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Please kill my spider mite; natural insecticides for organic growers.

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

For my planty friends with pests.

In all my nursery years, there are some pests that are seasonal, and some that once you get them, it seems you just manage them forever moreth, keeping them in check. Spider mite is my arch nemesis. I know the plants they love and have a little quarantined section of mitey delights (withania, mint, catnip, catmint, brugmansias, a bunch of salivas such as sage & co., marshmallows - to name a few - spider mite like juicy furry soft leaved herbal medicine plants).

In my nursery in sub-tropical QLD, the main pests I am in relation with are..

- Spider mite

- Aphids

- Scale

- Caterpillars

- Grasshoppers

Insect issues tend to be seasonal, and interestingly tend to attack the plants growing out of season. For example once the winter brassicas hit Spring time, insects come and take them out. Everything in its place hey! Growing your natural medicine in season for your climate is an easy way to lessen the stress of pest control. I've used a few products that claim to stuff up the insect reproductive cycle without harming the plants in moments of desperation, and have witnessed the extreme colour change in the plant leaves soon after application. Enough for me to laugh at the thought it isn't affecting the plant and never try that again. Things never have just one action. Herbal medicine has taught me that much.

So how to combat these pests naturally?

An abundance of one thing can signify a deficiency in another. An insect overpopulation signifies a deficiency in land birds. Get some ducks, guinea fowl or chickens people; permaculture has taught us how to integrate with nature and we have to mimic her. Gardens don't exist independently of animals. I find letting your land birds free range through the veggie patch for an hour or so, under supervision, is a positively geared cost-benefit approach to insect control. If you have enough they are way too busy hunting insects to dig for grubs. Supervision is stressed here!

Here’s how I deal with the rest, and I’d love to hear your approaches to pest control.For aphids and spider mites I use warm water spray with Neem oil and Paraffin oil, also known as White Oil. White oil is often made from petroleum, ewwwww, so you can make your own White Oil from sunflower oil and dishwashing detergent. This helps the neem to emulsifier into the water, and the warm water helps turn the neem from solid into liquid in the winter. This combo will slightly stress the plants, neem is pretty full on, but at the right ratio, and on the right plants, it will take out your pests and leave you with yummy plants as medicine. It has to physically come into contact with them so you have to spray all sides of the plant, a few times a week until, balancing out the stress of neem on the plant, to the removal of the stress of pests on the plant. Another way is to just mix detergent (eco-friendly one) into warm water to make a soapy mix and just wipe & squish the aphids or scale off of your plants. I use this for cactus scale with a toothbrush, making sure to keep checking back over the next few weeks to re-apply and eliminate, for now. I’ve found that Liquid Lime Sulphur can also work well, diluted in a spray bottle, re-sprayed every week, and scrubbed with a toothbrush.

Whenever you get a new plant in your nursery quarantine it for a couple of weeks. Hand crushed spider mite for a quick market sale may look fine, but the population will re-emerge and take your nursery down soon - noooooo! So develop your own little process of integrating plants into your garden. Right now my aphid population is out of control. The squishing and wiping is keeping up with the aphids for sure, but the ants just keep on farming them back into the plant tips. Right now I’m experimenting with taking out the ants instead, using eucalyptus oil, pyrethrin (from Pyrethrum, Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium) and piperine (from Pepper, Piper longum/nigrum). When trying something new like this I take one stronger plant and use it as the guinea herb. I’ve found that pyrethrin, though natural medicine, to be too strong for some plants, so it’s also good to test and see before dosing your whole population. Happy gardening plant heads! How do you grow your herbal medicine?


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