slug1.jpgPest Control:
A look at the alternatives


Every summer my mother feeds her garden slugs a nice bottle of beer. It’s not that she is in the habit of placing alcohol out for all the animals around her cottage to enjoy, but that slugs are well known to be drawn to beer, which diverts them from garden vegetables. For the pleasure of their free happy hour, the slugs eventually find themselves drowned in the bowls of beer she’s distributed.  As a result, my mom can harvest her lettuce and other produce without resorting to using harmful chemicals to keep away these invading pests.

 

For generations, people have been passing along such tried-and-true methods of ‘alternative’ pest control, yet so many of us consider it easier to just buy and spray a host of pesticides across our gardens, lawns and even in our homes, hopeful that there will be no effects on the environment or our family’s health. We already know that two pesticides used in Bermuda – Diazinon (now banned in Bermuda but formerly used for ant control) and Atrazine (for weeds – a component of Weed and Feed products) - have been directly linked to reproductive health problems in males. As well, local research conducted by Dr. Jamie Bacon, principal investigator for the Bermuda Amphibian Project, has found an alarming deformity rate in Bermuda’s toads. Are pesticides, widely used across Bermuda’s golf courses, farms and private landscapes, in part to blame?  Do we want to wait until research can definitely prove a link or act now?

 

In 2000, a group of concerned Bermuda residents decided to act now by forming the Pesticides Focus Group. Their goal: to discuss the potential risks of pesticide use in Bermuda and eventually formalise a mission of promoting the safe and responsible use of pesticides and actively encourage the use of alternatives. They remind us that the long-term effects on the environment are unknown, as are the health risks to the user. The fact that a pesticide is readily available on the market does not indicate that it is entirely safe. All chemicals can be extremely toxic if used improperly. As well, residues from pesticides can remain in our gardens and homes for months or even years.

 

Consumers often consider pesticides the easiest and most effective product on the market, but consider this:

 

  • gardenspray1.jpgSoapy water or oil spray will kill aphids, mealybugs and scale insects. What could be easier and cheaper?

  • Take a flashlight at night when caterpillars are active to quickly spot and remove them.

  • Place a partially buried saucer of fresh beer near plants to attract snails and slugs. 

  • Cedar chips sprinkled in your flower bed repel chinch bugs.

  • Crushed egg shells and copper strips discourage slugs.

  • Plant herbs and garlic amongst your bedding plants to keep away aphids and mites.

  • For both ants and cockroaches, purchase boric acid from a pharmacy and mix one teaspoon of it with peanut butter and place in a small jar wrapped with a paper towel so that roaches can climb into it. Boric acid is less toxic than conventional insecticides, but wear gloves and eye protection when mixing boric acid as it is an irritant.

To make a soapy water spray, mix 1 teaspoon of pure soap (such as Ivory Liquid) per gallon of water. Double the concentration if insect control is unsatisfactory. Horticultural oil sprays can be purchased at plant nurseries.

 

Of course, prevention is always the best option. Examine your garden and lawn regularly to identify pest problems before they escalate, and snip off infected plants where pests are breeding. In the case of cockroaches, don’t provide them with food or water. How? Good sanitation is critical, so don’t let dirty dishes stack up in the sink, store food in tightly sealed containers, wipe down all counter surfaces to remove crumbs and liquid after food preparation, and wash out food containers before recycling. As well, fix dripping faucets and other leaks, and keep composting piles away from your house. Seal up holes and cracks in walls, floors and windows.

 

If you do need to purchase a pesticide, be sure to treat the right pest with the right product. Take a sample of a plant cutting with a pest, sealed in a plastic bag or container, to a professional for identification and recommendation of the appropriate pest-control product to use. Always purchase the least toxic chemical necessary for the job and only use the recommended dose specified on the label. Always read the label before use to determine when you can re-enter the treated area, when the treated produce is safe to eat, and what safety equipment to use during treatment. Store pesticides in dry cupboards, locked and labeled and away from children, pets and food. Finally, dispose of empty pesticide bottles appropriately. Contact Hazardous Waste Disposal at 297-7857 for instructions on safe disposal in Bermuda.

 

For more information on alternatives to pesticides as well as the safe and responsible use of pesticides, visit www.bermuda.com/community/organizations/ or e-mail  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

This article by Laura Semos was submitted to and printed by the Bermuda Sun on October 3, 2008.

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