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Natural Pest Control Methods for the Green Gardener

Embracing the Organic Gardening Lifestyle

I haven’t always been an organic gardener, but having pests in the garden is a real pain when trying to grow food for your family. Learning about the organic garden pest control methods I now rely upon has been a game-changer. I’m ashamed to admit there was a time in my life when my kids would be out in the garden and want to grab a quick snack, and I’d jokingly say, “Wait, don’t eat that! We have to wash the poison off it first.”

As I’ve learned, you don’t know what you don’t know, and now that I’m aware of the chemicals I was using to keep unwanted pests out of the garden, I use these healthier organic methods instead. Not only am I choosing better options, but I’ve also learned the best time of day to apply these methods to help keep the beneficial insects safe from harm. It’s wonderful to be able to have my kids out in the garden with me and we can all safely pluck a tomato off the vine and eat it without worry or washing.

In my opinion, growing a conventional garden even using non-organic methods is better than buying produce from the grocery store that’s traveled miles to get there. But if you’re choosing to start using organic pest control methods in the garden, I recommend you also start using organic garden amendments. The ultimate goal when gardening is to have healthy soil with a healthy ecosystem. Healthy soil grows healthy plants, and I’m proof to say that within three years of utilizing these organic gardening methods, you too can build up a healthy garden ecosystem.

Feeding the Soil, Not Just the Plants

What happens when you use non-organic soil amendments and fertilizers is that you’re only feeding your plants instead of feeding your soil. When you’re only feeding your plants, the biome in your soil eventually becomes compromised, and you’ll never have healthy plants without the use of those fertilizers. Our goal is to build up the soil biome with microorganisms that will build rich soil, using mulch and organic matter like compost. Before you know it, you’ll no longer need amendments because there is such life in that soil.

Remember, stressed and unhealthy plants are not going to thrive, and a pest infestation will decimate unhealthy plants much faster than healthy plants. If you’re wanting to make the switch from non-organic to organic gardening methods, I would say to expect about three years until your soil biome is healthy and strong. Some people may think this is such a long time, but truly it’s not that long. I’m currently building my first garden in South Carolina, but my garden in Arkansas had been organically gardened for many years. The last year I gardened in Arkansas, I didn’t have to use any pest control at all.

Finding Joy in the Process

People always look at me funny when they ask what my favorite organic garden pest control method is, and I answer with “A Chair.” But it’s true – my favorite method is to just take a chair and sit in the garden with my cup of coffee in the morning. I will do more picking of insects off plants at this time than any other time of day. It’s simply because I’m out there enjoying my garden instead of focusing on a task.

Flowers have a place in the home garden too. They attract pollinators and bring life to a space. For me, they bring such joy and beauty, and truly make my garden a space where I want to be. If you don’t want to give up space to something that doesn’t have a use, plant things like chamomile and calendula that you can use medicinally. Plant basil and let it go to flower. Plant nasturtiums, which are edible flowers.

Seeing garden spiders or wasps in the garden may be alarming, but it’s important to understand the role these insects play in a healthy ecosystem. Garden spiders will eat moths that get caught in their webs before they’re able to lay eggs in your garden. Wasps actually eat certain pests. Ladybugs can decimate an aphid problem before it becomes a problem. Over time, you’ll learn which insects are friends and which are foes. But my general rule of thumb when you see pests in the garden is to observe, watch, and determine that it’s a problem before grabbing for the organic garden pest control.

Putting Organic Pest Control Methods to Work

I have come to know aphids, Japanese beetles, and tomato hornworms as problem insects, so if I see them, I will react quickly. My first line of defense for these is actually not to treat them with organic garden pest control, but rather to handpick them. I like to go out late in the evening or early in the morning when the shadows aren’t quite as harsh. I’ll bring a jar with some soapy water inside and I’ll pick off any pests and dunk them into the water. Sometimes I don’t add water and just put them into the jar, then take the jar over to the chickens. This works well too. If you don’t like touching bugs with your hands, I have also heard some people using a hand vacuum and sucking up the insects into the hand vac, then emptying that into a bucket of soapy water or feeding it to the chickens.

Something I have noticed since switching to only using organic garden pest control methods is that in the following years, the battle isn’t as hard. It may not be completely gone, but it gets better year over year until, as I mentioned before, I no longer need these methods on a regular basis. When looking for organic garden pest control methods, always make sure it’s marked USDA Organic, says “for organic gardening,” or is OMRI certified. Because most of these pest control methods are effective when the insect actually eats it, I like to try and avoid applying them to any flowers or places that the beneficial insects might come in contact with it, and only treat the affected leaves or foliage.

Exploring Different Organic Options

If you were only going to buy one pest control method, this would be my recommendation: Spinosad. It’s actually made from a soil bacterium that can be toxic to insects but isn’t toxic to mammals. The brand I use is called Captain Jack’s Deadbug Spinosad. Spinosad affects the nervous system of any insects that touch it or eat it, causing them to eventually die. This is mainly effective on caterpillars or anything in the larva stage, thrips, beetles, and leaf miners. It works best when consumed by the insects, but can have some effect when touched by the insect.

BT is similar to Spinosad and is also a species of bacteria that lives in the soil. BT is controversial because it has been used in labs and bred into some GMO crops to be naturally more resistant to pests. Some people say not to use BT because it’s GMO, but that’s actually misinformation. Though there are GMO crops that have been bred to include it, BT itself is not actually GMO. It’s non-toxic to humans and animals because we don’t activate the proteins that cause it to kill insects. BT is solely effective on insects when they eat it and is effective on insects in the larva stage. Just like Spinosad, the water you mix BT with matters, so use store-bought water if you’re unsure about the alkalinity of your water supply.

Diatomaceous earth, or DE, is very commonly recommended for organic gardening. You can buy DE more affordably at feed stores in large 50-pound bags. The way I use DE is to take inexpensive dollar store pantyhose, add some DE, and tie it up, then sprinkle it where needed. Do be sure not to inhale it as it’s very abrasive to the lungs. DE kills hard-shelled insects by cutting through their exoskeleton and drying them out. It can work on soft-bodied insects, but is most effective on hard-shelled insects. If it rains, DE gets washed away and is no longer effective, so you have to reapply.

Neem oil is an often-suggested option in the organic gardening world. Do be sure you’re getting 100% cold-pressed neem oil, as there are a lot of products out there that aren’t 100% and you’ll be wasting your money. Neem oil works as a repellant and a suppressant. It’s used to deter bugs from eating your plants, not to actually kill the bugs themselves. If a bug eats neem oil, the bug will eventually die, as it suppresses their appetite and their ability to breed. Neem oil is not my go-to method of organic garden pest control simply because I feel the other methods work better. Although, neem oil is my method of choice to get rid of flea beetles.

Pyrethrin, or Pyrethrum, is derived from a compound in chrysanthemum flowers. When applied to the insects, it damages their nervous system and kills them almost immediately. This is non-discriminatory and will kill the beneficial insects as well, so try to avoid flowers and only apply in the evening when the honeybees won’t be out. Pyrethrin dissipates in about two days, so you’ll need to reapply if the issue isn’t controlled with one treatment. If the issue is really bad, I generally will reapply for a handful of days to interrupt the breeding cycle and knock back the population.

You can buy insecticidal soaps at the store, but by simply adding a squirt of soap to the bottle when diluting the treatments mentioned above, you can increase the odds of effectively treating the pests. Soap alone can kill insects, but you have to actually come into contact with the insect itself. Simply spraying the foliage will not kill the insects. I don’t recommend using antibacterial soap such as Dawn dish soap because I don’t want that washing down into my soil, potentially killing beneficial microbes living there. I prefer to use Dr. Bronner’s castile soap in peppermint, which actually includes peppermint essential oil, another pest deterrent.

There haven’t been a ton of studies done on the effective use of essential oils on pests, but I know there are many essential oils that are known to repel insects, such as peppermint, rosemary, citronella, and geranium. Oregano is also known to repel insects, but it’s a very strong medicinal oil that I don’t want to use unless I’m using it for medicinal purposes. I simply add a few drops of one of these essential oils into the pest control mixture and spray.

Ensuring Effective and Safe Application

There are some variances in using organic pest control methods versus their non-organic counterparts. For instance, the time of day, whether there’s rain in the forecast, and how you broadcast the treatments may differ. The time of day is important when using these pest control methods. You don’t want to add neem oil to your plants in the heat of the day – I compare it to putting tanning oil on when you’re at the beach. The neem oil will cause your plants to burn. The best time of day to use these methods is in the late afternoon or early evening after all the pollinators have stopped flying around. These pest control methods don’t discriminate and can’t tell the difference between a honeybee and an aphid.

Because these are organic pest control methods, you will need to reapply them after the rain or overhead watering. Some non-organic, synthetic methods will stay in your garden for upwards of 90 days, but these won’t. I always like to take a look at the forecast before treating my plants because if I see there’s rain in the forecast, I may wait a day or two to save myself time and energy. I never broadcast these pest control methods over everything – I only spot treat as I see the pest issues. I don’t want to risk hurting any of the beneficial insects that are in my soil or pollinating my plants.

To save yourself some money, always buy the concentrate version when possible. You can buy pre-diluted mixes, and you’ll end up paying 3x as much overall, sometimes even more, plus the concentrates last for years on the shelf. So at the end of the year, just put them in your garden shed, and you’re good to go for next year. Save your hands and speed up the process by buying one of those 1-gallon hand pump sprayers. You can certainly mix this up in a smaller spray bottle, but trust me when I say the pump sprayers will keep your hands from cramping. Always mix up your treatments per the instructions on the bottles.

Today’s Gardens is the perfect place to find the tools and supplies you need to get started with organic pest control in your garden. Their wide selection of USDA Organic and OMRI-certified products will have you on your way to a thriving, pest-free garden in no time.

Today’s Garden is Garden and Landscape Company, provides all you need about Garden and Landscape Design to get better garden decorations.

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