Friday, January 2, 2009


As a member of the Dirt Doctor's "ground crew", I receive frequent newsletters from Howard Garrett, with the latest skinny on organic gardening. The dues are very small, and I've gotten a lot of good information over the last couple of years. If you'd like to do the same thing, go to All the information is there.

With spring approaching, and mosquito season not far away, I thought this article from Garrett was appropriate, interesting and informative. I'm old enough to remember when pyrethrins were believed to be completely safe as insecticides. Of course, I'm also old enough to recall when the same thing was thought about DDT. Look where that misinformation got us - we nearly lost our national symbol, the bald eagle, due to the cumulative effects of DDT. Only when DDT was banned in this country did the dear old eagle begin to make a comeback. However, the battle isn't fully won, as many countries still use DDT heavily - specifically Mexico. At least it's no longer used here.

The point is, as the King sang in "The King and I" - "Some things neeearly so, others neeearly not!" Garrett lists several fiercely toxic poisons that were once widely used - diazinon, Dursban, Sevin, etc. Then there's the infamous malathion. I remember when my neighbor got tired of the fleas on her dog, and the occasional roach in the house, so she dosed her yard with malathion, at about 1000 times the recommended strength. Instead of putting an ounce into a gallon of water and running it through a sprayer, she dumped in the whole bottle. You could smell it clear to the end of the street, all the toads and lizards disappeared, there were very few birds in the neighborhood for a couple of years, and the squirrel population all but vanished. Darn near killed the dog, too. She just about nuked the whole neighborhood. I could have wrung her neck, and I wasn't even into gardening and backyard wildlife that much at the time.

Anyway, I'm researching something to (I hope) control the mosquitoes in the yard this spring, and am thinking that a cedar oil spray may be the thing. More checking is needed, but that looks promising. Garrett mentions it. Standing water isn't a problem, as I wash out the birdbaths every couple of days, the tire swing has a hole in the bottom for drainage, and I don't leave empty containers facing upward. The pond water is well patrolled by the fish - no larvae can survive there, and I routinely drop a mosquito "dunk" in the drain line that carries excess groundwater to the street. I think they just congregate in all the shrubbery and vegetation, the hateful little things.

So - as spring approaches, and with it the armies of insects that beset us, please be very careful in your choices of pesticides. As Garrett says, there are things that will do the job adequately and will not harm beneficial organisms. Every spring, when the aphids appear on my roses, I buy a couple of quarts of ladybugs from John Lee and release them in the rose island. Within a couple of days, I have no aphids and a lot of fat ladybugs have moved on to the neighbors' yards. This year I'm going to experiment with trichogramma wasps, maybe some green lacewings, and possibly praying mantises, in addition to the ladybugs. The wasps should help control those obnoxious little webworms that made my trees look so tacky last year.

I'm also researching beneficial nematodes, which can be placed in solution and sprayed where needed. I understand they're great for finding and destroying termites. I don't think I have any termites around here right now, but I may treat the foundation area anyway. I'll probably do the same at the rent houses, to prevent much greater expense in the future. The nematodes are cheap. Termite damage isn't.

So, as spring sprongs, I hope everyone will be very careful and thoughtful with regard to pesticides. I'm not a green freak, but I have truly become convinced that organic is best where possible, and it's just almost always possible. Incidentally, did you know that dry molasses, applied to your lawn about twice a year, is not only an excellent fertilizer, but will also get rid of fire ants? Now that ought to give you something to think about!

Happy New Year!!