Organic Gardening

(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)

This year, why not opt for organic measures to reduce pests in your lawn and garden. There are several reasons to avoid the use of chemical pesticides.

Pesticide residues can make your food less safe to eat at harvest time. Using pesticides can make handling the plants more dangerous, particularly if small children or pets will be in your garden. You cannot encourage your kids to pluck and eat if you are going to be spraying pesticides. Pesticides reduce the population of beneficial insects and earthworms and may increase the population of pesticide-resistant insects. Birds and pets may be harmed or killed along with the unwanted creatures if the pesticides are misused.

Finally, pesticides expose the gardener to the dangers of inhalation or absorption of toxins through the skin. Your plan may be to change your clothes and wash exposed surfaces as soon as you have sprayed in the garden, but you may forget or miss the chance. Allowing the pesticide to dry on your clothes means that you absorb some through your skin. Picking up your child or grandchild for a quick hug moves the poison from your hands or clothes to their more sensitive skin.

To reduce your need for pesticides, take advantage of the biological controls already at work in your garden by encouraging natural predators, such as preying mantises, ladybugs, lacewings, ground beetles, and others. Learn the food and habitat likes and dislikes of these helpers, and provide these conditions where possible. Learn to recognize the eggs and larvae of beneficial insects, and avoid harming them. Spiders, toads, and dragonflies are beneficial and should not be a source of fright to the gardener; in most cases, they are harmless to people.

Trap pests, such as slugs, earwigs, and sowbugs, with overturned flower pots, bamboo lengths, and boards; collect them every morning, and dispose of them. Avoid the Japanese beetle traps, which may increase injury to garden plants by attracting beetles from a wide area.

Electric “zapper” traps kill a much larger number of beneficial or non-pest insects than pest insects and add noise pollution to a summer evening. Increase your use of insecticidal soaps and biological controls, such as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), to maintain a healthy garden for everyone.

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