May 4th, 2020Glen about the house – It’s only natural to care about your garden and its inhabitants!
In your desire to protect your plants from the many pest attacks, it’s easy to overlook the many other inhabitants of your garden, some quite inconspicuous, but mostly on your side.
Since the mid 1950s when the world’s major chemical companies turned their resources towards producing domestic products, it has been all too easy to flood our gardens with “harmless to humans” of all kinds to keep the garden bug- and disease-free…and what a catastrophic mistake in many ways that was.
Throughout my teen years working in the family nursery I would think nothing of spreading a knapsack sprayer full of whatever was the latest concoction through the glasshouses and outdoor beds, dressed for Summer in shorts and singlet, to keep the plants pest-free in blissful ignorance of the consequences that were to come.
Which included in my case persistent rashes, heightened bronchial asthma and a crap immune system. We were later to discover the far-reaching effects of systemic sprays – those designed to stay in the system for long-lasting effectiveness.
The truth of it all hit home in 1962 when I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which exposed the destruction of wildlife through the widespread use of pesticides. Despite the attempts of the worldwide chemical industry to ban her book, she succeeded in creating a public awareness, leading to changes in government policy and inspiring the modern ecological movement.
It certainly changed my whole perception of the horticultural industry. Especially when I discovered that many of the products stocking our garden outlet’s shelves had been long-banned from sale or use in the US.
Fortunately we now have a great range of organic and natural gardening remedies at our disposal if we wish, as a last resort, to spray. But remember there are more inhabitants in our gardens than those out to damage our plants and I’m not just thinking of the bees and other flying insects they rely on for pollination.
If, like me, you prefer not to risk harming the useful garden predators, there are alternatives like low-toxicity sprays based on extracts from plants such as pyrethrum, garlic, even rhubarb, and detergent-based insecticides building on the old country soapy water remedy. There are also biological sprays such as dipel which causes grubs to be attacked by a bacterial disease, harmless to anything else.
The good news is that it is possible to make quite satisfactory sprays at home from readily available materials. I will feature a list of them, with their recipes, in next week’s column.
Build a bug hotel
One way to attract and keep useful predatory insects in your garden is to provide them with secure accommodation and one way is to provide shelter in the form of a bug hotel hanging close to the plants you wish to protect most. And why not build one yourself as a garden ornament/craft project? One of my several rustic hotels is pictured, with a couple of likely visitors, the south-east Australian hover fly and a praying mantis, orthodera ministralis.