In the Garden:
Determining whether insect eggs will hatch into beneficial or destructive species requires a little research. These barrel-shaped eggs with circular lids will become stinkbugs. Their feeding causes minimal damage in my ornamental garden.
Practicing Good Garden Stewardship
In the balance of nature, most living things, whether plant or animal, have in their environment that which sustains them and that which harms them. An insect, for example, has a host that sustains it -- your favorite geraniums, perhaps. In an ecologically balanced environment, there are also natural enemies; other insects or pathogens that attack it. But when an insect has few enemies, it can become a pest. Maintaining a healthy balance in the garden by purposefully avoiding the use of chemicals is, in my mind, practicing good garden stewardship.
To me, good garden stewardship means knowing the enemy, learning its lifecycle (and when it's most vulnerable to control), and being patient enough to allow natural enemies to restore the natural balance. I tend toward cultural and mechanical pest control strategies, and rarely resort to chemicals. However, when things get serious, I go to the pantry and whip up something special for the troublemakers.
Hot Enough For You?
I think one of the most basic home remedy pest controls is a hot pepper spray. There are commercial products available, but I like making my own using hot pepper and garlic. I use 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper flakes and 2 cloves of garlic, a dash of liquid soap and 1 quart of water. I pop everything into the blender and mix well. I strain the mixture and pour it into a hand sprayer. Spraying this mix on soft- bodied insects such as aphids makes them leave in a hurry. Caterpillars and beetles usually avoid munching on leaves sprayed with a hot pepper solution. This recipe also works well repelling critters such as rabbits, but you'll have to reapply this mixture after a rain.
Although not for the squeamish, another effective pest repellent is bug juice -- beetles, caterpillars, or slugs pureed in water. It is most effective when sprayed wherever you find the ingredients. Whether it's the smell of panic hormones that are believed to be released prior to and during the blending process, or just common sense, bugs don't return to an area that has been saturated with their blended colleagues. For obvious reasons, I don't usually spray my vegetable crops with this mixture!
Baking Soda for Roses
For healthier leaves and better blossoms, I dissolve 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts in 1 gallon of water and apply to my roses once a month. There's another homemade recipe that will help roses, as well. Baking soda, when sprayed on rose leaves, will prevent the spread of powdery mildew and black spot diseases. Research at Cornell University shows that mixing 3 teaspoons baking soda with 2 tablespoons horticultural or summer oil in 1 gallon of water will create a mixture that stops these fungal diseases when sprayed on rose leaves. This is a preventative spray, though, and won't kill the disease once it has started.
Not all of my sprays are homemade. Different strains of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) have been used for years to control chewing pests. It's a bacterium that must be ingested, so some chewing is necessary, but it's very effective against cabbage worms and Colorado potato beetles. I spray this biological agent in late afternoon to avoid the hot summer sun and add a dash of liquid soap to help it stick to the leaves. Insects eating treated plants will die within a few days. This is a great control because it only affects targeted insects and is harmless to beneficial insects, animals, and humans.
I think monitoring the garden, identifying the pests, and using least-toxic control measures are important elements in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. I actually enjoy the challenge of trying to outwit pests in my garden. As a matter of fact, at the moment, I'm working on a few new recipes!
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