Written by David S.
How can pest control be organic? This blog is a discussion about products that use natural ingredients to kill pests around your home, yard, and in your vegetable gardens.
What Is Organic Pest Control?
The word organic means using chemicals that are naturally occurring rather than man-made. We are all aware of synthetic pesticides such as 7 and DDT and many others that are hazardous to use on food or inside your home.
Organic pest control can be just as deadly and have far-reaching effects. The difference is that one is naturally occurring, and the other is synthesized in a lab. Many organic pest control products use salt or vinegar as the main ingredient, but some can be quite powerful such as pyrethrum, which is a natural solution that comes from Chrysanthemum plants.
For the purpose of this blog, natural pest control is a product that has naturally occurring compounds as the main ingredients.
The Word Organic
To be clear about how the word organic works I’d like to point out that crude oil is organic. When it is released into the environment it has a negative consequence and its effect can be deadly – Think oil spills and disasters such as the wreck of the Exon Valdez. The point here is that the word “organic” is not a catchall for safe chemicals. It represents chemicals that are both safe and dangerous, but all are naturally occurring.
Organic does not mean the product is always safe to use on food or inside your home.
Biological Pest Controls
An example is Bacillus Thuringiensis – A soil microbial that is used as an organic pest control agent. The process works on insect larvae in the soil. Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) secretes a toxin that kills insect larvae in the soil.
Another example of a biological pest control agent is Beauveria bassinana, which is a parasitic fungus that attacks insects and arthropods. As a natural pest control agent, Beauveria bassiana is naturally occurring, but slow to act. It is beneficial in keeping pest insect populations smaller so that they cause much less damage.
Biological pest control options often pose little threat to human health. Some are pest-specific while others are generalists and will attack whatever they come in contact with.
Extracts from plants help to control pest insect populations. An example would be neem oil which is an extract from the seeds of the Neem Tree. Neem oil is less of a pesticide and more of a deterrent.
The oil is applied to the leaves of plants which makes it unpleasant for plant sap-sucking insects to feed on plants. These include aphids and stink bugs. The oil has a garlic scent which also drives off potential pests helping to keep the plant safe.
Pyrethrum is an extract from Chrysanthemum plants or plants in that family. Pyrethrum oils and sprays are useful in controlling fleas, mosquitoes, ants, and moths. Products made using pyrethrum oils are non-discriminating. They will kill beneficial insects as well as pests.
Baits are food-based pesticides that insects or pests eat and then die. An example of a popular bait pesticide is Sluggo, which is used to target snails and slugs. The bait comes in pellet form, and you sprinkle it around your plants. When the snails and slugs come out to feed, they consume the pellets and then die. The active ingredient in Sluggo is iron phosphate, which is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in soil. It is an organic product that is effective on pests. It is also safe to use in your garden as the pellets are not absorbed by the plant. It simply dissolves and becomes part of the soil.
Another example of an organic bait is Terad3, which is a rodenticide. While those of us who live an organic lifestyle may shudder at the word “rodenticide” Terad3 is different. Its active ingredient is Cholecalciferol, which can be found in medications. It is essentially vitamin D3. The product works to raise the blood calcium levels in rodents – mice, rats, etc. – which causes the animal to bleed to death. One reason that Terad3 and other products that contain Cholecalciferol are beneficial is that they prevent secondary toxicity. If your cat eats a rat that was poisoned by a rat poison it might suffer too. With Cholecalciferol, the cat would likely not be affected at all.
Systemics (cyst-M-ic) are pesticides – both organic and non-organic) that you water into the ground and the plants uptakes the chemical into their system. The pesticides are transferred to pests as the pest feeds on plant nectar or plant sap. Bees and pollinators drink nectar while plant sap-sucking insects, such as leaf miners, aphids, and stink bugs drink plant sap.
An example of a systemic pesticide that is approved for garden use and on garden plants is Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew. The active ingredient is a toxin that comes from soil-borne bacteria. Spinosad is the byproduct of soil bacteria. It is used as a systemic pesticide to kill pests that damage the leaves, flowers, and stems of plants. It is helpful for leaf caterpillars, leaf miners, and aphids. It can be helpful against ants too. It has an active lifespan of 1-17 days and is fully approved for food crops.
Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew has been shown to be safe for bees who consume nectar from flowering plants treated with the product.
It is possible to find organic pesticides that pose little to no harm to the surrounding environment, including humans and pets. It is important that the use of pesticides, which also includes herbicides and fungicides, be thoughtful and exact. To that end, it is important to understand the following:
- You need to be able to accurately identify the pest that is causing damage to your garden or landscaping. By doing so, you can choose a product that targets that pest rather than a generalized product that may kill off beneficial insects too.
- Start with the least impactful options and work your way up to pesticides. There are natural products, such as organic soaps which can remove pest insects and help prevent their returns. These passive actions can have powerful results and are often a good place to start.
- Part of responsible pest control is monitoring how the pest behaves. There are options to control pests in different lifecycles, such as the use of juvenile hormones on caterpillars, which prevent the larvae from becoming an adult and breeding. Insects have a lifecycle that consists of egg, nymph/larvae, pupa, and adult. You can target pest insects in different life states where the use of non-pesticide agents can be more powerful.
- Be selective in what you kill. Not all pests are damaging to your crops and sometimes a pest can be beneficial in other ways. Insects are often food sources for birds, lizards, and other predators. By keeping some non-damaging pests around, you are encouraging birds and lizards to hunt in your yard.
If you have a pest issue and you’d like to explore the organic options available to you, stop by any of our five Southern California locations, Our plant and product experts can show you organic pest control products and help you understand how they work and which ones might be a good fit for your pest control needs.
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