Natural pest control for gardeners

Photo: istockphoto.com/Michael Pettigrew
Are garden pests making you nostalgic for banned pesticides? There are plenty of natural solutions for getting rid of unwanted guests in your garden. Pesticides are dangerous Despite the ban on pesticides in many areas, the Sierra Club of Canada estimates that more than 34 million kilograms of pesticides are used annually across Canada. These neurotoxins have been linked to memory loss, Parkinson's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer and, in children, behavioural and attention problems, hyperactivity, and learning disabilities. Obviously, keeping your garden free of pests without using pesticides is a goal worth pursuing. Create a healthy garden The first step is to ensure that the soil is kept healthy through composting, mulching, and applying natural fertilizers. Rotating your vegetable crops from year to year is also a good strategy. This will ensure that the soil is not depleted of a specific nutrient and will discourage pests that hide out in wait for the next year's planting. Wild About Gardening, a site created by Canadian Wildlife Federation, has a excellent guide to get you started on the road to a healthy and pesticide-free garden. Flowers to the rescue Many pests have a natural aversion to mint, garlic, basil, chives, dill, onions, marigolds, rosemary and lavendar. Intersperse these plants with the more vulnerable plants in your garden. Some gardeners even surround their entire garden with African marigolds, whose roots produce a natural chemical deterrent against pests, called parethion. The pioneer of organic gardening, Jay North writes: "Last fall I planted a nice cover crop of African marigolds on top of my garden spot and just before they were ready to flower, I tilled them into the soil. This year, my new radiant garden is completely pest-free." Borders of lavendar and rosemary will repel slugs and snails, but if they get through that barrier, a ring of broken eggshells around each plant with keep them off, as will powdered ginger. Another method is to use an upturned, scooped-out half grapefruit as a slug trap. Pass the garlic Garlic is a potent larvicide and can be planted through the garden with everything except onions. Brew up a batch by combining six to eight cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp of dried hot pepper and minced onion with pure soap. Place the mixture in a 3.79 liters (one gallon) of water and let it sit for a few days. Strain into your spray bottle and you are ready for repelling bugs. Sometimes, planting a "sacrifice crop" will help. Swiss chard, for example, attracts pests away from other young veggies, allowing those plants to get fully established. The chard will gradually be eaten to the ground, but everything else will thrive. Bring in the good bugs Of course, there are good bugs, too, which can help you get rid of the bad ones. But first you need to figure out which bugs to evict. The Bug Lady has a helpful site with pictures and she will even sell you bags of the good ones. You can find a pictorial guide with tips for cinch bugs, aphids, weevils and grubs at Wild About Gardening. Gardens Alive sells some clever products for pest control as well. Furry pests Mint repels mice and rats and is good to plant by the compost bin. Since mint has expansionist tendencies, plant it in buried pots to control its growth. The bigger pests -- like rabbits, deer, squirrels, and raccoons -- are more challenging. Many gardening experts advise building a three-foot-tall chicken wire fence with a least six inches buried under the soil. Row covers will also protect young plants. You can also try odor repellents such as powdered fox urine (available at garden centres) to deter rabbits and the garlic/hot-pepper spray applied directly onto plants will also discourage them. Raccoons dislike slippery surfaces because their claws can't get a grip. Find their entry point and try putting down a metal or hard plastic surface to keep them out. Some gardeners have resorted to high tech solutions for these bigger pests, like the electronic pest repellers that emit high frequency sounds designed to drive off deer, raccoons, and moles. Joyce Nelson is a freelance environmental journalist based in Toronto.