Compost Teas for Protection and Control

Brew up some insecticidal liquid soap spray using concentrated soapwort; the saponin compounds in the soapwort will help to kill aphids and caterpillars.

The use of blasters in conventional agriculture to apply insecticides, fungicides and herbicides.
Photo courtesy of NRC (1989). ‘Agricultural Age’. In NRC (1989) Alternative Agriculture. Committee on the Role of Alternative Farming Methods in Modern Production Agriculture’, National Research Council. p.123.

Pesticides have come a long way in the last few decades from the reckless attitudes towards nature and all the environmental wreckage that entailed, towards a grudging acceptance to working in more harmony. Many of the synthetic pesticides hawked by the global agri-business trade have been outlawed and no safe synthetic alternative currently exists. Because of this, greater attention has again been directed to botanicals, namely plant extracts, that tend to be less destructive and linger less in the environment.2 A home brewed botanical pesticide can have a novel advantage over something industrially produced, because a substance from natural sources possesses a greater range of active compounds which are harder for a pest to evolve a resistance to than a single lab produced chemical.

Today the organic grower works spade by spade with the chemical grower, so many of the problems that beset the chemical grower are transferred to the organic grower’s fields. The chemical grower’s plan is high risk in that they grow single crops of the same cultivar. The preoccupation with detrimental regimes of pest control can be seen as an aspect of this scene. If the particular conditions are suitable for a pest it has more potential for growth in a field that has only a single crop and in principle the same applies to crop diseases. The grower is constantly waging a losing battle as pests gradually develop a resistance to the current brand of pesticides. From the point of view of agri-business this situation is ideal; it could be said that they are waging a winning battle with another business opportunity every time the current round of pesticides become redundant or are found to be environmentally unsound.

If the organic grower lived in a world where there was no chemical grower there might be no need for this chapter. The idea of attempting to surgically remove a pest is against the philosophy of organic growing where a balance is struck between a diversity of organisms. The organic grower would have fewer concerns about pests and crop failure because the ecology of the crops is inherently more resilient. The grower will have a different set of concerns, such as issues over productivity and challenging the false perception that all unblemished, uniform produce is healthy. If something goes wrong with one crop they will have crops of other cultivars that have not been stricken. If a particular pest attempts to ravage a crop it will be in less devastating numbers than a pest that has found ideal conditions in a vast single crop. In organic growing, natural enemies linked to a particular pest are nurtured and any pest that is starting to get out of control will soon be brought back in check with an influx of predators. For instance, the life cycle of the ladybird is intimately linked to the emergence of aphids with ladybirds seeking out areas where aphids may be prevalent such as in a nettle patch or a stand of yarrow. If all the wild patches have been removed to squeeze in a few more crops then another safety net has effectively been removed.

A further interesting example of a natural balancing mechanism is the way the wolf spider will expand their numbers where there is abundant prey and then regulate their own population by cannibalism when they run out of food.

Unfortunately even if you are a dedicated organic grower you still have to deal with factors outside your control in the best way you can. You may be near a farmer’s field for instance or your site may be next to a grower that has built up a whitefly problem from growing brassicas on the same spot for decades and has unwittingly killed all the whiteflies’ natural predators. The philosophy of tackling the symptoms rather than the causes can lead the grower down an often unnecessary cycle of destruction with spiralling pest numbers and costs. Desperate situations sometimes require desperate measures and many of the recipes in this chapter should only be used in an absolute emergency. To mitigate this issue the ingredients and preparations chosen are those that have minimal impact on beneficials and still leave the plant edible to humans.



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