Non-toxic pest control is becoming more popular with the growing interest in organic gardening.
I wrote "The Holistic Gardening Handbook" in 2010/2011.
It was eventually published in 2012 by Acres U.S.A. as "Building Soils Naturally."
I also created a mini, condensed version of the original book, thinking it might be a useful thing to have around. I hope you find it so (right-click on the button below to save the book to your computer):
Be sure to still read the article below, because it's one of the most important lessons I have.
In fact, one of the most common questions asked by new organic gardeners is how to get rid of pests without using chemical pesticides.
As a result, you'll find many recipes for homemade "organic" pesticides on the Internet and in books.
For example, baking soda actually works to prevent and eradicate powdery mildew (Erysiphales), blackspot (Diplocarpon rosae) and a few others.
I've even tried it myself just to see and it worked well on roses.
University trials have confirmed its effectiveness. A solution of 1-5 tablespoons of baking soda per gallon of water is generally recommended. Start lower though, as 5 tablespoons can hurt the leaves in some cases.
Efficacy is greatly improved by adding an equal amount of dish soap or insecticidal soap, or an equal part of horticultural oil.
The main benefit of these in this case seems to be that they help the baking soda solution stick to the leaves. I actually used molasses because it provides other benefits than just stickiness, whereas the soap is not friendly to the beneficial microorganisms on the leaves.
So using baking soda can help with certain diseases, but the problem with focusing on moving from chemical pesticides to organic pesticides is that we’re not recognizing the root cause of the pest problem and fixing that instead.
To look at the root cause of the problem, we first need to see why humans eat plants...
We (and other animals) prefer plants that are healthy and full of nutrients.
Sure, most of us seem to have lost a lot of our ability to differentiate between a healthy plant from a not-so-healthy plant, but animals are still very good at it and they choose the healthy stuff.
Even farm animals, who haven't exactly been bred for intelligence, will choose healthy feed over the pesticide-laced, imbalanced feed that makes up the majority.
But this gets really interesting when we look at why insects and diseases eat plants...
What kind of food does an aphid (Aphidoidea) like? What does a disease such as powdery mildew prefer to eat?
We tend to think insects and diseases are making our plants unhealthy, but actually, they are there because our plants are unhealthy.
This is one of the biggest shifts we need to make in our thinking when moving to organic gardening practices, and to me it’s absolutely fascinating.
While animals prefer healthy plants, insects and diseases prefer the opposite. They choose plants that have a nutritional imbalance of one or more nutrients. They literally do not possess the enzymes necessary to digest healthy plants.
In fact, they don’t even see healthy plants as a food source at all. Sounds crazy, right?
Well I'm going to explain it, because this is one of the most important concepts to understand when talking not only about non-toxic pest control, but organic gardening in general.
I won't go into too much detail, but here's the gist of it.
Animals (like us) see with our eyes in the visual light spectrum. Insects, on the other hand, sense much of their surroundings with their antennae.
That’s how they find a mate and that’s how they find their food. These antennae interpret electromagnetic frequencies in the infrared spectrum, which is right beside the visual light spectrum that we see.
Plants also emit pheromones that insects interpret as "food." Not all plants emit these pheromones, though.
It turns out that only sick plants emit them in such a manner as to be seen as food! This finding is one of the most amazing implications for organic gardeners and farmers.
Healthy plants simply do not emit these strong frequencies, so insects do not see healthy plants as a food source. And even if they do land on a healthy plant, for the most part, they do not have the enzymes to digest a healthy plant.
Why do sick plants invite predators to eat them? I don’t think we know for sure. Some people think it's evolution - the plants don't want to survive since it would be a detriment to their species (if sick plants were to continually reproduce, the species would not be as strong and would have a much more difficult time surviving, so they "take one for the team," so to speak).
I don't know about that, but I figure plants don't have the same anxiety about death that we do. All I know for sure is that insects eat sick plants.
As you may have noticed, most insects don’t go around eating any plant species in its path. They usually have just a few species or perhaps a family of plants that are their food and they don’t - they can’t - eat anything else.
That’s why plant predator books are often organized by plant, because when you know the plant that's being eaten, it narrows down the potential predators to just a handful.
It turns out that each insect antennae is shaped in such a way to collect only the frequencies from certain plants.
Other than the fact that they stop most organic gardeners from shifting their paradigm to see that plant-feeding organisms only eat unhealthy plants, non-toxic pest control products have a couple of other problems.
Many of them harm the plants to some degree, and most healthy plants can handle it, but since we’re spraying plants that are obviously already suffering, the damage will often be worse.
Another problem is if we keep killing the offending organism with these pest control products, the predators of those pests may be killed or at least will never set up shop.
For example, ladybugs (Coccinellidae) won’t lay their eggs, which therefore won’t hatch to eat the aphids.
And many of the beneficial microorganisms that would consume our black spot or mildew will be killed when we use baking soda or something similar.
Killing the pests does not change anything. Pesticides do not give the plant the nutrients it needs.
What is the ultimate goal for organic pest control? Create health in your soil and your plants so that the pests never cause any problems.
That's what this series of free lessons is all about.
And that's definitely what my online gardening course is all about.
And it's also why I use (and sell) a handful of organic products that do a very good job of improving plant health to the point where pests gradually go away.
Please let me know below what you think of this way of looking at non-toxic pest control. I would love to get your thoughts.