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The Most Natural Kind of Pest Control

Another Earth Day has come and gone, and with it our yearly reminder of our impacts and footprints, of how and what we’ve been using. Indeed, examining our personal patterns of use can become an all-consuming task. But understanding our own behavior is not always enough to find the greenest solution.

Take pest control.

Whether you’re in an outer-ring suburb, a one room apartment, or a sprawling farmstead, you and bugs will cross paths. With the largest biomass of all terrestrial animals and an estimated 30 million species, bugs are probably the most diverse and consequential things we observe in our daily lives[1]. Whether we like it or not, we share our space and resources with these mysterious little animals.

In the current pest control paradigm, high science has replaced the input of the lay observer. A century of miracle cures has conditioned us to meet our expectations by bending nature to our whim. Even our all-natural treatments usually consist of spraying on a layer of some faraway expert’s special concoction. We need not accept this “spray it” philosophy. Anyone can create low cost, low impact pest control solutions by following a few simple guidelines:

1) Be reasonable:

Everyone has their own tolerance level when it comes to bugs. If you have the problem, you will always have the best understanding of the solution. The more reasonable you can be, the higher the likelihood of a satisfactory outcome.

2) Be curious:

Forget smelling the roses –check the underside of the leaves! Hang out in those weeds by the alley. Frustrate your hiking buddy by wandering off of the trail to watch the pollinators do their thing. When you take the time to look for behaviors, you will discover that the world’s smallest zoo is always there waiting for you to peek in.

3) Be bold:

If you think you have a potential solution, try it and see how it goes.

4) Be patient:

Sustainable solutions will not happen over night. A combination of methods may give you the desired result. Stick with it and trust your instincts.

Photo by Leonardo Boiko

Real Life with Insects

Here are a few real-life examples of common sense solutions forged from everyday observations:

• Observation: Aphids have poor mobility.
• Application: Aphid populations can balloon out of control in the garden, in the orchard, or even on your house plants. A quick blast with the hose will remove most of the population without damage to sturdy plants. Dislodged aphids will often starve before they can return up the host plant. A daily dose for a week or two will moderate the population and neutralize damage. This is a free alternative to synthetic chemical controls and expensive biological controls.

• Observation: Ants will often consume other insects.
• Application: Some gardeners attract ant populations by spritzing their crops with sugar water. The ants, initially attracted to the sugar, with often stick around to patrol the plants for garden pests. You rest easy, while the ants do all of the work.

• Observation: Mosquitoes become most active around dusk.
• Application: Rather than relying on candles or bath oil to discourage mosquitoes, just avoid their prime feeding times altogether and stay indoors. In this case, altering your own behavior is the most effective solution.

• Observation: Insects are less active in cool weather.
• Application: When removing wasp nests from your eaves, wait for a cool, frosty morning when the cold-blooded creatures will be too lethargic to mount a defense.

• Observation: The hideous “crawling mustache” zipping around my living room is eating something.
• Application: The House Centipede, not only completely harmless, may be the greatest practitioner of home pest control. This predator actually prefers a diet of cockroaches, silverfish, ants, spiders, and bedbugs. In this case, all you need to do is find a way to coexist.

These, of course, are just a few examples.

We all have the innate power to synthesize solutions by observing the world around us. It is generally understood that children must be free to discover the world for themselves. Remember then that childhood is supposed to be training for adulthood. When we value observation and discover for ourselves through trial and error, we embrace our own utility – which is probably the greenest habit we can cultivate.

[1] Source: Smithsonian Online

Do you practice natural pest control? What methods have you found that are most effective?

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19 Comments

  1. Kara

    What can I say? This came at an ironically good time. I woke up today with two tiny spiders on the edge of my pillow. I promptly freaked out.

  2. lauren

    i am a new reader to the simple series of blogs. i love the info you all share & i love these pest suggestions! i’m especially intrigued by the idea of drawing ants to the garden! who would have thought?

    i have a few other tricks up my sleeve that seem to work well:

    -i plant marigolds under my tomato plants to keep aphids away.
    -i make a garlic/water spray in a garden sprayer to soak plants with every few weeks. [i wait for signs of plants being eaten first, because some years it’s not as much of a problem.]
    -i keep a spray bottle of soap, water, & peppermint oil lying around my house so i can attack bugs that i can’t reach with a fly swatter.
    -MY FAVORITE: i live in the south & roaches are [or were!] a huge problem. i make a catnip “tea” & spray it around the inside & outside perimeters of my house. [this helps for other pests, too, but roaches are the only ones that really bother me.]

    [if anyone wants more info on any of these methods, hit me up on my blog!]
    .-= lauren’s last blog: it’s about meaning, not fear. =-.

  3. Kara

    “When we value observation and discover for ourselves through trial and error, we embrace our own utility – which is probably the greenest habit we can cultivate.” Well said and I agree.

    Great tips and thanks for the encouragement to observe and turn that knowledge into a solution and not the “spray it” philosophy as you say.

    Sometimes I just have to change my mindset. I’m not a fan of spiders in general, but I can appreciate them and even be thankful for their presence and the work they do … as long as they stay outside 😉 And the praying mantis who come to visit and help me take care of my roses every year are much appreciated for the pruning of other bugs who would like to dine on my flowers.

    Great post! (though I might be a little biased)
    .-= Kara’s last blog: Congratulations to The Green Hour Book Giveaway Winners =-.

  4. Ann-Krestene

    I’ve been meaning to try broken egg shells around my hostas and other slug luring plants and veggies, instead of using Corry’s and the like. I’ve been told they don’t like to slither over their cutting edges…

    Also I use a dish of apple cider vinegar near my fruit bowl, kitchen scrap bowl, and by the sink to trap fruit flies in the summertime…directions here: http://annkrestene.blogspot.com/2008/08/certain-death-for-fruit-fly.html
    .-= Ann-Krestene’s last blog: Keeping an Eye on Me =-.

  5. Kathryn

    About ants: they do help in some cases, but they can also be harmful. They “shepherd” aphids, for example, and large colonies of them can destroy the root systems of your grass or flowers.

    • NJ

      Lauren: Welcome to the conversation! The one thing that all of these tips have in common is that they originated in the mind of one patient observer. I’m wondering if the catnip attracts hungry kitties to your baseboards –they might be the ones eliminating your roaches!

      Kara: Thanks. I always cringe to hear some mysterious synthetic chemical replaced with some mysterious botanical chemical when very few problems are serious enough to require either –even spiders 🙁

      Ann-Krestene: If you have an active slug problem (and you can stomach it) a “beer trap” is always your best option IMHO.

      Kathryn: Fortunately for us, the overwhelming majority of ant species are beneficial or neutral. That being said, you will find all kinds of behaviors in a group as diverse and widespread as ants. This is exactly why it is so important to observe their behavior for yourself and act accordingly. Tips will come and go, but an enlightened approach will serve you well forever.

      • Ann-Krestene

        Oh man, here in The Great North West (Seattle) April is the month of the slug! They’re already eating thru everything! I’ve heard of the beer trick, but haven’t tried it…it does seem particularly gross to have rid of the remains afterward. Thanks for the post!
        .-= Ann-Krestene’s last blog: Keeping an Eye on Me =-.

        • NJ

          I suggested a beer trap to my boss last Spring and he had 50+ slugs the first night!
          (and yes it is gross!)

  6. Colette

    I really loved this post! Thinking outside the box – nice. Please keep this kind of information coming, I thoroughly enjoy reading everything on Simple Organic. Oh and congratulations on an excellent site.
    .-= Colette’s last blog: Easter Fun =-.

    • Sara Michael

      You are absolutely spot on. It is always fun thinking outside the box and read something which make you think outside the box. Just curious about one thing here, don’t you people think that pest control services can actually help you more effectively in such cases?

  7. Chelsea

    This post is perfect timing for us! We’ve been battling ants since the beginning of Spring, but just this week they’ve gotten out of control. This morning we awoke to probably 250-300 ants all over our kitchen table, my son’s playroom floor, kitchen countertops, etc. We’ve tried baby powder, cinnamon, pepper, we’ve re-caulked every entrance we can find them crawling in and out of but it only seems to work for two or three days until they find another way in. I never leave one dish out, clean the table and floors daily, but I just can’t keep up and I’m about to throw in the towel and call our local “green” pest control. Please, save me before I do it! Does ANYONE have an effective, natural solution that I haven’t tried? I don’t know what to do with my son today as his playroom has been overtaken.

    • Jessica

      We had a very bad ant problem but had a lot of success with diatomaceous earth. I haven’t done a ton of research on it but it’s basically just ground up shells from what I understand. It’s a very fine powder and ants hate it (some say it feels like walking on glass to them). Whenever we see them starting to accumulate in the house, we put a good sprinkle of diatomaceous earth around window sills or where ever we think they are coming from, and they are gone within a day. We got a large bag of it at Home Depot. If anyone else knows about DE, please feel free to comment!

      • NJ

        Jessica: Instead of skin insects have a waxy layer covering their exoskeleton. DE makes tiny scratches in this coating allowing moisture to escape. Affected bugs will dehydrate and die. The downside is that DE will kill pests and friends alike.

        Chelsea: Ants are a tough problem, but Sara is right that your first order of business is to remove their reason for being there. If you watch them you can see what they are after, you may have missed something that is obvious to them. Next, continue to remove their points of entry (I know this can be a “whack-a-mole” type of exercise!)

        The reason that you have so many is that ants communicate with each other by leaving invisible scent trails. Once they find something they want, they will lay down invisible highways that lead to your kitchen table. Removing the ants (a canister vac will work) and wiping down surfaces with soapy water or a vinegar solution will help to further disrupt their invasion.

        The next step is to follow them to the source and hit the nest(s).

        Sara: Your relationship with fire ants reminds me of a friend of mine that used to live in rural South America. People there didn’t mind the horrible Army Ant attacks so much because they would return home and there were no roaches, no mice, and no scorpions, at least for a few days.

  8. Sara

    Our house gets raided with fire ants every summer. While I have used a non toxic orange oil solution effectively, the best way to control them is to not give them any reason to come in. Which means not leaving any food out and cleaning the floor after every meal, good habits to follow anyway. They can be a pest in the garden, but they can also be beneficial, keeping soft bodied insect larvae at bay and tilling the soil. So in order to co-exist peacefully, I try to stick to vegetables that they do not eat, wear protective boots and gloves when I work, and give them plenty of space. Thankfully, their numbers are diminishing because of the cooling climate over the last couple of years in our area. So what was once an overwhelming problem has calmed to a mild nuisance, but most of this was simply done by changing my attitude. Live and let live.
    .-= Sara’s last blog: Baking Day! =-.

  9. mamaTAVE

    When ants enter my home, I find that peppermint essential oil dripped directly on their entrance hole works wonders.

    I discovered last year that the crawling mustaches we kept finding were house centipedes. I am a bit calmer, knowing that they are harmless to us, but they are still creepy…! Glad to hear you report on what they like to eat.
    .-= mamaTAVE’s last blog: Are these the biggest tonsils you’ve ever seen? =-.

    • NJ

      Yeah, I’m supposed to know better, but they still creep me out!

  10. Tammy

    Um, those “crawling mustaches” CREEP ME OUT! I’ve never sprayed for them, but I do kill them if I see them. Actually, let me amend that. If I see them, my dh gets to kill them for me! If I’m home alone, I will muster up the nerve to get near enough to them to kill them.
    .-= Tammy’s last blog: ~Simplicity 8720~ =-.

  11. commercial pest control

    I’m searching the web regarding pest control and I’m glad I’ve stumble upon your blog. The information is very good. Thanks for sharing.

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