Green Garden Insecticides

Non toxic bug controls: Easy DIY!

Ever since I first heard that you can kill garden pests with soap, I have been experimenting with different kinds of homemade soap sprays. I have found that they all work to some degree, some better than others, some better on certain bugs and not so good on others.

My soap sprays are non toxic and easy to make. But I also have a litany of other bug killing techniques that do the trick. Some involve herbs, many don’t. All of them can be made at home with easy to obtain ingredients. All of them work beautifully.

Today I’ll tell you about a few of them that have worked for me and are easy to work with. All of these tried and true methods are good for the environment, safe for the kids or the pets and will rid your garden of plant eating bugs without destroying the foliage, the bees, the birds or the butterflies. You’ve heard of some of them, of course. I’m just hoping that maybe there’s one or two you haven’t heard of that can help you out today.

My number one favorite is using beer to kill off slugs. I had a big infestation of slugs one year, eating up everything in my garden from the Salvia to the Hot Peppers. The Rue did nothing to drive them off. I did not want to use slug pellets because there were little animals and birds everywhere and I was afraid they’d somehow contact the pellets and be killed or made sick. So I tried a method I’d heard of but never tried. Get a can of beer and pour out the beer into a glass. Cut the empty beer can in half and bury it deep in the ground so that the cut edge is in line with the ground. Fill it 3/4 full with the beer. In the morning, the cans will be full of drunken, dead slugs. It’s a miracle. After a week, I never had another slug. Try it.

I used to use Sevin Dust to rid my plants of leaf cutting flies, beetles, aphids and mites. But the powder gets on the leaves, blows off in high winds, ends up on plants you don’t want it on and then is really hard to wash off when you harvest. Yuk. It can be hard on bees and butterflies, too. So I was excited when I found out about soap. At first, I bought the retail kind, a bottle of insecticidal soap at Walmart. It did work good but I thought it was strong and it bleached the leaves of my tender plants, leaving white spots. The smell was hard of my sensitive sniffer. So I heard about a recipe for homemade soap and I tried it. Boy, was it a dream come true! It killed off the aphids, mites and beetles, didn’t bleach my plants, rinsed right off, didn’t come off in high winds and didn’t hurt the birds, bees or butterflies. Here’s the recipe.

Buy a liquid hand soap, not a dish or laundry detergent. A really good choice is pure, natural soaps like liquid glycerin soaps or castile soaps. Health food stores have a big variety but you can even find pure soaps in some pharmacies or big box stores.

To make the spray, use 1 to 2 Tbsp of liquid soap per each quart of fresh water. Get a clean, empty sprayer bottle with nozzle at the big box store and mix the water and soap in it, shaking it really good. Spray just enough on the plant to coat the leaves. They should drip a bit but the leaves shouldn’t be laden.
Remember to always shake it real good before using.

You can also make a garlic version which will work on worms and grubs, too. Use a lot of garlic, like 2 full heads (not just cloves) and chop it up really fine. You can buy ready chopped garlic and use about 4 Tbsp. Add the garlic to a quart of water and shake it up in a spray bottle. You should shake this up a bit before using and spray enough to coat the leaves. The leaves should drip a bit but should not be laden. Use this sparingly on more tender plants. It can cause leaf scorch if too much is used.

There are a number of plants that are natural bug deterrents. If you plant your garden in with these herbs you will chase off a lot of the bugs. They are most effective against flea beetles, lice, spider mites, webworms, moths, ants and leaf cutting flies. These herbs are Pennyroyal, Tansy, Mugwort, Rue, Southernwood, Hemp Agrimony, Peppermint and Wormwood. These herbs smell and look lovely. Fill your garden space with healthy herbs like these and they will hold the little biters at bay naturally. It worked really well for my flea beetle and spider mite infestations. Rue and Pennyroyal worked really good on the flea beetles. The beetles kept leaving the plants after I’d apply the soap mixture and then came back when the leaves dried. It was frustrating. To my pleasant surprise, s few Pennyroyal and Rue plants did the trick. I never believed that just planting herbs would do it. But it did.

One of the very best methods is also one of the hardest but I’m going to tell you about it in case you are interested in doing it. You will need to buy a book on beneficial insects and I recommend The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control by Rodale Press. They have a huge table that extends over pages which shows the various diseases and pests and the correct organic and safe method of fixing the problem. They also have an entire section devoted to beneficial insects with photos and text all about the bug and how you can ID it even in a garden full of other bugs. Beneficial insects are cheap and you can buy them at most nurseries. Getting them home is easy, too, as they are usually packaged in a safe and efficient manner. The problem begins when you set them loose in your garden. They eat up all the bugs really fast (I’m not kidding) but once they get a little low in foodstuffs they wander off to do good work in other people’s gardens and guess what… they don’t come back! And then your spider mites and aphids and flea beetles slowly re infest and the ladybugs and lacewings are gone. So back to the nursery you go. Obviously this method works best in a confined environment where the good guys can’t just go merrily on their way. However, even under green house or indoor gardening conditions, these guys are going to eat up all the bad guys and then have nothing to eat. So, unless you are willing to “feed” your good guys bad bugs to keep them alive, then letting them go is the best recourse. Just plan on buying them over and over again, as each new season brings a new infestation.

On a simpler tack, I’ve got a trick to rid the yard of Wasps. If you have nearby trees where Wasps have hung their nests, then you might find your yard full of the stingers on an afternoon when you’d like to have a BBQ or a sunbath. To get rid of them really fast and keep them away for the night, gather a handful of Sweet Joe Pye and set it on fire. OK, so you say, what the heck is Sweet Joe Pye? It’s not that obscure, but I admit it wasn’t familiar to me at first. But I went to the local nursery supplier (not Walmart or Target, they don’t have enough inventory) and asked them about it. Sure enough they had the plant. Buy a few small ones and take them home and plug them into your garden. They are sweet smelling and pretty so they aren’t a waste of space. When the Wasps come around, pluck yourself a handful and push it into a beer can or soda bottle or any other container with a hole. Set it down and set the leaves on fire. In about two seconds flat, every Wasp within a mile has left the area. I’m not kidding. It’s wonderful.. and it doesn’t kill the Wasps or anything else, for that matter. However, you should not burn this indoors, attempt to smoke it or lean over the fire and breath in the fumes. It can be harmful to the lungs. Use with care.

And here’s one last trick. If you have a lot of biting or leaf cutting flies hanging around your garden, I have a recipe for a natural sticky hanger that will trap them all. Go to the local Herbalist or whole food supplier or Health Food store. Ask them for Elecampane. If they don’t have fresh Elecampane or there are no Herbalists in your hood, then you can go to the nursery (again) and ask for fresh plants or for seeds you can plant. However you do it, get Elecampane and grow it in your garden. Once it is grown, pull out the plant and get the roots and stem. Remove all of the leaves so that all you have is the stem with the roots attached. You will find that these are really sticky so handle them with care or you will get your skin stuck on it and it hurts pulling it off. Set the sticky stems and roots aside and get a handful of rubber bands, strings, cord or tape. Fashion hangers of sorts and attach the roots and stem to the hanger. Place it where ever you have flies: in the garden, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in a closet, it just doesn’t matter. Flies will rush over to it and end up stuck on it. This worked wonders in my Rose garden when leaf cutting flies had taken over, eating circles and holes into every Rose leaf in the area. It just ruined the look of my fresh cut John F Kennedys and that made me mad as hell. A hanger made of Elecampane and in no time I was tossing the little biters out with the trash. Amazing? Yes. But thank God for herbs!

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