Alternative Pest Control Methods

Keep your pests to a minimum with these pesticide-free approaches to home gardening.

| November/December 2017

When applied correctly, most synthetic pesticides have come a long way, in terms of toxicity to humans and environmental damage, compared to their predecessors. However, many gardeners would prefer not to use synthetic pesticides in their garden at all. In addition to the possible health risks to humans, pesticides can also kill insect predators and insect pollinators (including bees) — insects that help a healthy garden. There are a number of alternate means to fight insect garden pests. So, doing away with pesticides doesn’t mean surrendering the garden to the munching insect hordes.

As a college student, I majored in chemistry and biology. As a gardener, I rarely use any pesticide — organic or synthetic — in my garden. This is because I like to use biology, not chemistry, to solve my garden pest problems. And, there are a variety of ways you can keep your garden completely pesticide free.

Alternate approaches

Before I get to biological controls, there are numerous methods to keep insects at bay.

Agricultural netting places a physical barrier between your plants and insects. Once the plants have sprouted, the gardener installs a series of hoops — they look like large croquet hoops or wickets — straddling the row. Then, ag netting is draped over the hoops and affixed to them. Done properly, it is 100 percent effective in keeping outside insects away. It cannot, however, guard against pests that live in the soil. (In other words, this won’t work against squash vine borers if you plant squash in the same patch as last year.) Ag netting allows almost all of the sunlight through, but is woven tightly enough that even the smallest insects cannot get through. It works wonderfully, but can get damaged in high winds or strong downpours.

Geology can also help you defeat insect pests. Diatomaceous earth, sometimes called D.E., is sedimentary rock formed by the compression of fossilized diatoms. Diatoms are a type of algae with a hard shell. D.E. has a wide variety of uses, including as a liquid absorber, a filtration agent for beer, an ingredient in cat litter, and a stabilizing component of dynamite. It also kills insects. When insects crawl across D.E., it absorbs lipids from their exoskeletons and the insects dehydrate and die. Diatomaceous earth is not toxic, but it is abrasive, and contact with the dust will irritate your eyes and lungs. As such, wear a mask and goggles when applying D.E.

Insect repelling plants

There are a variety of plants that repel certain insects. Encircling your vegetable garden with these plants will help deal with pests. The list of plants suspected of repelling certain insects is long, but here are some of the better-known examples.

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