This week we celebrate the “Pesticide Action Week” and we‘d love to engage as many people as we can to promote the use of natural remedies and alternative methods to pesticides.
Pesticides are used as pest and disease control in agriculture, but they can be harmful for humans, animals and the environment. Our aim is to raise awareness of the potential risks of using pesticides in our green space as well as showing you healthier alternatives. It’s definitely worth investigating natural ways of growing and gardening.
Sometimes the most efficient methods for doing a job are also the simplest! Do you want to stop animals from reaching or feasting on your plants? Well, put a barrier between them and your crop. Physical barriers can change depending on the pest: It can be a fence or frame covered with wire mesh to keep away big or small mammals (Cats, squirrels, or mice). It can also be a net: you’ll find specific nets for pigeons and finer nets for cabbage butterflies, but I would suggest to use the finest in both cases, being very careful to fix it on the ground without leaving any gap as often birds can go in and get trapped without being able to escape. Check the netting every now and then to avoid this problem.
For snails and slugs we can use copper tape, which is usually sold in garden centres and can be attached around your pots creating an unpleasant barrier to cross for gastropods (small invertebrates that slither/crawl on their own body). Grit and eggshells scattered around young plants can also help stop snails, as well as wool pellets (sold in garden centres) – which acts as a good natural mulch too!
INTRODUCING PREDATORS AND PATHOGENIC NEMATODES
A natural balance is reached in an environment where we can find both prey and predators. A large infestation sometimes indicates there are not enough predators who can reduce the “nasty” insect population. A solution can be to encourage wildlife in the garden, animals such as ladybirds feed on aphids and birds like wrens, robins, and blackbirds can catch snails and caterpillars. To attract beneficial animals into your garden you can sow a wide range of flowers to promote diversity in species, or build shelters for small animals like hedgehogs or feeders for birds. Make sure there is a source of water always available, a birdbath can be made using a shallow bowl where birds can drink and wash themselves. Also bird feeders should be placed in sheltered positions out of the reach of squirrels and rats.
Pathogenic nematodes are multicellular insects that combat a variety of pests selectively, by attacking, killing or feeding on those. Nematode remedies are now available to purchase in garden centres, but it’s important to sort out what kind of pest is affecting our plants to choose the right type of nematode to use.
GOOD VENTILATION/ AERATION
Many plant diseases are caused by inappropriate environmental conditions. Fungi and other disease agents can spread easily in humid conditions where air cannot circulate properly. We can prevent those conditions by: choosing quality potting compost that can retain enough moisture without causing waterlogging; watering the plants when they need it (each plant has different needs) and taking off excess water from the pot dish.
Pruning is essential to keep the plant healthy and in good shape. Generally speaking, for fruit trees or bushes we should remove and destroy damaged, dead or diseased branches to avoid any infection or disease from spreading across the whole plant. Cutting off branches growing toward the centre of the tree also can help promote good aeration and allow more light in whilst keeping the tree healthy.
CLEAN AND TIDY
It’s very important to look after our green space by keeping it tidy and now’s a great time to have a seasonal clean up. Again, many diseases can spread through unclean pots and unhygienic environments, and many pests like slugs, snails and rats are thriving amongst rubbish, plastic sheets and other objects we may have left unattended.. By checking our green spaces as often as possible and keeping just what we really need for growing our plants we can prevent a lot of problems caused by pests and diseases.
Last but not least: plants help each other. Chemicals are not only found in naughty pesticides, there are natural elements that can be very irritating for certain pests and, on the other hand, can attract beneficial insects and promote diversity into your green space. Usually strongly scented plants such as garlic, mint, lavender, and marigold (tagete) can deter pests, so planting those plants next to our carrots, tomatoes, brassicas etc. can really help fight the enemy of our crop. Each species can be associated with its companion plants, there are schemes and information online to find out which plants are good growing companions and which are not. Looking for companion plants for your crop is an organic method of maintaining healthy plants and good natural balance.
As you can see there are a lot of methods to fight pests and diseases without using harmful chemicals. But it would be even easier to fight pests and diseases if every single grower stopped using pesticides – so let’s spread the word and stop poisoning the planet!
Do you have any natural remedies for growing healthy plants? Please share them with us!
CLYO PARECCHINI, LIVEWELL COORDINATOR
Clyo heads up Wen’s Live Well cooking and food growing courses in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Classes explore in a practical way how diet and lifestyles has an impact on the planet. Attendees learn and try new plant based recipes, spend time in the community garden and enjoy a delicious lunch.