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Effective Pest Control Without Chemical Pesticides
(from Arlington Organic Garden Club Newsletter, February 1998)

Why change the way we control pests?

Organophosphate pesticides are unhealthy for people and the environment. Diazinon, Malathion, Dursban (Chlorpyrifos) and Carbaryl are linked to permanent neurological and kidney problems, reproductive toxicity and death.(1) These pesticides work by inhibiting nerve and muscle response and were originally developed for use in chemical warfare against people. (2)

Organic Insecticides are more effective controlling pests and are safer and easier to use. Take your chemical pesticides to your city's next hazardous waste collection day and use the following techniques for controlling unwanted insects in your home and garden.

1. Plant resistant varieties and native or well adapted plants.

Plant vegetable varieties that have been proven to be resistant to disease and pests. An initial following their name usually identifies these. Plants that grow well in Wisconsin do not necessarily grow well in Texas. Learn which plants are native to the North Texas area or have proven to be well adapted to our climate.

2. Clean up your garden.
Many insects seek protection in crop debris. Compost your spent plants when they are done producing. Pull up badly infested plants the minute you spot them and compost them too.

3. Develop a handpicking habit.
Patrol daily for pests in your garden. Look for offending pests and when you find them squish them with your fingers. If that's too gross for you, carry a bucket of soapy water and drop the little buggers in there. Always inspect the underside of leaves for white, yellow or reddish brown egg masses and smash them too.

4. Use water as a pesticide.
A study at Texas A&M University found that water sprays reduced aphids and spider mites by 70% to 90%.

5. Ring Your Seedlings.
An extremely effective pest control for young seedlings is a simple barrier made from cardboard such as toilet paper cylinders or paper towel tubes. Cut the tubes into small sections and place around your seedlings to do the trick.

6. Plant a trap.
Just like people, insects have food preferences. Plant a few of their preferred foods away from your preferred foods and either sacrifice the plants you planted for the pests or smash those bugs as they eat. Beetles love radishes and Harlequin bugs love mustard. Put out a few squash plants in pots a few weeks before you set out your main crop and destroy all beetles attracted to the potted squash.

7. Diversify.
Plant a mix of plants on one row. For instance, plant a tomato plant, followed by some greens. Pests flourish in a monoculture or a garden with a single type of plant and no weeds. Planting a mixture of plants confuses the pests, and they can't get a good foot into your garden door. Plant a cover crop. Research has shown that interplanting cabbage with living mulches of while clover, creeping bentgrass, red fescue or Kentucky Blue grass reduced the need to control flea beetles. (3)

8. Mulch, Mulch, and Mulch.
Mulch preserves moisture, eliminates weeds, and keeps the soil surface cooler which benefits earthworms, microorganisms, and plant roots. Better yet, mulches repel and or confuse pests. Researchers have found that the Colorado Potato Beetle has a much harder time zeroing in on potato plants mulched with straw than on unmulched potato plants.

9. Bring in the Beneficials.
Harmful insects only account for approximately 1% to 2% of the insect population. Allow the good bugs to do the dirty work for you. Encourage the guys in the white hats such as ladybugs, green lacewings, praying mantids, and wasps by planting an inviting habitat. The following plants produce lots of nectar and pollen to attract the good guys: Butterfly Weed, Clovers, Cilantro, Cosmos, Dill, Feverfew, Goldenrod, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Marigold, Mustard, Nasturtiums, Parsley, Queen Anne's Lace, Rose-Scented Geraniums, Spearmint, Sunflowerr, Sweet Alyssum, Sweet Fennel, Tansy, Thyme, White Sage and most wildflowers.

10. Rotate Your Crops.
Changing what you plant in a particular location is very important in fighting disease and pests such as knot root nematodes. Knot root nematodes don't move more than a few feet in the soil. So if you plant plants on which nematodes do not feed such as rye or oats, you can starve the nematodes out in a year or two. (4)

(1) US News and World Report 9/14/92
(2) Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
(3) Michigan State University
(4) Whitney Cranshaw, PHD, Colorado State University

Additional Sources:
Organic Gardening Magazine May/June '97
The Dirt Doctor's Guide to Organic Gardening, by J. Howard Garrett
Good Bugs by Allison Mia Starcher

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