I am a novice gardener. For years all I had in our backyard was my beautiful border of peonies, the occasional container of marigolds or wildflowers, and…well….nothing else but dirt and a little grass. Oh, but when our son was in the toddler/preschool phase we did have the requisite Little Tikes playware….the basketball hoop (4′ tall), the water table, the sandbox…..but eventually when he became a big boy we sold those at garage sales. But 3 years ago, I developed a craving for a raised garden bed. I started to say it was an inexplicable craving, but now that I think about it the craving definitely developed from the TOPS science curriculum we used that year in homeschool, which used seed corn, beans and radishes to open the door to learning about plants and their growth. We also completed wonderful experiments that taught us about moisture, dryness, acid rain and lots of other important gardening principles. It was so exciting for me and for my 3rd grader! My generous friend R. then gifted me with a 2′ x 2′ bed AND organic dirt to go in it….and the adventure was on! Our first year as official gardeners we grew zucchini squash, which is the perfect plant for the novice. You don’t have to do a whole lot to get amazing returns.
Our second year (which was last summer), enough of the gardening bug (no pun intended) had bitten my husband that he built us two more raised beds; another 2′ x 2′ and the bonanza, a 4′ x 4′ bed, all from untreated boards purchased at Lowe’s. That may not sound like much space but those garden beds hold a LOT of room for interesting gardening! We planted yellow squash, zucchini, radishes, sugar snap peas and lovely beefsteak and cherry tomatoes that I’d started from seed 6 weeks before. All organic, of course.
I learned how to water (deeply and from below), how to snap off sucker vines from the tomatoes, and about beneficial insects like honeybees and ladybugs. Unfortunately where there are beneficial insects there are often going to be the harmful sort. I went out early one morning to water and the cotyledons (a.k.a. starter or seed leaves) of the radishes were decimated. There was hardly anything left of those seed leaves! I checked the tomatoes (chewed on but not as badly) and the squash leaves (also nibbled). So in I went to my trusty gardening advisor, the Internet, and did a search for the symptoms my plants were suffering. The Internet informed me that the likely culprit was fleas, of all things! Now we don’t have any pets but apparently our backyard did….visitors of the rabbit and feline sorts. Perhaps they brought some fleas in that then stayed. Naturally these visitors were highly unwelcome….so my next move was to find an organic pesticide that would kill off the pests but not harm any of the beneficial insects OR my plants or the soil. So off I went again to the Internet.
This search was actually more difficult than you might think! After a fruitless online search, I emailed my friend J. in a panic. J. is the proud possessor of the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen on a human and her garden is pretty much explosive with produce every year. She sent me a link to http://www.no-dig-vegetablegarden.com/natural-pest-control-remedies.html, which had many links with organic solutions to various garden problems. If you scroll down to “Garlic, Onions and Chilies,” you’ll find a great starter recipe for a powerful insecticide that is both healthy and beneficial for your garden. I used the same ingredients that NoDig recommended but varied the amounts and preparation to come up with this recipe which eradicated the fleas and kept my plants’ leaves unmunched.
Organic Homemade Pesticide
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped (use the stem, seeds and pepper)
6 garlic cloves, pressed (use skins and all)
7 C water
1 TBSP vegetable oil
1 TBSP dish soap (I like Seventh Generation’s version)
Spray bottle with nozzle
1. Bring first 4 ingredients to a boil in a dutch oven. Boil for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to a simmer for 25 minutes.
2. Turn off heat and let stand until mixture is cool. (You may want to cover it because this is going to be VERY fragrant! Eventually I had to light a Yankee Candle to combat the garlic aroma.)
3. Ladle mixture thru a paper towel or coffee filter inside a strainer. Discard vegetables or add to compost.
4. Once all the liquid has been strained, stir in the vegetable oil and the dish soap. Pour into spray bottle. You’ll have some left over; I store the remainder in canning jars (tightly closed) in the refrigerator.
5. Now you are ready to apply to your garden plants. Spray onto plants in the morning or evening so that you don’t scorch the leaves with this spicy mixture combined with direct heat from the sun. Watch your plants, then repeat as needed. This should not only solve your garden insect problems, it will also discourage cats from mistaking your garden beds for litter boxes! As you can imagine this pungent scent will be very unappealing to their kitty noses. And by the way….your produce will not taste or smell like garlic!
6. You won’t likely need to apply this all summer; I found last year that once the plants were well-established the insect nibbling really dropped off, but keep the solution around in case you need to spray again. Organic master gardeners recommend that solutions with soap be used sparingly in gardens because the soap can deter beneficial insects, so you won’t want to use this every day all summer. It’s a wonderful tool for the short-term, though; and unlike commercial pesticides it won’t harm your honeybee population.
Enjoy! (well—you may not enjoy the SCENT of this spray, but you’ll certainly enjoy the RESULTS of it!) —Wren