In the search for safe, sane ways to control bugs of all kinds that I didn’t want in my house or my yard or my garden, I’ve discovered and tried and heard about a lot of alternatives. Since this is the season here’s a quick rundown.
Some things are quick, some things take longer, some require an adjustment in lifestyle. There is nothing faster than “just nuke ‘em,” but there is nothing more disasterous for our bodies and our planet. Becoming conscious of our interaction with the natural world – on the microcosm level of ants and aphids – can be just as much a meditation on living in harmony with all living beings as saving a whale.
Becoming aware of our own actions in relation to the insect world is first. For example, if you don’t want mosquitos around you, don’t leave inviting habitats for them to breed in. Empty out standing pools of water and if you can’t empty something, pour a little cooking oil in it. No kidding. We used to do this in the stock tanks on the ranch where I grew up. Just a half a cup in a big stock tank would make the water oily enough the mosquitos couldn’t breed and it didn’t hurt the animals at all. Keep grass and weeds mowed and use natural repellants like eucalyptus on your skin. Avon’s “Skin So Soft” is a great mosquito repellent for some strange reason if you don’t want to smell like camphor candles (which work, too, if you can stand them).
One of the toughest things to deal with where I live in Texas is fire ants. Persistence is the key. Pouring hot soapy water down the hole is the best method I know of. You might have to do it more than once. They tend to vacate that mound only to pop up a few yards away but eventually you can get rid of them. Never let them get out of control. They can be vicious. The poisons don’t work much better than the hot water from what I’ve seen. They’re just dangerous and expensive.
Vigilance is important in dealing with wasps and hornets, also. Knocking the nests down as soon as you find one and destroying it by burning or burying it is the best way to control them. Just use a long pole, be quick on your feet and don’t get stung. It’s way better to get to the nests while they are small.
The best one-on-one bug killer I know is hair spray (non-aerosol). It glues their breathing holes together and they croak on the spot. Works on roaches, ants, wasps, flies, anything that can fly into your space. This is not a practical approach for a garden but it’s sure handy around the house.
Garlic is a good all purpose insect repellant. It will even keep mosquitos off most people (eat it or rub it on your skin – either way works). Cayenne pepper works in the garden for a lot of pests. The most important thing is to find what works for you, in your location, with the bugs that populate your area.
The safest and most effective weed killers, in my experience are spraying vinegar mixed with water and direct applications of salt, plain old table salt. It works great.
Here are some good sources that I have turned to for advice:
The Natural Gardener has lots of stuff about gardening in central Texas but it also has good tips that would work anywhere with sections like Critter Deterrent Techniques and Recipes, Lawn Problems Guide, Recipe to Kill Poison Ivy and Soap and Pepper Spray Recipes. It also has a good section on how to beat grasshoppers at their game, how to tell the caterpillar of beautiful butterflies from those that just eat up your plants and how to outfox the pernicious squash borer. A wealth of good information!
If you are seriously into causing maximum bug deaths by natural means you’ve got to check out the Dirt Doctor. He has an very informative website and a lively forum.
The product sold by Safe Solutions is an enzyme formula which not only controls insects but also bacteria, mold and viruses. I have not used this product myself but I have heard from others that it is very effective, especially for household use.
Beyond Pesticides is a national coalition against the misuse of pesticides. The site includes a database with a very complete list of all pesticides and the health and environmental effects, regulatory status, supporting information and key studies. It’s very professional and very scarey. The home page has a daily news blog, alerts and actions and a quick pest problem solving service. Also there’s a section on what to do in case of emergencies.
Herp Care Collection is a small, straight-forward site that was put together for people who keep snakes, iguanas and such for pets. It has a very complete list of other websites with safe pesticide information and has some excellent remedies.
I subscribe to the Pesticide Action Network newsletter which is an update on pesticides, health and alternatives. The website includes a pesticide database, a pest advisor and lots of helpful hints including some very creative ways of getting rid of ants.
The collaborative on health and the environment has a database that provides links between chemical contaminants and approximately 180 human diseases or conditions.
And here’s some great news: The Connecticut Senate voted overwhelmingly to ban (yes – ban!) pesticides on lawns in all K-8 schools. Good for them and good for the children they are protecting!