The Organic Arsenal
Organic gardeners know that healthy soil yields healthy plants, which will have a balance of both good and bad insects. Plants that are stressed or unhealthy will usually be more attractive to insects. Insects are a form of natural selection to eliminate the weakest of the species. When insects are noticed, we should ask ‘What am I doing wrong so that my plants are unhealthy?’ instead of ‘What do I spray to kill these bugs?’ Plants may be too wet, too dry, in need of fertilizer, or may be a poor variety choice or planted at the wrong time. When harlequin bugs are swarming on my radishes, greens and broccoli in the spring, they are telling me that it is too hot for these cool season plants and that they should go to the compost bin. Aphids on plants may indicate a need for more nitrogen, while spider mites are attracted to plants that are stressed by lack of moisture.
The regular application of seaweed to plants will prevent many insect infestations. The broad array of nutrients and trace elements in seaweed provides a well balanced diet for healthy plants. Applying seaweed to the leaves of plants leaves a salt residue on the leaf surface that most insects find distasteful.
There are times when treatment of pests is necessary and there are many products available to gardeners that are safe and effective. Remember to read the label to make sure that the product you are using will target the pest you are trying to control. Use any personal protective equipment recommended on the label. Even organic products like dusts can be harmful to your health.
Pesticides are classified by the EPA with signal words according to the level of toxicity of the product with ‘Caution’ being the least toxic, ‘Warning’ and ‘Danger’ signifying the most dangerous products. I don’t use or recommend the use of products which have the ‘Warning’ and ‘Danger’ signal words. Some products are certified by OMRI – the Organic Materials Review Institute and products with this seal will generally be the best choices for least toxic pest control.
These are some of the products that every gardener should have on hand:
Plant Soap – Safer is a brand that is readily available and is very effective for controlling spider mites, whiteflies, aphids and many other insects.
Bt – Products which contain Bacillus thuringiensis will control any worm that will become a moth or butterfly. It will not affect beneficial insects, but should be used with caution in butterfly gardens. It is sprayed on the foliage and when the worm ingests it, it shuts down their digestive system.
Orange oil- an effective control for fire ants. Fire Ant Killer by Safer is one brand available.
Garlic GP Products – These contain garlic extracts that are effective for controlling black spot on roses, brown patch on lawns and many other diseases in vegetable and ornamental plants. (www.garlicgp.com)
Neem Oil – a tree derived oil that is very effective at controlling hard to kill insects like scale, thrips and leafminers.
Spinosad – One of the newest products in the organic realm. It is available as an active ingredient in fire ant bait and also in a liquid concentrate that can be used to treat beetles, worms and other insects.
Essential Oils - Oils of clove, mint, thyme and others have been found to be effective at killing and repelling insects. Victor Poison Free Ant and Roach killer contains 4 percent mint oil (Victorpest.com) Green Light Organic Insect Control contains thyme, clove, sesame oil, wintergreen and soybean oil. Not only do these oils kill pests effectively, they smell great afterwards.
Sluggo – is a snail and slug bait made from iron phosphate. It kills them and provides iron and phosphate, essential plant nutrients. It does not harm earthworms like the typical snail and slug baits.
Sluggo Plus has added Spinosad to control pillbugs and other crawling insects in addition to snails and slugs. A little expensive, but consider that it breaks down and acts as a fertilizer for your garden in addition to controlling pests! From Monterey garden products – www. Montereylawngarden.com (Many companies have the same formula with a different name.)
With just a few products, most plant insects may be managed effectively when needed. You will be free to spend your gardening time improving the soil, feeding the plants with safe, organic fertilizers and enjoying your plants.