Pest Control with Baking Soda & Sugar

Pest Control with Baking Soda & SugarIt is not often that you find a book on pest control you feel compelled to read from cover to cover, but “Slug Bread and Beheaded Thistles” (Broadway Books, 2000) is exactly that. Subtitled “Amusing and Useful Techniques for Nontoxic Housekeeping and Gardening,” this book is not just a repetition of old wives’ tales, but a compilation of proven homemade potions and techniques, many of them backed up by scientific research, for keeping garden pests at bay.
Ellen Sandbeck, the author of “Slug Bread,” promotes the vacuum cleaner for pest control purposes. Slow-moving, sucking insect pests such as aphids and mealy bugs are prime candidates for vacuuming since they are unmoved even by the noise of a vacuum. By contrast, fast-moving beneficial predator insects, such as lacewings, ladybugs and parasitic wasps, will scurry or fly away in advance of the whirring vacuum. An old English gardener simplifies the issue of pestiferous vs. beneficial insects in these words: “If it moves slowly enough, step on it; if it doesn’t, leave it – it’ll probably eat something else.”
Wispy seed heads from dandelions and other weeds can also be vacuumed before they have a chance to be blown to the four corners of your garden. A shop vac is recommended for garden vacuuming “so you don’t get electrocuted if you vacuum up water.”
Research done at Cornell University demonstrated that mildew and blackspot fungi on roses can be combated with a spray consisting of three teaspoons of baking soda dissolved in one gallon of water. Cornell University also came up with a spray for preventing birds from consuming your tree fruit and strawberries. Dissolve 11 pounds of sugar (yes, that is a lot of sugar but it works) in one gallon of water and spray the solution on your ripening fruit. If you do not wish to spray your fruit with sugar water, you might consider planting pyracantha, India hawthorn, Nandina or other berry-producing plants in your garden. The bitter berries from these garden ornamentals are, in any case, more attractive to birds than the apricots, apples and strawberries, which your avian guests devour only when there is nothing else for them to eat.
Epsom salts are recommended as a means of overcoming a slug problem. Dissolve three tablespoons of Epsom salts in one quart of boiling water. Let the solution cool and then add three more quarts of water. Pour this concoction over slug-infested areas or spray it on slug-infested plants. Epsom salts, which are an excellent source of magnesium, are singled out for their salutary effects in a comprehensive fertilization program, especially where roses and other heavy feeders are concerned.
Sandbeck gives some good reasons for working compost or decomposing organic matter into the soil. Citing Cornell University research, she writes that “soils with very high amounts of organic matter in them, and a neutral pH, will prevent plants from taking up lead, even if the lead levels in the soil are very high.” Organic matter also produces ethylene, which is deadly to potentially harmful soil fungi. Sandbeck advises putting your dog’s hair, as well as your own, into the compost pile because hair has valuable mineral nutrients. Walnut leaves, on the other hand, contain compounds that inhibit the growth of most plants, and should be kept out of the compost pile.
Where deer are devouring your garden, Sandbeck is convinced there is no better means of deterrence than a faithful dog, “one with a strong sense of duty” that continually patrols the perimeters of your property. If your dog would rather sit by the fireplace than patrol for deer, you might try hanging soap in your trees. A study conducted by the Smithsonian Zoological Research Center found that Lifebuoy soap was an effective deer repellent. Leave the soap in its wrapper, drill a hole in it, and run a wire through the hole. Hang several bars on the lower branches of your trees, at 2 1/2- to 3-foot intervals.
< TIP OF THE WEEK Here are a few more ideas for keeping unwanted weeds from sprouting in your garden: A professor at the University of Connecticut discovered an excellent pre- emergent weed control could be made by mixing cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts) with water in a blender and pouring the mixture onto flower beds or into sidewalk cracks. Weeds will not sprout where such ``crucifer mush'' has been applied. Winter rye, the grass used to overseed San Fernando Valley lawns in the fall, also contains chemicals that inhibit seed germination. After mowing a winter rye grass lawn, distribute the grass clippings in flower beds to keep weeds from growing in them. (Source: ``Slug Bread and Beheaded Thistles,'' Broadway Books, 2000)

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