritating and won’t damage your clothes. For example:

  • Picaridin, developed in Europe is less toxic than DEET.
  • Botanicals, such a oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Natural bug sprays you make at home; check out these recipes:

  1. Natural Insect Repellent Recipe
  2. Wellness Mama: Homemade Natural Bug Spray Recipes That Work!
  3. Mercola: This Natural Bug Repellent Works Better Than Deet
  4. Backpacking Spirit: Homemade Mosquito Repellant

References and Resources:

  1. Pesticide Action Network:
  2. Toxics Action Center:
  3. Crop planning: University of TN Institute of Agriculture:
  4. Biological pest control: University of CA, Natural Enemies Gallery:
  5. Beneficial bugs: ARBI-CO Organics:
  6. Pesticide alternatives: Southern States Cooperative:
  7. Insect repellents: Environmental Working Group (EWG):

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