If you’re a gardener, killing is in the cards.
If you’re an organic gardener, you will kill, too. But you won’t kill indiscriminately. Your Weapons Of Mass Destruction (WMD) will be kind to you and your family and kind to the environment. WARNING: THIS IS A LONG POST…but worth the read. Oh and some of the ideas are gruesome…but they work.
Let’s start with an easy weapon you’ve heard about before – insecticidal soap.
Insecticidal soap is a good way to try to control pests before they get a foothold. You can use dishwashing liquid for your base because it is mild and, used in small quantities, won’t damage the plants.
The soap enhances the ability of the other additives to stick to the leaves of the plant for a bit longer. Soap also dehydrates the bug’s cell membranes and speeds their trip to bug heaven. One word of caution, don’t use too much soap. If you do, you could kill your plants right along with the bugs.
RECIPE: Home Brewed Insecticidal Soap
Here’s a base recipe for making insecticidal soap that may discourage your pests including the cucumber beetle.
6 cloves of garlic
1 large onion
1 to 2 tablespoons of red pepper flakes or 1 to 2 tablespoons of powdered cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dishwashing soap
1 gallon water
Put the garlic, onion and pepper in a blender or food processor and liquefy.
Steep these ingredients for an hour.
Strain through cheesecloth.
Stir the blended mixture into a gallon of hot water.
Stir in the dishwashing liquid.
Cover and let it stand for two days so the bits of garlic, onion or pepper flakes settle to the bottom.
Strain again, stopping about an inch from the bottom to keep the bits of garlic or pepper flakes on the bottom of the jar from flowing into the newly strained liquid.
Pour the liquid into a spray bottle and spray affected plants thoroughly to discourage bad bugs!
WMD In The War on Bugs
Like any good general who goes to war, you can’t just rely on one weapon. There are a few more that really took me a couple of years to come to grips with.
Before gardening, I was a wimp. If a bug of any variety crossed my path, I drew myself up to my full 64 inch height, screamed and ran. Oh, yes I did.
Then I became an organic gardener. Bugs moved from the nuisance category to sworn enemy. And my arsenal expanded to include some pretty weird (and previously unthinkable) weapons.
Rocks are a favorite. They’re cheap and readily available. And they’re effective. Just hold a rock on either side of a squash leaf that’s harboring stink bugs and bring them down quickly, bashing the brains out of the vine borer before it lays eggs or pokes holes in your squash, cuke or pumpkin stems.
Oh, and make sure you check the bottoms of the leaves of your zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers and pumpkins for eggs. Once you see a stinkbug you can be sure you have a little batch of bright orange eggs stashed somewhere on the plant. Find them, crush them and move on.
Hands do the job with a bit more finesse than rocks. Okay, it’s a bit gross to grab a bug and squash it with your bare hands. But smaller beetles like cucumber, asparagus and Mexican bean beetles are much more agile than stink bugs so rocks rarely work.
NOTE: be prepared to spend a bit of time every afternoon or evening catching and crushing these beetles. I used to come home from the office, change and go out and vent all the pent up hostility of handling my staff, my peers and my bosses by crushing as many bugs as I could find.
Finding these winged pests and their crawling, larval offspring means taking the time to shake each plant. When they fly up and land again, squash them between thumb and forefinger while perhaps reciting the litany of crimes your co-workers have committed and the punishment you are meting out.
Be methodical. Flip the leaves of every plant over to look for larva and eggs. This is especially important for Mexican bean beetles. “Where there’s one,” my Mom used to say, “There are a million.” So be ruthless. Think sheer volume and crush away.
Slotted Spoon & A Pot of Water
There are some bugs I just will not tackle, bare-handed. When the Japanese beetles and their cousins, the Asian beetle and the Green Fruit beetle (looks like a Japanese beetle on steroids) come calling, I break out my slotted spoon and a pot of cold water. Weird weapons of choice for dealing with flying beetles that can hook to your clothes and get caught in your hair but, believe me, they work.
There’s just one trick. You have to go out to the infested plants early in the morning, as dawn breaks and before the sun begins to warm the air. These beetles are heavy sleepers and don’t start stirring until the sun is up. So it’s really easy to whack them into the pot of water with the spoon and wait for them to drown. Or if you’ve got chickens, set the pot in the coop and stand back. It will look like a Japanese horror movie as the chickens move in to eat their fill.
Sifter and flour
This is a trick my Mom taught me. She raised a lot of cole crops – cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts. And these plants were really plagued by things like the codling moth. Well, Mom showed me how to use morning dew, white flour and a sifter to turn the moths and their larvae into – well, how can I say this – papier mache bugs.
The flour and water mixed together to create a paste that baked in the sun and froze this insect enemy into tiny sculptures that could no longer chew their way through my plants. By the way, this also works for flea beetles.
Here’s another ingredient from the kitchen that works, all on its own, to help control roly-polies, earwigs, and some of our other not-so-welcome bugs. And it’s simple and cheap (my favorite combination). Sprinkle chili powder under targeted plants. It doesn’t hurt the plants but it sure does make the creepy crawlies take off and never come back.
Diatomaceous earth is a blessing for any gardener plagued by slugs. And if you plant tender lettuce and young pepper plants, you will probably have slugs coming over for dinner every night. Like the trick for killing codling moths, I tend to put the diatomaceous earth in the flour sifter and sift it gently over the affected plants but don’t inhale it. It can hurt you, too.
I also use a spoon to lay down little circles of diatomaceous earth around the stems of my plants and around the outside of the lettuce plants. Diatomaceous earth is made of the sharp, jagged skeletal remains of microscopic creatures. It acts like finely ground glass and lacerates soft-bodied slugs causing them to dehydrate.
I don’t want to be sexist here and I was going to write grandchildren but I just could not get my granddaughter engaged in this particular game. I paid my grandsons cash on the barrel head for Japanese beetle bodies. And they earned a considerable amount of money some years by just banging the beetles into a pot or crushing them with rocks.
Some of the tactics seem downright cruel but, remember, this is war!
Closing Thoughts on Controlling Bugs
There will be days when you are on the battlefield, armed with your weapon of choice and you’ll still feel a bit like David to the insect kingdom’s Goliath.
Take heart and smash, bash, drown and pick until you’ve cut into the insect front line troops. And remember that resisting a quick squirt of pesticide means knowing that your food will not kill you, your family or your friends.
Got any weird or wonderful ways to control bugs, organically? Please share them! Next week, composting successfully. Composting always sounded like it required a lot of work and a pretty good dose of luck. I’ll show you just how easy it can be.