ORGANIC GARDENING FOR THE SOUTHWEST
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GO ORGANIC!ARTICLE  8- BIOLOGICAL INSECT CONTROLS
ladybug

There are a number of products on the market that advertise they are biological insect controllers, and it is important to understand how some of these products work.  Just because a product is made from natural ingredients does not mean it is necessarily non-toxic or safe for the environment. 

For an organic garden, you need to keep in mind what your priorities are.  If you do not want to use any pesticides what-so-ever, then handpicking bugs and barriers (such as floating row covers) may be your main options.  Floating row covers keep insects off plants, including the prolific cucumber beetle, which is very hard to contol. The only downside of floating row covers is that it is not advisable to leave them on during the hottest part of the summer. There may come a point when you need some help, and there are products out there that can do that for you.

BACILLUS THURINGIENSIS

I am a big proponent of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis and it’s counterparts) as it is totally biodegradable, non-toxic to humans, pets, fish, birds.  It affects the digestive system of caterpillars when they eat the treated plant.  Although it will also kill caterpillars of butterflies, they rarely feed on vegetable plants.  To be safe, don’t spray ornamental flowers that normally attract butterflies.  Another reason I consider Bt a really good product is that you spray the plant that is being attacked, not by contacting each individual insect, which can be difficult to do to say the least.

ROTENONE

Although this insecticide is made from natural ingredients and is biodegradable, it is NOT non-toxic. It is a contact insecticide (you have to actually spray the insect itself to work) and is not allowed to be used on produce to be sold as organic.

PYRETHRUM

This too is a synthetic insecticide made from Chrysanthemums.  It is highly toxic to fish and honey bees.  It is a contact insecticide, but considered to have a low toxicity to humans. 

SAFER INSECTICIDAL SOAP

This product is made from natural oils and animal fats and is effective against aphids, scale and other soft bodied insects.  It is considered non-toxic to humans and approved for use on organic produce.  The downside is if you apply it in really hot weather in a sunny location you could damage your plants through sunburn.

BENEFICIAL INSECTS 

It's great when ladybugs or lacewings show up to clean up your bug problem, but they will only stick around as long as there is food for them. It is best not to rely on them to control pests.

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