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Fighting the Pest Without the Toxic Mess

By Kim Robson

Controlling pests without the use of dangerous chemical pesticides can be a challenge for green-living families. Those who are chemically sensitive, immune compromised, have asthma, or are just concerned about the use of chemicals around their children and pets owe it to themselves to research alternatives.

There are many safe and effective methods for controlling a variety of pests. First of all, a clean and well-ordered home will not be attractive to pests. Prevention is key. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, they say, and not without good reason. Don’t leave food open or dirty dishes lying about. Sweep floors and vacuum rugs frequently. Annual spring cleaning is very important – clean inside cabinets, and under and around the stove and refrigerator. This will help avoid attracting unwanted pests and rodents. Mice and rats can squeeze through openings as small as 1⁄4 inch, and can climb virtually anything, so make sure window screens, vents, and crawlspaces are in good order. Caulking cracks will prevent insects and mice from entering your home. Concentrate on the bathroom and kitchen. Clear vegetation away from the roof and exterior of your home. Don’t overlook floor drains, and if you have a letter drop, it should have a spring-closing cover.

Recently, people in both rural and urban areas have had problems with mice getting into their cars. They make nests in the ventilation systems and chew through everything in sight, causing thousands of dollars in damage. We’ve found that a combination of hanging mothball cakes in the engine, keeping the hood open when parked, and placing a natural repellant inside the cabin seem to work fairly well. The natural repellant we use is called Fresh Cab, and it is made with Balsam Fir, Lavender, Spanish Rosemary, Cedar, Orange, and Lemon. I’ve also heard that coyote urine works well; it is available on the internet.

Ants can be a persistent problem, especially during the summer months. Luckily, there are several natural ways of dealing with them. One method is to place cinnamon sticks, sliced garlic, mint leaves or oil, or black pepper wherever you see them. Distilled white vinegar is another excellent repellant. For full-out anthills, pour boiling water into the entrance.

Termites should be controlled by a professional. Luckily there are many methods available that don’t involve fumigation of your home, such as the use of heat, electricity, microwave, and borates (salt treatments).

For cockroaches, mint and garlic are good repellants. Or try leaving a container filled with a couple of beer-soaked bread slices in infested areas. Food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) kills roaches by dehydration, and is a non-toxic alternative to Boric acid. Diatomaceous earth also works very well for fleas, dust mites, and bedbugs. Sprinkle it into carpets and your pets’ fur. It is easily available on the internet; be sure to get food-grade DE.

Companion planting is a method by which pests are repelled by the presence of plants that they dislike naturally. It’s also one of the easiest and most attractive ways to go. Although the plants you use may vary by your geographical location, here are some good suggestions:

Pest — Plant Repellant

  • Ants — Spearmint, peppermint, tansy, pennyroyal Onion, turnip, potato
  • Bean Leaf Beetle Codling Moth — Common oleander Onion, mint, garlic
  • Flea Beetle — Turnips, onion, radish Garlic, larkspur, red buckeye
  • Harlequin Bug Japanese Beetle Mexican Bean Beetle Root-Knot Nematodes Spider Mites — Potato, garlic, radish, onion French marigold
  • Squash Bug — Onion, cloves, garlic Marigold, radish
  • Squash Vine Borer Stink Bug — Cloves, garlic, onion Radish
  • Tomato Hornworm Whitefly — Marigold, sage Marigold, nasturtiumpage2image12000

Nothing is as frustrating as walking out to your garden to find it destroyed by snails, slugs, gophers, and moles. Here you are, doing right by the environment, growing your own food, and the natural world you’re trying to embrace destroys your crops! There are some tips for helping your garden avoid attack. Snails and slugs can be repelled with some unusual methods. If you need to protect only a small area, surround it with a thick line of chalk. They won’t cross it. Here’s a fun snail-killing project for the kids: find a saucer or lid of a shallow jar, and dig a depression in the ground wide enough to hold it and deep enough for the top to be level with the ground. Then fill the saucer with Coca-Cola or beer. Snails will be attracted to the contents, and slip inside. The acid in the Coke will be fatal, as will the alcohol in the beer. Replace the liquids every couple of days. You can protect individual seedlings by placing sandpaper collars around their bases. Finally, sprinkle salt around the garden’s edges and corners.

Gophers and moles can be devastating to a garden, but we don’t want to kill the critters — just keep them away. They eat many other pests, including beetle grubs, cutworms, and wireworms, and their tunnel digging activities aerate the soil. They are important prey for hawks, skunks, king snakes, and owls. Their preferred foods are insects and worms; they don’t really want to eat your vegetables. To discourage them from eating your plants, try these tricks: stuff sheets of fabric softener into their holes, then cover with dirt; spread coffee grounds around your yard — the bonus is the grounds also make great fertilizer; pour used cat litter into their holes — cats are a natural enemy of rodents, and the urine scent will work wonders to keep them away.

It’s not necessary to put up with Wild Kingdom in your household if you want to live green, but spreading poison around your home is terrible for everyone involved. It is terrible for the earth and for our children’s health. Why not make the right choice for the planet, and use the bounty she already offers?

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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