Organic Bug Sprays

Organic Bug Sprays

dar posted Message 1388 in the Gardening BBS
Dated : May 31, 1999 at 17:01:53
Subject: Re: Aphids, bennie-bugs, sprays, and such...

I had quite a problem with aphids and was going "buggy" trying to do something to correct it without using chemicals.
As a last resort I tried something I remembered my grandfather doing.
Take a piece of yellow ribbon or thin yellow fabric, paint the ribbon with corn syrup (or any other sweet sticky substance) and hang it across the area of the garden that is infested.
For some reason the yellow seems to attract the aphids and the corn syrup acts as a glue so they can't escape to infest your plants!
The nice thing is the ribbon can be reused again and again until it becomes to sun faded to attract the bugs.
I would take it down and stick it in a small bucket and just hose it off with my garden hose... then hang it to dry .
I had great success with this method and have used it every year since.

~~enjo posted Message 1310 in the Gardening BBS
Dated : April 02, 1999 at 09:48:19
Subject: Aphids, bennie-bugs, sprays, and such...

Someone --think it was maybe Joanna?-- mentioned a horrible problem with aphids (on petunias I think) which insecticidal soap spray didn't help. Someone else, I forget who, asked me about beneficial insects, specifically aphid-eating ones.

There are indeed several kinds of aphid-eating and other "beneficial bugs" which you can buy and release into your garden. However, some are hard to get to live & stick around due to several things.

--Lack of natural habitat to continue the species.

Most beneficial "bugs" are predatory in one life stage only. In many cases the babies (larvae) are predatory, while the adults eat nectar or pollen.
For one example, take ladybugs or lady beetles. Ladybug larvae are the REAL aphid-killers. Under magnification, they look like teeeeensy-weensy alligators --very fearsome if you're an aphid!

But larvae turn into adult ladybugs which need other food and which of course have wings. If you don't provide refuge & habitat --suitable nectar plants & places to lay their eggs-- they're likely to fly away looking for a better place to "permanently" establish their familyline. So, a gardener might get *maybe* only one season of "work" if that, from a group of purchased ladybug larvae. Of course that's disappointing and expensive..

(Ladybugs are not the only beneficial this applies to; they're just the ones most commonly bought for aphid control.) Also, some bennie-bug species --including certain ladybugs-- are highly migratory anyway. There are now on the market several species of ladybugs which are supposedly not so prone to flying off from where they're released. These ladybugs are reputed more likely to stick around --assuming, again, that they find decent refuge and habitat in your yard.

Most gardeners would have more beneficials present without purchasing them, by trying to leave or to make at least some yard-and-garden areas as natural and undisturbed as possible:

... Create a few purposely naturalized areas, or leave some naturally "wild," with small deciduous & evergreen trees and shrubs plus plenty of *small-flowered* pollen- & nectar-producing plants. Many herbs, certain grasses and cover crops, certain veggies, and most wildflowers are good bennie-bug attractors. Such natural strips or belts were called hedgerows long ago, and used to be the standard division or natural "fencing" between neighboring acreage. Nowadays, even in small yards, similar areas can be purposely planned and designed to look attractive and interesting (or reasonably unobtrusive if necessary --there are some VERY silly and environmentally unfriendly zoning laws in some areas).

... Leave some undisturbed leafy litter here and there. Carefully cleaning up every single speck of leaf litter, twig litter, and other garden debris deprives many beneficial insects of much-needed shelter, for egg-laying, for hiding from birds or lizards, and also for hibernation, which some bennie-bugs need. Of course this does NOT apply to pruning, burning, or otherwise cleaning up *diseased* garden litter when that's recommended to control a specific plant disease.

... Create some permanent garden plantings; for example, mulched perennial beds or borders, whose soil & mulch do not get regularly turned over or replanted as happens with annuals. If you have piles of any dry leaves, chop them a bit (not into powder!) with a mulching mower or string weedeater, and add them to your mulched or naturalized areas. Some layers of whole leaves can be left out of sight in naturalized areas for bennie-bugs, but whole leaves are NOT a good ornamental plant mulch in the garden.

... Provide water, by morning-watering plants thoroughly, or by leaving a few slightly un-level spots here and there to collect rainwater and excess hose-water into damp or very lightly puddled areas.
... Remember, the more bugs you have in your garden and yard --both beneficial and "bad"-- the more birds, frogs, toads, and lizards you'll probably have too! All part of the natural controlling and balancing cycle of things.
--Purchased beneficial bug doesn't eat aphids (or whatever pest you bought it for) at all.
It's possible to buy the wrong beneficial bug for the wrong pest. Before "buying into" beneficial-bug-suppliers' glowing ads, do plenty of research on your own. Get the right bug for the job.

--Beneficial bugs are too expensive to buy "enough of."
Try encouraging the beneficials that are already there. Most bennie-bugs already exist (or try to!) in a yard & garden. And most eat quite a few different bad guys.
Again, lets just take aphids in particular. There's a tiny aphid midge called in Latin "Aphidoletes aphidimyza." Its babies gobble more than 60 different kinds of aphids. You don't have to buy it... it's probably right there in your area already.
Encourage it into your garden by sheltering aphid-prone plants from drying winds, and by keeping mulch and/or surrounding soil damp in dry weather. (The midges are sensitive to driness and wind, but obviously those things are not good for most plants either!)

Also, provide lots of wild, *small-flowered* nectar- and pollen-producing plants for the adult midges, as well as for hoverflies --naturally widely-distributed aphid-eaters sometimes called flowerflies or syrphids, belonging to the biological family Syrphidae. Adult hoverflies look like verrrry teeeeensy hummingbirds darting in and around small flowers, usually wildflowers. Like ladybugs & aphid midges, the hoverflies' larvae are the real aphid-killers.

There's also a common, tiny, nectar-eating wasp called a braconid wasp (family name Braconidae), harmless to people and mammals, which lays its eggs in pest insects like aphids so its babies can parasitize them. Pretty darn vicious, and also pretty darn helpful! Soldier beetles (of the biological family Cantharidae) and rove beetles (family Staphylinidae) also help with aphid control. Actually, many kinds of beetles are extremely beneficial critters despite the fact that most humans think they're "yucky." Plus, soldier & rove beetles also eat numerous bad-guy bugs besides aphids.
--No aphids (or other specific pests) around to eat.
Some folks buy & release pest-specific beneficials too early or too late in the pest season; or, they pesticide-spray their plants and release beneficial insects at the same time or soon after.
If there's no prey food, bennie-bugs haven't got much reason to stick around. If they survive the pesticide they'll fly or crawl off if possible to find food. If not they'll just starve to death. Very sad.
At least two of the larger "all-purpose" beneficials, adult lacewings & adult praying mantises, happen to be SO efficiently predatory and territorial that, if there's no normal prey around, they'll eat each other as well as other beneficial bugs! That's also very sad (not to mention a waste of money if you bought them).

Leave enough bad-guy bugs around for purchased or normally-present bennie-bugs to eat so the good ones will thrive, have babies, and keep helping your garden.
Also, remember that **very few** pesticides --even "organic" or "natural" ones-- are ENTIRELY harmless to beneficial insects.
--Poor survival rate for some purchased beneficials in transit.

This isn't really a problem with or of the bugs "per se" --unfortunately, evolution did not equip the poor things for the rigors of the PO or UPS!! Of course, any purchaser should research appropriate shipping & release dates for his/her climate. A reputable beneficial-bug supplier should also ask, advise, or help determine the best time to ship & release them.
--Some interesting home-made and commercial aphid sprays and ingredients which may also work for other plant pests:
*****First and foremost: Always follow exactly the label or other directions for any spray, home-made or purchased.
Remember, more or more-often is NOT better when it comes to *any* pesticides (just like when it comes to watering and fertilizing). Use any plant pesticide only as a last resort, if at all possible.
Many "natural, organic" pesticides can be potentially toxic to people, to other mammals such as pets, and/or to beneficial insects such as bees and pest-predator species.
Also, very few pesticides are effective preventatives. They work on the pests when the pests are actually present. If you spray plants frequently and indiscriminately, without first checking to be sure there ARE harmful pests which are absolutely "out of control," you risk killing or harming many beneficials such as bees and pest-predator species. You might also kill or sicken birds, frogs, lizards, and other helpful creatures which feed on all kinds of insects.

... Limonoids... Look for a commercial garden spray containing citrus oils, which are extracted from the peels. Or, if you happen to have have your own home-made aphid spray recipe, try substituting a good-quality, nondetergent, citrus-based cleaning liquid for the "pure soap" or "dishwashing liquid" usually required in those recipes. Don't spray all your plants; first, test the spray out on a few to be sure the substituted citrus-based liquid doesn't harm them. This is an example of a spray that doesn't kill harmful insects outright: it deters them from feeding on plants.

... Neem... a fairly new commercial pesticide spray ingredient made from a tree called the neem tree (grown in India). Supposedly, its toxicity to humans and mammals is quite low. It too works not by "direct killing" but by repelling harmful plant-chewing or plant-sucking insects or by disrupting their feeding processes.

... Potato starch or other starch-based "flour sprays"... These work by physically gumming up the aphids. Problem is, of course, they might gum up the tiny bennie-bugs attacking or parasitizing them, too. You may have to put up with a slightly "floury" residue on your plants until the next rain, next watering, or next heavy dew.

If you can't find a commercial potato-starch-based spray: Try mixing 2 to 4 tablespoons of potato flour in 1 quart of water and adding 2 to 3 drops of a nondetergent liquid soap. Potato flour is available at some large groceries, most health-food stores, and mail-order baking catalogs like King Arthur's.

... Home-made garlic, pepper, and other sprays... These work for some folks, not for others. A lot may depend on how the concoctions are made, how or when they're used, or how long they're stored before they get used.

Anyone interested in home-made sprays can either search the web or buy recent editions of organic or natural gardening books. Books published by Rodale Press are excellent, and in fact many of the best recipes and other info on organic gardening has always come from Rodale publications.

A book with large, clear color pictures of beneficial and "bad" garden insects is also very helpful to have on hand. Time-Life's 'The Complete Gardener' series offers one called 'Pests and Diseases,' which also contains a great deal of useful info on insects. Also commonly available are many inexpensive, well-illustrated 'field guides' to insects.

... Nicotine spray... yep, made from tobacco. Normally not sold commercially (although it used to be) because certain forms of nicotine preparations are HIGHLY TOXIC to EVERYthing including humans. But, the tiny good news is, home-made nicotine spray's "persistence" --how long it remains toxic--is fairly low. Save it only for a super-bad aphid infestation, and only if you have absolutely no intention of buying or encouraging beneficial aphid-eating bugs or of using less toxic remedies. To be safe, NEVER use it on ANY edible food plants.

To make your own nicotine spray: Let 1 cup of cigarettes or butts soak for 1/2 hour in 1 gallon warm water with 1/4 teaspoon of pure soap added. Strain through cheesecloth or very fine-mesh strainer. Dispose of cloth or wash strainer thoroughly after use. Store mixture tightly covered in a well-marked glass container at room temp in a dark place. Use gloves when applying; wash hands & clothing thoroughly afterward.

Spray sparingly only on *young* plants, and only when aphids are actually present in great numbers (that is, do not use as a 'preventative').
Nicotine is one example of a perfectly "natural," completely "organic" substance which can be a potentially dangerous one. Others include pyrethrin, rotenone, sabadilla, and ryania.

-Natural Home Remedies with John Dromgoole
from Austin Texas

Natural Insecticide
- 3 Tablespoons of liquid soap
- 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 Gallon of water

Natural Fungicide
- 1 Tablespoon Baking Soad
- 1/2 Teaspoon Liquid Soap
- 1 Gallon of Water