Friday, October 21, 2005

Natural Insect Controls

I sent the rough draft of the following to an email discussion group on the topic of harmful insect control. Some were advocating no insecticides under any circumstances.

I started a garden in an old pasture, so chemicals had not been used for? I dunno, really, then gardened it organically for 8 years. I rotated plant varieties and added wood ash, rock phosphate and lots of composted cow manure. By the end, I couldn't grow potatoes because of the flea beetles, beans because of the Mexican bean beetle, or squash because of the squash bug. This year we are fallowing practically everything, hoping to break the insects’ life cycles. According to the Bible, a piece of land should lie fallow every 7 years. That breaks insect cycles, at minimum.

Crop rotation breaks insect cycles, but just rotating small amounts of, say beans, in a quarter acre garden doesn't help as much as having the rotation be a greater difference, hundreds or more feet apart. The "monoculture" thing is not so applicable to a small plot of a one acre potato field. Monoculture is like where I grew up, where the minimum field size was generally 40 acres.

In our climate, the first Umbelliferae that blooms in the spring is lovage, a perennial. The young shoots are used as a celery substitute in soup, but it then gets quite large, with lots of flowers. Umbelliferae is the family of plants that are magnets for parasitic wasps (includes carrots, Queen Anne's lace etc). They give these beneficial wasps feedstock to multiply on so they have good populations built up when unwanted insect populations start to emerge. And no, they aren’t the types of wasps that sting people. They are mostly too small.

I put out suet blocks in the winter to help the insectivorous birds thru the harsh time, in order to maximize their populations during the summer when insects are plentiful.

We rarely or never see certain insects like horned worms or aphids, some more I can't think of off hand because they aren't a problem for me. The only place I see aphids, interestingly enough, is on some native, species, nonhybrid tobacco we grow for the intoxicatingly amazing night fragrance it throws. Tobacco preparations are used as a natural insecticide, so go figure. We use the Nicotiana sylvestris rather than the N. tobacum as it is more fragrant. Incidentally, tobacco is a sacred plant in North America. Misuse it for sense gratification, and YOU DIE!

If you don't grow everything you eat, and supplement from the store, then you are eating chemicals and voting with your money for the continuance of chemical farming. Using judicious amounts of organic insecticides besides natural controls is a step up from that. The principle of advancement is if you can't do one thing, at least do the next best thing.

Arguing against using organic insecticides or other control measures on some principle, and then going out and buying chemical produce and thinking that is okay, is hypocrisy, IMHO.


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