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Home-made Insecticides


Bill Richardson

Members on the International Bulb Society Internet Email Bulb Robin Forum have discussed many methods of controlling pests and about using chemicals and herbicides to protect our precious plants from insect attack. But the question of using dangerous chemicals is always an issue in our gardens.
Our personal choice could be to not use chemicals at all. If a more natural method of control is possible, should we consider this? If we help nature will it reward us with beautiful flowers and healthier plants
Some reasons to try organic and alternative methods could be: members of the family may be allergic to certain chemicals; chemicals are generally not good for our health, or, for our pets; there are good insects in the garden that are beneficial and it would be wise to protect them. We should consider natural methods as a healthy alternative
One of the guests I use on my regular Saturday morning “Blooming good Gardening” program on 3BBR FM which was broadcast` in Gippsland Victoria, is an American botanist who has lived here for many years. Steve Lavalley owns a nursery called “The Botanic Ark” and grows many tree and plant species which he has collected over time. Steve is big on philosophy and one day I suggested that he do a segment for me on “good and bad insects” with the emphasis being that we shouldn’t use chemicals but rely on a more natural method of control to keep the status quo.
I suggested a ten minutes slot to him for this segment. He looked at me, frowning and said,
“Oh Bill, I would need a longer time to do that. If you really want me to do that in such a short time I could just tell everyone about one of God’s commandments.”
“Which one is that?” I asked
“Thou shalt not kill” was his reply.

I have researched some Australian growers and authors for their thoughts on pest control and here is a brief compilation of some of them for your consideration.
Australian bulb grower Bruce Knight, in his 1987 publication “Lachenalia for Australia” said, “ If use of insecticide or miticide is necessary, bear in mind that some sprays may cause more damage than the pests they are designed to control - not only by the burning of leaves or the marking or distortion of flowers, but also by their effect on garden ecology, the environment and possibly the gardener. ”
The publication “Flower Power in the Australian Bush and Garden” quotes: “Also, gardeners often kill the useful insects in the garden when they spray insecticides, making it easier for aphids and scale to breed quickly.”
Further quotes from “ Natural Gardening and Farming in Australia” state that: “When it is remembered that most agricultural chemical pesticides - particularly the chlorinated hydrocarbons - can persist in the soil for hundreds of years and concentrate in the food chains, then really, there are no safe levels of such chemicals. Every means possible must be used to develop alternative, natural methods of coping with insect and disease problems.” - “ The first thing to recognise when discussing plant protection from insect attack methods, is that plants themselves are not defenceless, but have their own means of defence against being eaten by insects.”, and, “Natural pesticides are present in many plants and can contribute up to 10 per cent of a plants dry weight.”

Jeffrey Hodges even suggests that these “so-called harmless methods” such as the ones suggested here, can do damage as well. He states: “It is a problem, however, with the snail or grasshopper or whatever attacks a young seedling, as it invariably destroys the whole thing! So what I try to do is to physically protect young plants from such attacks. This can be rather simply achieved by covering the most susceptible plants with flowerpots - or plastic cordial bottles cut in half - overnight for three or four weeks, until they are large enough to handle being nibbled a little. Alternatively, spreading around fresh grass clippings, wood ash or sawdust can discourage snails and slugs for a week or two. And, of course, there is hand collecting.”
Then, there is the issue of what we kill when we use pesticides. The “New Gardener Plant Doctor” states that: “ Knowing which insects and other creatures are on your side makes sense; these creatures will help you keep pest levels down without any effort on your part. Some creatures are essential to the plant’s productivity or ability to produce - pollinating insects such as honey bees, for example. Others are important in controlling pests; some larger creatures, such as bandicoots, birds, frogs, echidnas and lizards ( in Australia) eat pests that live close to or on the ground. Insect-eating birds also help to control garden pests at shrub and tree height. The numerous beneficial insects include ladybirds and their larvae, hoverfly larvae, lacewings and their larvae and ground beetles. Even commonly found wasps and ants are of use as they prey on many insect pests. Spiders and centipedes too will help to keep pest levels down as they catch and consume insects that could damage plants.”

“In most instances it is both environmentally and socially desirable to take a balanced view of pests and diseases rather than develop what might be termed a ‘spray happy’ mentality. The presence of a pest , and even the presence of some diseases, does not mean it is essential to apply an insecticide or fungicide. In some cases low levels of pest and disease organisms will be insufficient to cause serious damage to bulbs and can be tolerated.” This quote is from James Hitchmough’s “Garden Bulbs for Australia and New Zealand.

It is obvious that the use of chemicals will not cure all problems and all of these quoted statements are worth serious consideration, whatever country we live in.
Chemical sprays can kill an infestation, but constant spraying can lead to the pests building up a resistance to the chemical. Pest control in the garden can be handled by using basic integrated management practises.
Monitor plants on a regular basis and select an appropriate control.

Not all insects are pests and if chemical sprays are excessively used, beneficial insects will also be destroyed.
Identify these good insects in your garden and encourage their presence. Use natural controls rather than chemical sprays to protect these insects.

Some beneficial insects are: