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Organic Gardening Made Easy – How To Control Bugs Without Pesticides – Part II WMD

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.

Insecticidal Soap
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.

Chili Powder
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
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.


Organic Gardening Made Easy – How To Control Bugs Without Pesticides – Part I

It’s so very easy to reach for the spray or the powder and just pour it on your plants.  It’s so easy until you start reading labels and headlines about just what these various products do to you, to your family, your soil, your water and your neighbors.

Why not use chemicals?  Everybody else is.

Here’s the bottom line.  Before you unleash the myriad of products that will kill these pests, consider this.  While you are killing the bugs, you are also feeding your crops poison.  And it’s poison that can’t be washed off.

Root crops like potatoes, carrots, beets, radishes and fruit like apples, strawberries and peaches absorb and retain pesticides.  Even spinach isn’t safe in this chemical world.  Why?

When you eat these supposedly healthy foods, you are eating all the pesticides that come along for the ride and there are literally dozens of them as well as  growth retardants and fungus inhibitors.

How To Stop Using Pesticides
It’s really very simple.  Just say, “NO.” to using any herbicide or pesticide at all in your organic garden.

Yep, that’s it.  The answer is not to fall under the spell of easy and fast because these products are also deadly.   But the question still remains:  how do you control bugs without pesticides?

You may not like the answer because this bit of organic gardening will add time and tasks to your life. And you’ll also have to get a bit ruthless.  But don’t be seduced by products like Sevin, another “fast, easy” that some gardeners will tell you is okay to use.  It kills without discretion.

Sevin works but it also kills beneficials at the same time it kills pests.  And it is considered toxic to humans.  It is part of the Carbaryl family – N-methyl carbamate – and it can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, sweating and, in serious cases, pulmonary edema.  In other words, it just isn’t good for us or for our plants.

So, how does an organic gardener manage the pesky pests that will be in the garden and will do damage?  Here’s a hint; the title of this chapter should read how to get up your courage and get revenge.

How To Handle Being Bugged
First of all, know your enemy.  This means the good, the bad and the ugly.  I learned this after having killed a number of caterpillars eating my dill only to find out they were Monarch butterflies in larval stage.

You really will need a resource to help you figure out just what’s chowing down in your garden and whether or not to crush it, drown it, or boil it.  Remember the bug book I said I invested in?  It has saved the lives of countless thousands of good bugs and helped me identify and kill the bad ones.

Knowing what could be doing damage to your produce gives you a leg up on handling it.  Here’s my list of least favorite and most hated insect enemies.  They will probably end up on the top 10 list of anyone who grows anything, anywhere.

Ten Most Wanted Bugs
By the way, my top 10, most wanted (dirty, rotten, chewing, egg laying) bugs, are in order of how much I hate them:

  1. Colorado potato beetles
  2. Japanese beetles
  3. Asian beetles
  4. Cucumber beetles
  5. Mexican bean beetles
  6. Asparagus beetles
  7. Tomato horn worms (finally something not ending with beetle)
  8. Stink bugs
  9. Slugs
  10. Bag worms

Non-toxic Weapons of Mass Destruction
Handling each of these pests begins with putting healthy plants in the ground.  Healthy plants are more able to withstand an attack and less likely to keel over and die.

You can also put in some “sacrificial” plants, ones that will lure the marching army of pests to a spot that is not part of your garden.

Second on the list of non-toxic tactics is learn to use floating row covers to keep insects out but let light and moisture still get to your plants.  Most of the row covers on the market today are spun polyester. They are so light that you don’t need to buy hoops to hold them up.

You can get them in different weights but most backyard gardeners don’t need to use heavier stock.  And floating row covers can be used over and over again so you only have to invest in them once (or twice if you’re a lifelong gardener).

Next week:  A list of weapons (including my kluged recipe for handmade insecticidal soap with a kick) that will help you win the war on bugs without the  broad-based killing of the good bugs and without poisoning yourself or your loved ones.