Be kind to the environment, and your family, and use non-chemical pest-control methods
Story & photos: Diane Norris
If you want to take a chemical-free, organic approach to pest control in the garden and home, try doing things the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) way. This offers a holistic and safe approach to pest control that poses no threat to us, non-target creatures, the soil, water or air. It does not rely on the use of chemicals or pesticides (with the latter including insecticides, herbicides, termiticides, fungicides, rodenticides and even some disinfectants).
Pesticides are not just harmful to pests, their use has been associated with human health issues. Keep in mind that we are at the end of the food chain, so if poisons are used at the other end — on insects or weeds — these toxic substances have the potential to travel all the way through each link, ending up with us.
Let’s look at the basic steps involved in the non-chemical approach to pest control:
• Managerial: This involves looking at the structures in and around your home and reassessing some of the things you do. To begin with, you need to eliminate sources of food, water and shelter that will attract pests such as rodents. You may need to design or redesign to incorporate pest-resistant materials.
• Biological control: This includes the use of beneficial insects, which means attracting, introducing or perhaps even purchasing insect predators that kill and eat unwanted insects in your home or garden. A great example of this is the fabulous ladybird. Ladybirds eat pesky aphids that you often spot on soft rose foliage and buds. If you spray poison on your aphid-infested rose bush you will not only kill the aphids you will also kill any ladybirds that might have been attracted to the aphids — definitely not a sustainable solution. Instead, you could spray the infected plants with a soap spray and the wipe off the aphids with a soft cloth or your fingers or you can buy ladybird larvae from an IPM specialist and let them to their thing uninterrupted.
• Physical and mechanical control: This means detecting and removing pests or weeds by physical methods (such as by hand) or having structures that deter insects, rodents or herbaceous pests (such as ant-capping on piers to deter termites).
Your living ecosystem outdoors is a natual haven for insects and weeds. Educate yourself about this environment. If you see a caterpillar, don’t run for the spray; it is probably the larvae stage of a fabulous and much-needed butterfly. Get to know the lifecycles of such insects. Watch a spider in its web or a cicada emerge from its shell.
To keep plants healthy and disease-free try mulching, composting, good watering practices and companion planting. Grow veggies, herbs, fruit and ornamental plants organically (there are a host of books, magazines and websites dedicated to explaining how to do this). Keep your soil healthy. Watch for the good insects in the garden like ladybirds, praying mantis and attract birds.
For lawns, you can hand-weed — a little tedious but worth the effort (I try to dig up 20 broadleaf weeds a day and even though I sometimes forget to do so, I am working my way across the grass in a slow but chemical-free fashion). Fertilise with a natural nutrient like Dynamic Lifter and aerate.
Non-chemical pest control is absolutely essential for environmental health and personal wellbeing. The affects of many toxic chemicals, still readily available, are unknown and not tested. Many of these have been banned but, unfortunately, Australia lags well behind the United States and many European countries that have withdrawn from sale some commonly used chemicals they consider unsafe for humans or the environment. So, it is up to us in to take the most natural approach possible to avoid potential chemical contamination. Non-chemical alternatives are available and are worth the time and effort to implement.
Some preventative measures
Non-chemical measures that will help prevent or overcome problems include:
• Crop rotation and companion planting.
• Clean and/or disinfect all tools, pots and seed trays, especially if they have been used on diseased material.
• Time planting and harvesting to avoid a problem. For example, choose early fruit varieties.
• Plant disease-resistant varieties.
• Destroy infected material (fruit infested with coddling moth, gladioli with thrips, plants with root rot) before the problem spreads.
• Prune out diseases or damaged wood.
• Remove garden debris such as old prunings, spent vegetables and heavy layers of mulch that can harbour pests such as cutworm.
• Keep weeds under control. Weeds compete for water, light and nutrients, reduce air circulation and are hosts for pests and diseases.
• Hand-remove insects such as caterpillars and mealy bugs and the odd disease-infected leaf.
• Use traps, for example, yellow board painted with a commercial insect adhesive for whiteflies, especially in glasshouses.
• Wash off insects.
• Water or mist around plants to keep them cool and moist. Hot, dry conditions encourage many insects such as thrips.