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June 22, 2010 — Today’s Way: Okay, I have a very liberal attitude toward wildlife and even insects. I feel that we are all here for a reason, and that we should be able to share this planet as part of a harmonized ecosystem. I do not kill spiders in my house. Instead, I enter them into them into the Witness Relocation Program, and move them safely outdoors. I have been known to relocate many creatures and critters that most other people would think nothing of dispatching, but sometimes, a line is drawn and preemptive action must be taken.
For instance, in the case of yellow jackets building their nest in the gas tank door of my car. Usually, I’d wait until it’s cool and they’re lethargic enough to knock the nest away with a stick, but in the summer, they stay too active to mess with. Rather than using a chemical insecticide sprayer, I have discovered a totally safe and effective alternative. Dish detergent and water. Yup, that’s it. Add about 1 part ordinary liquid dish detergent (or better yet, a nice organic castile liquid soap) to about 10 parts ordinary tap water, mix well, and put into a bottle with a sprayer that can be adjusted to a fine stream. Alternatively, a squirt gun works, too. Good aim is necessary.
My technique follows thusly: Get within a safe but accurate shooting distance, take aim, and fire. Then run away.
Although dish soap is safe for us, it sticks to the insects and disrupts the permeable membranes of their respiratory systems located on the shells of their bodies, killing them quickly. I should point out that this is a very concentrated formula to ensure that dangerous stinging insects are disabled immediately, but it could burn plants if your aim is not on target.
If you want to eliminate other soft bodied pest insects, such as aphids, spider mites, white flies or mealybugs in your garden plants, you will want to use a higher dilution of about 5 tablespoons liquid soap or detergent per gallon of water, and cover the entire plant with the broad mist of the sprayer. This will kill the offending bugs and their eggs. However, once the soap solution dries out or if it is rinsed away by rain, you may need to reapply once or twice to ensure total annihilation. Be sure to rinse the entire plant after about 24 hours. This solution will keep indefinitely, and it is much cheaper and safer for both our health and the health of our planet than the chemical alternatives.
June 20, 2010 — Today’s Way: I’ve talked about lawns and their maintenance demands before in this blog, and that’s because the American Quest For The Perfect Lawn represents a huge chunk of the pollution pie. Inefficient engines on lawn mowers, leaf blowers and weed whackers, extravagant water usage, heavy chemicals in the form of fertilizer and indiscriminate pesticides are just some of the offenders contributing to greenhouse emissions, air pollution, human health problems from chemical exposure and the killing off of beneficial birds and bugs, not to mention global warming. Aside from not having a lawn at all, there are many clever and more Earth-responsible lawn-care alternatives that are every bit as effective as conventional methods.
One excellent alternative to the use of pesticides is beneficial nematodes. Nematodes are microscopic, parasitic worms which live in almost any kind of soil and climate, and feed on grubs and other larvae that live underground for at least part of the life cycle of common insect pests, such as Japanese beetles, gnats, weevils and fleas, yet are completely harmless to humans, animals and plants. There can be thousands of nematodes of many varieties in just one handful of soil, but you can fortify your yard with specific species of nematodes which are known to effectively control specific species of other insects, as well as some types of fungi.
Beneficial nematodes can be purchased in packets which can be stored in a refrigerator until you’re ready to distribute them. Then, simply moisten the nematodes with water and spread over your lawn (or garden) with a watering can or sprayer. You can purchase beneficial nematodes at your local big box home improvement store, or order them online, such as this site.
May 27, 2009–Today’s Way: Okay, I know I’m a little fixated on the mosquitoes this week, but that’s because there are just so darned many of them this year! A snowy winter and a wet, rainy spring has brought lots of happy flowers, plants and trees, but it’s also deposited a lot of little vernal ponds of standing water everywhere, the ideal breeding grounds for massive mosquito egg-laying orgies. But what to do if you don’t want to use chemicals to combat the whining clouds of bloodthirsty critters? First, eliminate as many of the standing water traps as possible; used tires, fallow bird baths, ditches with poor drainage, gutters and abandoned children’s pools are some of the most common offenders. Also, try to keep your grass trimmed. And if you’re willing or able to build a bat house, that can help, too. Best of all, you can use Bacillus thuringiensis israeliensis (aka Bti) pellets or dunks in your pond or other areas where standing water cannot be drained. These little naturally-occuring bacteria are harmless to wildlife, plants, pets and humans, but deadly to mosquito larvae where they hatch. You can find products containing Bti online, at hardware stores, feed stores and increasingly, in larger superstores.
April 30, 2009–Today’s Way: Along with the return of warm weather here in Michigan came the return of something less welcome: Mosquitoes. We had a lot of much needed snow and rainfall this last year, which is good for our water table, but it also created a lot of vernal ponds from which mosquitoes have already begun to emerge. With a large yard such as ours, it’s impossible to totally eradicate them, and using pesticide chemicals is simply not a solution considering the environmental and health risks. Aside from the typical preventive measures such as eliminating standing water and keeping the grass trimmed, the best ally we have against mosquitoes is our bats. Bats have gotten a bad rap over the years, but the truth is that they rarely come into direct contact with humans (they absolutely are NOT attracted to long hair), and they are amazing little insect eaters. The average bat consumes about 3,000 insects in just one night—typically, the equivalent of their own body weight. These unique flying mammals (by the way, they are not rodents) eat not only mosquitoes, but leaf hoppers, flies, ants and many other nuisance insects. Furthermore, bats are actually quite clean animals, leaving only a small pile of highly valuable natural fertilizer in the form of guano (yes, bat droppings) that will fortify your flowers, shrubs and vegetable gardens. This is why installing a couple or few bat houses in your yard and around your organic garden is such a great idea.
You can purchase bat houses, or you can build your own for free by following instructions found here.
By the way, bats serve a lot of other useful purposes and they are threatened. To learn more, you can begin here.