A microscopic soap opera happens every day with trillions of different scenarios. Lives are created and then vanquished. Treasures taken and babies stolen. Colonies come together to defeat an indomitable titan only to lose their village moments later from a grander giant’s foot.
As our world turns, so does the insect universe.
The size of the species (theoretically ranging from 900,000 different kinds to 30 million), rabbit reproduction rates, mammoth lack of care for fellow insects, and an overall appetite that shrivels the feat of hot dog eating champs everywhere should make insects the hip species of the planet. Unfortunately, its relatively human eye strain size, coupled with the trite view of all insects being armed with stings, bites, and horror movie visages contribute to its overall unpopularity (some of which are well deserved…I’m looking at you, Mr. Tick.).
Insecticides can also be as daunting; couple that with a desire (at least for some) to stay organic and in tune with Earth’s harmony, and the task becomes even more intimidating. For example, you want to spray the aphid colony that’s staked claim to your tomato leaves. Do you spray with reckless abandon, hoping the poison mist will not alter your food and your future genes? How do you find a spray that doesn’t compromise the lives of all beings in the spray radius but still eradicates the loathsome aphid hoard?
Thankfully, plenty of bad bug artillery exists without having to rely on chemical leftovers from World War II. Below are a few of the better known earth friendly products:
1) Spinosad (found in Monterey Garden Insect Spray and Sluggo Plus)
The origins of spinosad came from a pirate’s best friend–a rum distillery. While on vacation in the Caribbean in 1982, a scientist discovered a soil dwelling bacterium called Saccharopolyspora spinosa in the abandoned distillery. In 1988, the bacteria was placed in a fermentation broth, producing a compound that has since been formed into an insecticide with the added plus of being a biological pest control organism.
It’s effects are nasty with a perfect 100% mortality rate. When spinosad is sprayed onto bug riddled plants, the nervous system of the target insect (primarily caterpillars, leaf miners, spider mites, and thrips) unravel due to over stimulation. Death comes one to two days after initial ingestion.
Numerous beneficials (ladybugs, predatory mites, lacewings, etc) are not affected by the bacteria although Braconid wasps, praying mantises, and honey bees are susceptible. It is especially toxic to bees, moderately to fish, and only slightly to birds. Phytotoxicity is not an issue with ornamentals or edibles, but check the inserts of individual sprays for length of days between spraying and harvest.
Spinosad also comes in a granular form like Sluggo Plus. Pouring a barrier circle around your favorite leafy can protect them from the diabolical slow chew of the slug.
2) Neem Oil (found in Dyna Gro Pure Neem Oil, Southern Ag Triple Action Neem Oil, and Azamax)
Azadirachta indica, better known as the Neem Tree, owns a reputation as a miracle plant. Devotees of the South Asian tree claim that the tree is “magical”. The many useful properties derived from the Neem seed (Indians go so far as to call to call it the “village pharmacy”) certainly allows it some leverage as a shamanic tree. Neem has treated an array of ailments from skin disorders to tetanus prevention.
While being a Samaritan for humans, Neem can be quite the demon when it comes to handling certain insects. The strong odor and bitterness of Neem Oil, which is derived from the seed through a cold press or other temperature controls, repels a variety of the usual plant gorging suspects, including aphids, leaf miners, white flies, and the Japanese beetle.
Neem doesn’t work as fast as some “knock down” sprays, but the end result seems cold and calculating. Neem enters a bug’s system and prohibits hormones from working properly. All aspects of the insects life becomes forgotten. Eatiing, flying, mating, and laying eggs loses its importance. The bug colony loses all primal ambitions and soon becomes extinct in the micro climate (I.e. raised bed, flower boxes, etc.). Be patient, the hormonal effects may take days or weeks before full effectiveness.
It is also touted as a systemic insecticide. Soaking diluted Neem Oil in the soil is soaked up by the plant and absorbed into the plant’s deeper tissues. Aphids and mites won’t be as affected since they chew on mainly the outer layer known as the phloem, which barely (if at all )absorbs the neem. However, glutinous leaf gorgers like leaf hoppers and grass hoppers will go deep enough digest a bitter dose of Neem.
Beneficial bugs are rarely harmed by Neem Oil since they don’t eat plants, and Neem must be ingested to cause impairment. However, one must practice caution since oil can suffocate any bug. Spraying early or late in the day will prevent one from coating an unlucky bee or ladybug who just happened to wander into the Neem Storm.
Do not fear, more intriguing insecticide info to come in the near future.
Wade through the razor blade storm (at least for insects) known as Diatomaceous Earth!