There are many safe, non-toxic and inexpensive methods to manage pests in your garden. Organic and natural pesticides can be very effective and are usually less toxic to wildlife, pets and humans rather than synthetic pesticides.
I’ve been gardening for nearly three decades and each year, there is always something threatening the bounty of my harvest. Hail, rabbits, Japanese beetles, powdery mildew, aphids and more. There will always be something but the key is to be aware, be flexible and be prepared to act. Over time, I’ve assembled an arsenal of supplies and tricks to help manage the problem. In this article, I am going to share what I actually carry with me to the garden and how to make most of them at home.
In my garden bucket:
Soapy Water Spray (homemade)
Soapy Water Spray (homemade) or Insecticidal Soap Sprays are highly effective against mites, aphids, whiteflies, and other soft-bodied insects as well as the softer nymph stages of some tough-bodied bugs.
Recipe: Mix together 1 tablespoon of dish soap (pure soap like Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soup) Mix the solution thoroughly and pour it into a clean spray bottle and add 1 quart of water, or 5 tablespoons of soap per 1 gallon of water if you have a lot of plants to spray. Mix the solution thoroughly and pour it into a clean spray bottle. Apply in the morning or evening when it’s cool.
Hot Pepper Spray (homemade)
Recipe: 1 gallon of water, 3 Tablespoons of hot pepper flakes (or 10 peppers chopped up finely if using fresh peppers (cayenne works the best – but you can certainly use jalapenos, Habanero’s or other varieties.) Add the ingredients into a pan and bring to a simmer for 15 minutes. Heating the liquid will help to infuse the oils from the hot peppers into the water – making for a more potent spray. Let the mixture sit for about 24 hours to absorb the hot pepper flakes – then strain and add a couple of drops of natural biodegradable dish soap to the gallon of mix. (This helps the mixture stick to the plants better).
You can mix ingredients cold and let sit for 36 to 48 hours – occasionally shaking the jug if you prefer not heating. You will need to strain the cold mix as well and add a few drops of dish soap and you are ready to spray!
Spray in morning and evening and wear protection on hands and eyes.
Deters mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, dogs, moles and insects.
Garlic Spray (homemade)
Recipe: garlic, olive oil, dish soap and water. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic to a one tablespoon of olive oil to 1 gallon of water. Let the mixture sit and steep for at least 24 hours (48 hours is better) Strain out the garlic and add a couple of drops of natural biodegradable dish soap to the gallon.
Garlic spray doesn’t kill the beneficial bugs but its pungent odor simply makes the plants undesirable as a place to eat or lay eggs. This helps maintain the balance your garden needs to defend itself against ants, army worms, aphids, borers, slugs, beetles, white flies, mosquitoes.
BT Spray: (make it, solution only good for 24 hours)
The most common strain of the bacterium—BT var. kurstaki (sometimes called BT var. berliner)—kills hundreds of different kinds of caterpillars, including cabbage loopers, tomato hornworms, cabbageworms, corn earworms, European corn borers, and squash vine borers. BT var. tenebrionis (a new name—until recently this one was called BT var. san diego) kills Colorado potato beetles.
Purchase 12 oz solution of Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) (brands like Bonide). About $12-15. Mix in spray bottle with water according to directions. Solution must be used within 24 hours of mixing to be effective.
Kills: leaf eating caterpillars controls caterpillars, loopers, cabbage worms, gypsy moth caterpillars and leaf rollers. Insects stop feeding and die within 2-3 days of ingesting BT Spray.
Diatomaceous Earth (purchased)
Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring, soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder. It 100% consumable by humans but deadly to certain insects. It can be purchased in 4 lb bags from local nursery for about $14.
Kills insects by ingestion/dehydration within 48 hours indoors or outdoors. For ants, bed bug, cockroach, flea, earwig, silverfish, cricket, millipede and centipede control. Must be applied when plants are dry to be effective.
Beer (cheap stuff or leftover)
Place small cup of beer to attract slugs on group near affected plants. The slugs will be attracted to the beer, go for a sip, fall in and drown. Don’t submerge the top of the tin even with the soil level or you might also kill ground beetles which eat slugs.
Lacto-Bacillus Serum (homemade)
Lacto-Bacillus Serum is an easy to make fertilizer that helps enable plants to absorb the good nutrients that promote healthy growth. The ingredients you need to make “labs” are simple — rice, water and milk. Directions to make can be found at this link:
I keep a set of flashcards in my bucket with common pests and how to treat them and one set with each of the above sprays/powders/liquids and how its used.
In addition to the pest control methods I carry in my bucket, I also employ of mix of companion planting, barrier methods, trap crops and timing of planting to deter unwanted pests. Stay tuned to a future blog post on these topics.