For hundreds (if not thousands) of years, garden pests have been more or less the same. Aphids. Spider Mite. Powdery Mildew. Nothing New. What is new is how we deal with the pests infesting our gardens. Out are pesticides that wreak havoc on our native flora and fauna, and in are those easier on our environment. In this newsletter, we’re talking all about pesticides. We’ll talk about traditional chemical options and our favourite natural alternatives so you can make an informed decision about managing the pests in your vege patch.

If you’re enjoying your garden and the bounty of fresh, healthy produce it affords you, you’re not alone. Your garden is home to an entire ecosystem, thriving off the habitat you have created for them.

Insects like bees, worms and spiders are great for your garden. Others, like aphids and spider mites, infest your crops, causing irreversible damage to the produce you have worked so hard for.

It’s time for them to die. You have a few options:

You can opt for something super gentle, like rinsing pests off with water or hand-picking them off  daily. But let’s be realistic, not everyone has hours a day to tend to their garden.

So, you need something that can protect your garden while negating the need for constant eyes-on inspections.

Traditional pesticide is an obvious and easy next step, but they come at the expense of those beneficial insects we spoke about earlier. Pesticides can also leach into waterways harming fish, frogs and small mammals that rely on these sources for nourishment.

So, what’s left if manual pest control is too time-consuming and chemical alternatives are detrimental to the environment?

The answer is known as natural pesticide. Before we talk about your options, let’s talk about how you can spot a natural pesticide in a sea of toxic chemicals.

Admittedly, looking at a wall of pesticides can be head-scratching. Before you run out and blindly reach for the first bottle with your pest on the front, take a minute to read what you’re buying. The label will tell you everything you need to know about the chemical and its dangers to your health and our environment.

Poisonous chemicals, including pesticides, must provide what is known as a ‘signal heading’ on the bottle of the chemical itself. Signal headings fall into three categories; caution, poison and dangerous poison.

If you’re looking at a bottle with no signal heading, this chemical is unscheduled and, therefore, safe for the user. Even though these chemicals are the least threatening, they must be treated carefully. Always adhere to the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

If the pesticide has a ‘caution’ signal heading, it is low to moderately hazardous to the person using the chemical. Usually, these chemicals have been flagged as mild skin or eye irritants.

Moving down the line, you may see bottles labelled with ‘poison’ signal headings. These chemicals are hazardous and can be detrimental to the user if ingested.

Finally, the most toxic chemicals will be labelled ‘dangerous poison’. Just a tiny amount of these chemicals can be fatal if ingested. These poisons are more heavily regulated, and there are usually restrictions to purchase which differ from state to state.

When shopping for a safe pesticide for you and the ecosystem around your garden, look for chemicals with no signal heading or a ‘caution’ signal heading.

Now that you understand how to decipher those confusing chemical labels, it’s time to pick your poison (pun intended). Here are our favourite natural pest control options and what we use them for:

Neem Oil (Eco-Neem, caution signal heading)
Neem oil or magosa oil is one of our favourite pest control tools. It’s effective across a wide range of bugs such as thrips, whitefly, aphids and fungus gnat (to name a few) and is safe for pets, birds, lizards and beneficial insects like bees. Eco-Neem can harm fish, so avoid using this method around ponds and aquaponics.

Citrus Oils (Citronella, no signal heading)
Nothing scary here. Citrus oils like citronella are derived from citrus fruits and are non-toxic. Citrus oils work better as a preventative than a method to control an infestation.

Pyrethrum (Yates, no signal heading)
Pyrethrum is a chemical naturally found in chrysanthemum flowers and can be used to control a host of instects, including caterpillars, aphids and whitefly. It’s relatively affordable, with 200ml bottles priced around $29.90 and works by exciting the insects’ nervous system, paralysing the targeted insect. Pyrethrumis not safe for use around fish or in Aquaponics.

Insecticidle Soap (Pure Castile, no signal heading)
Pure Castile soap is one of our all-time favourite pest control products. It’s safe enough that you can use it as a hand soap or body wash, and it won’t harm pets or beneficial insects. Insecticidal soap targets soft-bodied insects like aphids, spider mites and mealybugs. When you apply it to your plants, the mixture of fatty acids disrupts the cellular membranes of the insect, suffocating and dehydrating them. We use a ratio of about 1:200 soap to distilled water which is applied as a foliar spray.

Predatory Insects (Bugs 4 Bugs, caution signal heading)
Predatory insects feed on pest insects with different predators targeting different garden pests. If you’d like to introduce predatory mites, you’ll need to do some research to find the mite that will control your pest problem. Predator bugs are safe for pets, children and beneficial insects, and they can be used around Aquaponics. This is another one of our favourites – we carry out a regular release of predatory mites about twice a year.

There are many more natural and effective pest control options on the market that will help combat almost any insect issue you encounter in the garden. Do your research and follow the directions on the packet, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthier garden and a happier planet. As always, thanks for tuning in to this month’s newsletter and until next time, happy growing!