The reason we eat organic food and grow organic gardens is to avoid ingesting toxic pesticides and herbicides that damage our health and the environment.
Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup®, is the most popular herbicide in the world. It has been linked to non-Hodgkins lymphona and was labeled as a ‘known carcinogen’ in California in 2017. After it was used to clear milkweed from Midwest farmland, there was an 81% drop in the Monarch butterfly population.
Glyphosate has been banned for home gardening in the Netherlands, and France will follow suit in 2022. Several other countries are also working on banning glyphosate.
Neonicotinoids, or neonics for short, are insecticidal seed treatments. The pesticides are systemic, meaning they move into the plant as it grows, but they can also be used as a foliar spray. No matter how they are applied, neonics spread to ground water and wild plants, far from the fields where they were used.
Neonics cause nerve damage in native and honey bees, disorient them and disrupt their navigation in searching for food sources, and lower reproduction. The European Union is looking to fully expand their partial ban on neonics.
The obvious way to avoid glyphosate and neonics in your yard is to not use them! Opt for organic and natural methods instead.
Dealing with Insects
The best control for insects is to understand their life cycles and habits. Using Integrated Pest Management (IPM), you learn the stage of insect that is destructive, symptoms of damage, and if you have a normal population or an infestation. Most of the IPM information is valuable to organic gardeners, because synthetic pesticides are suggested, but only as a last resort.
For each pest, IPM gives information about cultural practices that can be employed to reduce their numbers. For instance, throw away last year’s mulch if there were squash bugs or leaf miners on your plants. Clean up dead garden debris in the fall. Simple practices as these do a lot to reduce insects and the diseases they carry.
That said, there are natural pesticides to discourage or kill insects in your garden. Neem oil for chewing insects, diatomaceous earth (DE) for hard bodied pests, and Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) for soft bodied worms are good to have on hand.
There are dozens of homemade recipes for DIYers to try out, too.
The best way to combat weeds is with a little elbow grease! Weeding by hand or with a hoe is good exercise. The quiet time and your visible, rewarding results are also therapeutic.
Prevent weeds with a thick layer of mulch after planting and installing irrigation. It is easy to pull the few small weeds that may pop up.
Pour boiling water over more difficult plants. Spray them with household vinegar or a strong concentration of salt water. Horticultural vinegar at 20-30% acidity is effective on the most stubborn weeds, but there are precautions to take. Invest in a flame weeder, a special nozzle that attaches to a small propane tank.
Be careful with all methods of weed removal so you don’t kill the plants you are trying to save. You also do not want to hurt yourself!
Protect your health and the environment with natural and organic pest controls.
Don’t use treated seed, and know where your nursery starts are grown. Some stores label their plants. If not, ask who the supplier is, and call them directly.
As always, start with healthy soil and plants. Keep your garden well-watered, as insects are attracted to stressed plants. The best organic method of pest and weed control is prevention.