Home gardening accounts for an astonishing 75% of all pesticides used in North America, making it several million pounds used per year. Most of these are used to control insects on fruits and vegetables. From the garden, most of these chemicals find their way into streams and rivers as runoff, and from there into the oceans.
Organophosphates are the most common type of insecticide, and include malathion and parathion. These chemicals are effectively nerve agents, very similar in composition to weapons like Sarin gas, and were derived from Nazi research into chemical weapons during World War II. They act by inhibiting neurotransmitters in the brain and nervous system, causing paralysis, convulsions, and death. They are dangerous to virtually every animal on the planet. Their primary benefit over older pesticides like DDT, is that they are not persistent and breakdown very quickly in the environment.
Fortunately, there are a number of natural alternatives to these potent and dangerous chemicals, most of which are harmless to people and animals.
The most common problem gardeners face is insect damage to their plants. With proper cultivation and gardening methods, this problem can be drastically reduced before having to resort to other methods. This means having well-prepared soil, adjusting the pH balance as needed, good drainage and air circulation.
As your garden continues to grow and take shape, remove and dispose of any struggling plants. Be sure to keep your compost area well away from your main gardening area, as the compost heap will be sure to attract pests.
Keep your garden beds well mulched and top-dressed with compost to ensure healthy plant development. Ensure you’re using a clean mulch, either bought from a reputable dealer or cultivated yourself.
Be sure to keep your garden area clear of debris and things that will attract insects. If you have fruit trees near your garden, dispose of any fallen or rotting fruit immediately.
Use natural fertilizers for your garden. Clean manure is a good choice, as are seaweed fertilizer sprays. They are useful for strengthening soil and promoting plant growth. The seaweed sprays contain helpful minerals and trace elements like iron, calcium, sulphur and magnesium.
Mix up your garden beds with a variety of plant types interspersed throughout. This makes it difficult for plant specific pests to propagate and spread throughout your garden bed. Some plants are also effective at warding off insects, including for those plants around them.
If you’ve used your gardening implements on infected plants, be sure to sterilize them before using them on healthy plants.
Finally, you can call on the power of nature itself to help you in your fight. By attracting or purchasing insects which feast upon the particular pests that are bothering your plants, you can remove them quite naturally. Praying Mantises, Hover Flies, Ladybugs, Chalcids, Brachonids, and even Mud Wasps, are all insects which will help you battle common varieties of garden pests.
Diatomaceous earth can make an effective barrier to most insects, and works by carving open the insect’s exoskeleton and drying them out. Ants will generally not cross a line of diatomaceous earth, nor will most insects. It doesn’t affect earthworms at all, or, unfortunately, slugs.
Slugs can be controlled with a variety of methods, including beer traps, barriers of fine sand, and copper wire or tape. Ensure that the wire or tape is not uphill from any plants, or water that contacts the copper could drain into the plants, injuring or killing them.
Neem oil is safe, and effective against a wide variety of insects, include some of the most troublesome in the garden, like ants, aphids, locusts, leafminers, caterpillars, and many others.
Sprays made with natural soaps are also effective against small, soft-bodied insects, like aphids and spider mites, and will destroy the eggs of larger insects as well. Against these larger insects, though, it is unaffected.
Avoiding chemical pesticides with the use of natural substitutes will help your garden grow well, and more importantly, safely for you and for the environment as a whole.