Now, it’s easy to run down to your local big box store and purchase any number of chemical warfare solutions that come in a bottle to win the battle. But that really isn’t a challenge. Those chemicals also destroy the beneficial bacteria and fungus in your soil that feed the roots of your plants. If you continue to destroy those, at some point you will only be able to use chemical fertilizers to grow your plants. Natural fertilizers will not work. It’s a cycle that is hard to break once it is started.
An American Homestead doesn’t use any chemicals on our garden or inside the greenhouse, either for fertilizer or pest control. So what do we do? First of all, our greenhouse contains an aquaponics system which completely relies on beneficial bacteria to break down the fish waste into nitrates. Any chemical introduced into that system will kill the bacteria and prevent the waste water from being clean. This would result in dead fish and dead plants. Secondly, in our garden we are continuing to build up healthy soil by adding natural fertilizers and compost. The nutrients provided will help plants build up a natural immunity to a number of pests and diseases. It’s the same with us, the more natural your lifestyle, the more your body builds immunity to the things that can attack and make you sick.
But even then, we can have some pest issues that need our attention.
Pest Weapon #1 – Daddy Long Legs
While the Daddy Long Leg insect is not something I can specifically control to help my plants, I’ve found it’s one of my biggest allies in my fight to raise a healthy garden and healthy plants in our aquaponics system. These spider like insects roam in force over all the grow beds and chow down on a number of insects including aphids. I have had ZERO aphids this year in my greenhouse, even on lettuce that is growing. I found out the Latin name for the Daddy Long Leg is Opilliones, which means aphid sucker. I have had some aphids in my garden and found the Daddy Long Legs crawling all over the tomato plants, no doubt eating the aphids they come across. I love these guys and if I’m going to keep them around, I better not resort to any chemical insecticides.
Here in the Ozarks, Daddy Long Legs are everywhere. I mean everywhere. They seem to mass in places where you build stuff. I don’t know why that is but if you put up a structure, they come to it and gather. They are a completely harmless insect and despite many folks saying they are poisonous, the fact is they possess no poison at all. If you can get these guys in your greenhouse, or near your garden, they will work overtime in controlling aphids.
Pest Weapon #2 – Manual Control
The next best weapon in controlling pests is simply to do manual control. Now my garden is pretty big and manual control is going to take a lot of time. But if I see a certain harmful insect in a certain area, its game on. Early in the spring, I found potato beetles eating my potato plants. I immediately went to work and pulled as many off as possible and stepped on them. I was using neem oil pretty regularly on the potato plants which actually did a fantastic job (more on that later), but when I saw a beetle, I pulled him off and squished him under my boot. Another time I saw a number of unidentified black beetle like bugs going to town on my huckleberries. I did a lot of boot squishing that day as well. Both plants, the potatoes and huckleberries, did very well with just a little manual effort.
Pest Weapon #3 – Neem Oil and Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Soap
Now this is the miracle solution you have been waiting for. (Click here to purchase) The only downside for me is I can’t use it in my aquaponics system because it will make my fish sick. However for my garden, this worked wonders for my first year. This first year my soils weren’t as healthy because it was only this past fall that I began to build up the nutrients for the soil. And so the plants may not have had all they needed to be able to ward off pests and develop immunity to them.
The recipe is simple: 2 tablespoons of neem oil and 2 tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds per gallon of water.
I used a simple gallon sprayer that you can buy at Walmart. Make sure the nozzle is set to a fine mist. Also, make sure you are spraying your plants either in the early morning or evening. Do not spray them when your plants are in full sun during summer in high humidity areas. It can burn the plants during these times. We spray in the early evening just as the sun is setting to prevent any damage to the plants while the spray is still wet.
Neem oil works great by affecting the mental capacity of the insect. Studies about Neem claim that in India where the Neem tree is native, the tree seems to repel all insects. Swarms of locusts passing through avoid the tree completely. The claims are that the tree oil repels insects and if the insects do consume the oil or parts of the tree, they have what is best described as a mental breakdown. They forget to eat, mate, and just basically stop moving. They sit in this state of confusion until a predator comes along and eats them or they simply fall off the plant and die.
The Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds provides a way to infuse the neem oil and allow it to stick to the plants. It also is completely organic and includes pine oil, which studies show help plants in nitrogen uptake!
So there you have it! A completely organic way to go to war with your pest problems in the garden! And I can attest to its effectiveness this year as my potatoes where under severe attack. But the potato beetles never got a foothold and I got a great harvest.
Pest Weapon #4 – Diatomaceous Earth
I only had to use this once this year on some of my tomato plants that were being attacked by the same beetle like bugs that earlier were attacking my huckleberries. It seems they found a new target and I quickly began my counter offensive and this time chose Diatomaceous Earth (sometimes called DE for short).
What is Diatomacious Earth? It is a form of ancient algae, a plant that has been fossilized. This fossilized form of algae is mined and used all over the world for all kinds of products. It’s 100% natural, plentiful and cheap. Under a microscope, its edges are very sharp and when bugs encounter it, the DE makes very fine incisions into the exoskeleton and they eventually dehydrate themselves by losing moisture through those incisions. Very simple and very effective. I have even used this product inside a house I used to live in when the house became overrun by silverfish. A day after the application of puffing this stuff through the whole house, they were gone.
A couple of important notes on DE.
- Always buy the food grade stuff. NEVER buy the variety used in pool filters because it can make you sick. Just make sure the package or label says “food grade”.
- When applying it inside, be sure to wear a particulate mask of some sort. A simple medical mask is fine. The fine particulate when distributed can irritate some people and cause breathing problems.
I apply DE with one of those “nasal aspirators” (I just call them bugger suckers), that they give mothers for their newborns in the hospital. You can find them on ebay super cheap. It sends out a fine mist of the DE to cover an area with the bugs. Simply spreading it around by hand won’t cut it. You need the fine mist of the DE to cover the plant.
Other Weapons of Note.
For our greenhouse, making a purchase of lady bugs might be a good option if we didn’t have our army of Daddy Long Legs. You can buy them in packages of 5000 at a time and do releases in the early evening. Beneficial nematodes might be another good arsenal to have at your disposal in case things get rough, but they can take up to two seasons to see a real benefit. They require refrigeration unless your going to use them right away and that is not an option here on an off grid homestead.
So that’s it! That is how we do battle with pests here on An American Homestead. This season we did great on the battlefield and held back the advancing hordes and brought in a large amount of produce that will do well in feeding us till next spring. There are a lot of natural techniques out there to combat pests in the garden and we have reviewed most of these before deciding on our current strategies. Based on the enemy’s plans of advance next season, we may alter strategies. We’ll keep you posted, but as for now, all quiet on the western front.