The need to eject insects and rodents that have moved into your home or garden can be a problem that makes even the greenest person consider reaching for a chemical solution. Many pests are often just a nuisance; however, some can damage food or possessions, or bite and pass along diseases to people or pets, so you will really want to get rid of them. But it’s better to use organic pest control solutions rather than chemicals.
Although governments are slowly banning the most toxic of chemical pesticides for personal home use, what’s on the market is still dangerous. Even those touted all-natural insecticides can be problematic. Pyrethrum, for instance, is a so-called organic pesticide derived from a species of chrysanthemum. However, it is a broad spectrum pesticide, which means that it kills not only the thugs you are targeting, but beneficial insects too. In addition, pyrethrum is harmful to fish and other aquatic life, so using it near a storm drain, or in areas where runoff is a problem is not recommended. It is less toxic to mammals and birds than synthetics, but, of course less toxic is a relative matter. Children are especially vulnerable to the toxins contained in household and garden insecticides.
Rather than succumb to the hardware store shelves of chemicals, there are simple preventive measures that can stop most problems before they begin. Often, simply removing insects’ and rodents’ food supply and breeding sites is the most effective control. Steps like managing garbage so that it is less attractive, cleaning up spilled food – especially pet food – and eliminating damp conditions around the house are other simple deterrents. Manage your compost pile so it doesn’t attract rodents. Put food away quickly in sealed containers and sweep your kitchen floor regularly. Make sure garbage is stored inside or at least in a sealed container until pick-up day. Fix leaking faucets and any standing water inside or outside your house.
The first defense for bugs in your house is making sure pests don’t get inside. Seal cracks, including spaces around exterior plumbing and electrical outlets, attic vents, and under doors. Use window screens and keep them in good repair. Don’t leave porch lights on all evening, as they collect insects, which are swept into the house when the door is opened. (That wastes energy anyway, so install motion-sensitive lighting.)
In your garden, the best strategy is to cultivate healthy, robust plants. Built healthy, organic soil and pull out those inevitable sad looking stragglers that could be a target for bugs. Keep your garden free of debris and weeds, which can be breeding grounds for pests. Some pests – such as snails and slugs, potato beetles and cabbage worms – can be hand-picked. Because insect pests are often specific to individuals plants, rotate what you plant from year to year. Water early in the day, or drip irrigate because wet leaves encourage insects and fungal damage.
Beneficial insects are an excellent organic pest control. You can either attract or purchase insects that prey on the nasty insects in your garden. You might consider planting a small garden plot adjacent to your vegetable garden that contains flowers which attract beneficial insects. For instance, lady bug beetles eat aphids, mites, whiteflies, and scale; they can be attracted to your garden by planting daisies, tansy, and yarrow. Lacewings and their larvae eat aphids and are attracted to composite flowers, such as yarrow, goldenrod, black-eyed susans, and asters.
You can also use companion planting. A good example of this is when collards are planted to protect cabbages from moths. Likewise, nasturtiums are useful as a vegetable garden trap plant for aphids. Other companion plants assist by attracting beneficial insects, including pollinators, to the food crops. And others, like many herbs, are useful in repelling insect pests. And therein lies the reason why my friend’s grandmother grew garlic among her rosebushes and raspberries. Garlic repels aphids, spider mites, fruit tree borers and even Japanese beetles. Mint is useful against ants and white cabbage moth, rosemary deters carrot flies and bean beetles, and horseradish helps against potato bugs. Here is more information about companion planting.
Here are some organic pest control tips for dealing with specific pests in your home and garden:
Ants will leave a trail to their food. You can eradicate these trails by washing with vinegar mixed with water and peppermint essential oil. To discourage ants in your house, sprinkle their nest with red pepper/cayenne/paprika, powdered cinnamon, eggshells, bone meal, talcum powder, wood ash, blood meal, or coffee grounds. You can prevent an infestation of carpenter ants in your home by repairing wood damaged by moisture, ventilating damp areas, cleaning gutters, and storing firewood away from the house. In your garden, as we noted earlier, try planting mint as a companion plant.
Knock them off your plants with a strong spray of water from your hose. Or plant nasturtium flowers or garlic as a trap to attract aphids and keep them away from your veggies.
Bed bugs can be stubborn to eradicate. You’ll have to carefully and thoroughly vacuum your mattress, box spring, or futon, as well as any carpets, rugs, and upholstered furniture. Then, thoroughly vacuum every crack and crevice along the baseboards, behind light switches and switch plates, as well as the bed frame and other furniture. When you’re finished, empty the vacuum canister into a plastic bag, seal, and destroy. Extreme heat and cold will kill nymphs and eggs, so put furnishings, toys, etc. outside in those temperatures if possible. Wash clothing, bedding, pillows, area rugs, and any other fabrics in extremely hot water and dry in a hot dryer. Delicate clothing can be sealed in plastic bags and put in the freezer for at least six hours. If all else fails, there are a few supposedly non-toxic insecticides sold especially for bed bug infestations.
If you’re quick enough, you can kill these multi-legged, fast moving creatures whenever you see them. Failing that, dry up the moisture that they’re attracted to, and seal off where they’re getting into your house. And remember that, as disgusting as they are, centipedes kill and eat a variety of things you’d probably like to get rid of, like bedbugs, termites, silverfish, spiders, and cockroaches.
Cockroaches thrive in areas with moisture, food, and darkness. To trap them, place glue board traps in areas to which they are attracted. Monitor these traps and clean all areas where their droppings are present with soap, water, and a disinfectant. To repel roaches, mix up a red pepper solution (two tbsp of Tabasco in a quart of water works), pour it into a pump spray bottle, and mist it onto surfaces. The oils of cedar and mint, as well as bay leaves, also repel roaches.
A large infestation of crickets can be damaging to fabric items like clothes and furniture, and contaminate food. Mix molasses and vanilla extract or lemon juice with water to attract and drown crickets. Caulk the tiny cracks and crevices by which they can enter your house.
You can use sticky traps or floating row covers to protect your plants from flea beetles. Another good method is to plant a trap crop, such as radishes, to protect your tomato plants. The flea beetles will gravitate toward your trap crop and leave your tomatoes alone.
Food Moths & Beetles
The older food is, the more likely it is to develop an infestation of moths and beetles, so buy small amounts or store in the freezer. If you buy food from open bins, seal it in plastic bags and freeze for a week before using. Dry and bulk food should be stored in glass containers with tight lids. Spreading cloves, eucalyptus, bay leaves, and dried lemon peels near stored foods is a common food moth repellent practice.
Flies can be repelled with sachets of mint, clove, or eucalyptus. Or make your own flypaper; mix 1/4 cup of corn syrup with 2 tbsp of sugar (a mix of grown and white), then soak kraft paper in the mixture, dry, and hang.
Rodents are omnivorous and usually inhabit abandoned or unclean areas, inside and outside your house. So proper waste management is important in controlling the population of rodents. Never leave garbage uncovered and store it outside or in a shed or garage in containers with tight lids. Do not leave food uncovered in your kitchen, including pet food. If you do notice evidence of mice, clean and disinfectant the area, wearing gloves. Then seal up the small holes and cracks through which they enter your house. Outdoors, incorrect composting practices and abandoned wood piles, as well as bushes and garden shrubs can also provide shelter to rodents. There are organic pest control strategies for rodents too. Peppermint is an effective rodent repellent. Soak some rags or cotton balls in peppermint oil and then place them in the areas where rodents are active. Sprinkling some pepper, cinnamon, and cayenne in such areas, especially in rodent holes, can also be helpful. And growing these plants in your garden – especially near the foundation – will help keep these critters away from your home.
Silverfish are attracted to damp, warm conditions like those found around kitchen and bathroom plumbing. Keep the area clean of particles, insect eggs, and moisture. Dust the area thoroughly with diatomaceous earth. Silverfish reportedly dislike the smell of cinnamon, so it helps to keep some open jars or cloth packets of the spice in your food cupboards and clothes closets (since they like fabric).
You can prevent snails and slugs from eating your outdoor plants by surrounding them with copper tape; this is, of course, easier if your plants are in raised beds or pots. They can be also hand-picked and destroyed (not composted) if the population is small. Drowning them in a half-buried shallow container of beer also helps. If you live in an area where it’s available, seaweed mulch repels slugs.
These and other organic pest control strategies should help keep your home and garden free from the most bothersome intruders, year ’round.
For more ways to keep your home and garden green and healthy, read our book Natural Life Magazine’s Green & Healthy Homes by Wendy Priesnitz (The Alternate Press, 2011). This article was published in Natural Life Magazine.