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Progress with Project 2: Reducing Pesticides

Pesticides: How to avoid using them?

In general nature can take care of itself however, from time to time it does get out of balance. On these occasions we notice the build-up of pests in the garden and feel we need to intervene. That’s when we are tempted to reach for the pesticides, but remember they are poisons. So before reaching for such dangerous chemicals, consider some of the simpler and safer means of restoring the natural balance.

There are many actions we can take to help control those pests. So over the next few paragraphs I’ll list some which you and your children can apply safely. I am going to group these actions into two sets, firstly those which can be classed as mechanical and secondly those which are biological.

Basic Mechanical Controls

These suggestions are not exhaustive but give you some starter ideas.
  • Move the bird food from the bird table and hang in a tree or shrub. Whilst the birds are awaiting their turn they will work over the tree eating the pests. I have controlled woolly aphid and scale insect on apple trees with this method.
  • Plants in pots, in the house or greenhouse, can suffer from root aphid which can be controlled by removing the plant and carefully washing off all soil before repotting. It works a treat.
  • Strawberries - have you noticed little white flies when you disturb the plants whilst picking fruit? Major control can be exerted by removing all the leaves in early spring.
  • Did you know that snails congregate in “dormitories” over winter and during the day? You will find them under ivy or in folds of poly bags and similar places. Go look for them and destroy or place in the bin in a sealed bag otherwise they’ll be back. Don’t throw them into the roadway for cars to squash like my mother did. She did so at least for a while until a car skidded on the slimly bits.
There are many remedies for slugs:
  • Overturned orange peel, and then destroy. B) Sunken container with old beer, they drown quite happy apparently.
  • If you are more adventurous you could keep ducks, not chickens, particularly the Indian Running Duck. Ducks love slugs but are not particularly partial to your plants. The bonus is the possibility of getting some eggs.

If you really cannot get past having a spray gun to zap those pests think on the work done at Newcastle University a few years ago. This work demonstrated that most pests were killed by soapy water, around 80%, more than any of the then current pesticides. So make yourself a dilute soapy water mix and go spray your plants.

Thinking of sprays reminds me about the 3 R’s, rabbits, rodents and roe deer. A solution made from crushed garlic cloves sprayed on plants keeps rabbits and rodents away. Whilst Roe deer cannot stand the smell of human scent products, so use a scented soap solution and spray your garden boundaries or specifically your roses and apple trees which deer seem to love.
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Images from the Pesticide Action Network

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Biological Controls

I start this section with a little rhyme: -
“Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite’em
And little fleas have lesser fleas and so ad infinitum”
Nature has come up with predator insects, the little and lesser insects, which can and do kill, eat or destroy what we consider as pests. So if our pest is the “big flea” what is the nature of the “little and lesser fleas” and where can I get them?

It is generally known that Ladybirds, Lacewings and Hover Flies are “good” insects because their larvae catch and eat the harmful insects, aphids in this case. So at any time of year go looking for the Ladybirds and introduce them into your garden or greenhouse. Their larvae will soon put pay to the aphids.

However, the pests are not just aphids but extend to more serious insects like Vine Weevil whose grubs eat plant roots, particularly primula and cyclamen and many pot plants. You will know when you have this pest because adult weevils eat little notches into the leaf edges. In nature the weevil larvae are controlled by soil born insects called nematodes. Live cultures of nematodes can be purchased and it is a simple task of watering on the ground or pots where the pests reside or around susceptible plants as a preventative. I have used this successfully for many years in both the open ground and on pot plants.

Some of the more serious pests can be controlled by a range of predatory insects which can also be purchased for you to release into your greenhouse or conservatory.
These are just 2 of the many, currently over 15, such biological controls available. The main advantage being the establishment and maintenance of a natural balance without using pesticides.
Where can you get these biological controls? They are now more commonly available, for example I have seen some for sale at Heighley Gate but there are firms like GREEN GARDENER, tel. 01493 750061, web site who specialise in biological and none toxic pest controls. Or try the Royal Horticultural Society who have recently started supplying a range of biological controls.

Let me finish with just 2 more simple controls. Carrot root fly flies low to the ground so raise your carrot bed or close cover with what is called enviro mesh, both stop this pest. And for indoors red spider mite prefers hot dry conditions so reduce the temperature a little and increase the humidity, it’s that simple.

Good pest and pesticide free gardening.

Mike Dale
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