This is a common response to hearing that everything we grow is untouched by toxins or chemicals of any kind.
‘What, NO pesticides at all?’
No, none. We can go further and state that we never kill anything in the garden – (okay, the bindweed is one exception, only we’re not spraying but tugging and pulling and throwing it on the bonfire. Mind you, we’re not even winning that battle at the moment, all this rain means it is replacing itself faster than we can pull it up!) – no boiling water in ants nests, no beery slug traps, nothing.
Instead, we try to work with our surroundings to our mutual benefit, utilizing at least a few of the Permaculture Design Principles. We feel that everything entering our garden has a right to be there and performs a function, even if it isn’t always an obvious one. Some undesirable bugs come in and eat other even less-desirable bugs. Besides, it’s much nicer to find a way to coexist than to spend hours out of your life filling buckets with snails to dump a mile down the road only to find they’re ‘homing’ snails who eventually find their way back; or poisoning the very ground that we plan to get our food from.
Note that we haven’t said it is easy, but we can now say that trial and error feature very highly. It is important to experiment, and then adjust methods according to the results. Sometimes things just work out well without any intervention, like the black ants nests tunnelling beneath the strawberry patch. When we first noticed them our instinctive response was to wonder how we were going to get rid of the ants, but then we looked closer. The strawberry plants were thriving, showing far more new growth than in previous years, and the first fruit was one of the best we’ve had. So the ants are staying.
Apart from ants, our primary ‘pests’ are slugs, snails and aphids.
Ants are welcome on the strawberry patch, so we leave them to do their thing, and we get nice strawberries! Ants in unwanted areas are a little trickier, it seems they will eat seed and can be known to carry it away. We’re certain they are responsible for our parsnip seeds vanishing practically overnight! We have read that some natural deterrents are vinegar, lemon juice, peppermint oil, spices and herbs, coffee grounds, chalk and baby powder, cucumber or citrus peels and dish soap. So far we have tested the coffee grounds and baby powder, and saw no sign of either making the slightest difference. As we try out the other suggestions we’ll keep you posted on the progress. In the meantime, they are not doing too much harm by being there so we’re leaving them to it. One tip though, plant pots need to be raised off the ground using bricks, large stones, etc, or the ants will dig upwards from the ground and extend their nests into the pot which disturbs the soil, killing the plants inside.
Slugs and Snails
Many years ago we visited a local garden center where they were holding some sort of event with marquees full of wildlife organizations and oodles of information and experts. It was here we saw for the very first time in our life, slugs mating, in a piece of film. Fascinating stuff, and even more interesting talking to the man at the stall, as he seemed to know everything there is to know about Gastropods. For instance, he told us that although gardeners bemoan the nibbling (or outright demolishing, in some cases) of tasty young plants, in actual fact, they prefer to feed on older leaves, the stuff that’s beginning to wilt and rot. Cue another experiment.
In our garden, we placed a heap of leaves removed from various plants that already had some damage, including cabbages, lettuce and others, and plonked them on the garden path, and we waited. The next day we found at least four different varieties of slug in the heap, and few snails. We deemed this a success, and have continued the practise ever since.
The garden backs onto allotments, so there is always a steady stream of slithering traffic from that end of the garden, and we reckon that while they’re busy eating the rotting stuff, most of them are leaving my nice plants alone. So far we think it does help.
Since then we have employed another strategy to ward off any of those who may be less enticed by the heap. Rows of sacrificial plants.
Knowing the general direction the slugs and snails travel in order to reach the garden, we have employed a tactic to halt them in their tracks. By our reckoning, if the battalion of hungry snails were to be met by a row of young Cavolo Nero Kale plants, they would struggle to pass up such a feast, leaving them too full to devour the leafy-goodness in the rest of the garden.
It looks as though this new tactic might have worked. These poor plants were positioned on the front line and got thoroughly chomped – such was their lot in life.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crop, located just a few feet away, are largely being left alone.
We don’t have an answer for this one yet. So far the green and black fly have been found on the roses, lettuces and chilli plants, both outside and in the greenhouse. A common solution is to spray with washing up liquid and water. We wouldn’t mind this so much on the roses because we don’t eat those, or on the chilli’s before they begin fruiting, but we won’t spray anything on the lettuces. So far there hasn’t been very much damage but their numbers are increasing, so any suggestions we receive are very welcome.
Why no pesticides?
Pesticides include insecticides and herbicides, all of which are designed to be toxic.
More information from PAN UK (Pesticide Action Network):
“Many pesticides are severely harmful to human health and the environment, and responsible for the poisoning of numerous people, livestock and wildlife. Some have been linked to cancer. Some are based on WW2 nerve gases and damage the nervous system, whether insect or human. Many also disrupt the hormonal balance in our body: they threaten our potential to reproduce, and to have healthy offspring. Finally, some pesticides remain in the environment for decades: they accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals and contaminate the environment far from where they were used.”
This is why we never use pesticides, and we never will.