Organic or not

>> Sunday, September 9, 2007

One thing I have not yet had to deal with in any great numbers is insect pests. Sure there have been the occasional hole in a leaf or chew marks around the edges but nothing to make me want to reach for the insecticides. Not that I would without hesitation, but I just don’t know yet. I would like to believe I wouldn’t. Having not faced the prospect of losing the entire plot my resolve has not yet been tested.

Right now, weeds are my only real enemy and I have been satisfied with just pulling them by hand. I guess I haven’t gotten too tired of it yet. I have learned that just piling 3”-4” of mulch on the bed does not cut out weeds entirely. Since this is my first year at gardening in something other than a raised bed, and thick mulching is the only ‘weed control’ I have used, I have not yet been faced with the horror stories I have read about of weeds completely taking over plant beds.

My experience with growing vegetables has been in raised beds and I have very little problem with weeds there. Insects have always made their presence known but nothing too serious.

I have read books that extol the virtues of maintaining the organic way of life and I have always thought it sounded like a lot of work. Idealistically it would be great if everyone would practice it but I don’t think many people do. There are too many people today, with their busy lifestyles who have become accustomed to having instant gratification and will therefore, if they bother to garden at all, reach for a chemically based fertilizer or pesticide that guarantees quick success.

I have to admit that I have a few of these chemicals in my garden shed. When I first started flower gardening I thought it was inevitable that I would need a ‘well stocked’ chemical shelf of insecticide, herbicide and chemically based fertilizer. I have used Carbaryl on the Box Elder bugs that hang around the shed that sits underneath the drooping branches of a neighbors Box Elder tree. But I don’t have any vegetables growing in that area so I don’t feel I am doing any damage. I sprinkle it around the perimeter of the shed in an attempt to keep them out because they like to hang out inside in the heat of the day. I have cut down on their numbers, there aren’t nearly as many as there was last year. But it never completely got rid of the bothersome little buggers.

I also have to admit to using a complete herbicide when clearing a patch of ground to start a new bed a year before planting anything in it. And again, this plot is not to be used for vegetables.

As far as maintaining plots that already have plants in them, I have five plots that have flowers only in them and they are not completed yet, I fear using anything chemically based, so the chemical based fertilizer I bought remains unopened and unused. The fertilizer I do use is based entirely on animal products and naturally occurring minerals. People have suggested I use Miracle-Gro about midway through the season but after reading the books on organics and re-reading the label of ingredients on the Miracle-Gro I turned away from it. Next year will be year number two for all of these flower plots I started and I plan on spreading composted steer manure in the Spring and scratching it into the soil. So, I am trying to make a conscious effort to stay organic. I just don’t know how I will react if I am the victim of a large-scale insect attack.

I guess I have never believed in a totally idealistic way of life such as organic gardening is supposed to be. Real life and what you read about in books rarely match up. So, in order for me to go totally organic, I am going to have to be convinced it is worth the effort.

The creed of organic gardening is that if you don’t use any chemicals in your plot then nature will balance the population of bad organisms with a population of good organisms so that you will never completely lose an entire plot to voracious insects. Forgive me if I am not completely convinced yet. I am open to trying this lifestyle to see if it works, but the first time I lose an entire plot, then out come the chemicals.

But wait, there are natural pesticides available, if not to purchase then there are many recipes so you can make your own, right? Well, I have tried some of these recipes and they can be a bit messy and don’t last very long. Like I said I have not had a major problem with insects so maybe I should not try to pass judgment on their effectiveness yet.

The most common natural pest control is insecticidal soap. Another popular recipe involves the use of garlic. I have used them both as sprays and remain dubious as to their effectiveness. Other recipes use onion or mint. It seems to me that the action of just spraying insects with a strong spray in order to knock them off of the plant is enough to combat the problem they present. Another recipe I found uses tomato leaves crushed up with cornstarch in water and used as a spray. I have not tried this one yet but those leaves would have to be ground up pretty finely in order to pass through the sprayer head.

I like the idea of the botanical pesticides such as Neem, Rotenone, Pyrethrin and Sabadilla. Although I have never used these I would be willing to try them before using chemicals.

The bottom line on all of these natural pesticides is that they break down readily in the soil and are not stored in plant or animal tissue. These are big pluses for me. As much as I don’t like cats in my yard scaring away the birds, I would not want to be responsible for poisoning one. Also, I don’t want to poison the birds just to keep some plants.

None of these natural pesticides will last very long so that repeat sprayings will always be required. This is itself is a bit of a hassle but still a small price to pay for not poisoning the environment.


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