With increasing awareness of the benefits of organic food, and the quickly growing alarms around spraying toxins on foods, innovative techniques for pest and disease control are becoming hot topics for gardeners and small farm owners alike. To compete in the modern, industrialized food system, farmers must use the cheapest and most readily available solutions available. They often don't have the luxury to take chances on a new product when their current methods are working for them and their competitors. This competitive atmosphere can make it so that one mistake can destroy their whole business.
The products that today's organic farmers use for pest and disease control are arguably safer than conventional farm sprays, but they are dangerous to consumers. Copper sulfate, for example, a fungicide widely used by traditional and organic farmers, damages good bacteria in the soil, where it also can accumulate in harmful concentrations. While organic farmers use far less pesticide than conventional farms, there are much better options available that haven't yet reached the attention of the farming community.
It may surprise you to learn that many everyday staples in the kitchen can serve as natural pesticides and for disease control. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies garlic and spicy pepper concentrates as biochemical pesticides, which means they do not harm the environment.
A good organic garden spray is easy to make. Here’s how:
Combine the following –
1 tablespoon some type of natural non-toxic soap
1/2 tablespoon of natural plant derived cooking oil (to help it stick to plants)
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
Add water to fill a spray bottle and shake it up and spray. The process for spicy peppers is similar.
Some other examples of natural pesticides are acidic solutions made with vinegar or citric acid, herbicidal soaps, and salt-based solutions.
Neem oil is favorite among home gardeners. Made from an evergreen tree native to India, it is a natural oil that can get sprayed onto crops and trees to eliminate pests, fungi, and bacterial disease. Neem works by stunting larvae growth, decreasing insect mating, and stopping insects from feeding. It can also kill many kinds of harmful fungus on plants. Unlike copper sulfate and conventional pesticides like glyphosate, neem oil is entirely safe to breathe in, get on the skin, and even to ingest. The best part is that neem oil does not harm beneficial insects when applied correctly.
It is common knowledge that manure is an excellent fertilizer for the garden once it breaks down, but green manure is an easy and time-tested way not only to fertilize but also significantly reduce plant diseases. The latest research suggests that plants from the brassica species, especially pungent varieties like mustard, radish, and horseradish, can help reduce pathogens and pests in the soil. According to John Kirkegaard, brassicas used as green manure can increase yields of solanaceous species by up to 40 percent. To employ the chop-and-drop technique for using green manure, which is as simple as it sounds, you spread the plant materials as mulch on top of the soil, or if you prefer, you can slightly bury it.
Especially for home gardeners, the natural weed- and pest-control methods above can be preferable to risking long-term damage to the soil. Since natural solutions are safe for human consumption, you get added peace of mind when feeding your family or selling your produce.
By Gerry Williams
Photo by Markus Spiske