Going green can pose some problems. Namely, the high cost of organic products. But if you care about the environment, why not grow your own food? That way, you know your fruits and veggies will be chemical-free.
Before you tackle a huge garden project or make changes to your yard care routine, you need to learn a few things about the definition of “organic.”
Organic doesn’t mean pesticide free. It simply means the produce was grown according to USDA guidelines. Those guidelines regulate the kind of pesticides, herbicides, and farming practices that can be used when growing organic produce. The terms “free range,” “natural,” and “hormone free” are often used to allude to safe farming practices, but they don’t mean a product is organic.
Understanding the definition of organic when it comes to pesticides is important for a number of reasons, one of which is local regulations. Florida, for example, requires a professional license to apply non-organic pesticides and has several regulations when it comes to using chemicals. Additionally, understanding organic pesticides can help you make more eco-conscious decisions when eliminating pests.
Pesticides made from biological and botanical substances such as soap or neem oil are considered organic. The USDA has a list of ingredients that can and can’t be used in organic pesticides. For example, pyrethrin, which comes from chrysanthemums, is OK.
Just because something is natural doesn't mean it’s non-toxic or safe. Many natural bacteria, fungi, and plants, for example, produce toxins you don’t want to be sprayed on your food. Arsenic is also natural, but off-limits for organic farming.
Farmers and ranchers who meet the federal requirements, including specific land-use-management practices, may label their products with the USDA Organic certified logo you see in stores.
Packaged Pesticides Vs. Homemade
Like produce, pesticides with the organic label are more expensive. The products cost more to produce, and the demand is higher than the supply. But you can cut back on the cost by making your own. Some simple recipes include:
- Vegetable oil mixed with dish soap.
- Neem oil mixed with dish soap.
- Citrus oil and cayenne pepper.
- Chili pepper and diatomaceous earth.
- Eucalyptus oil.
- Garlic and onion spray.
You can save yourself a lot of time and money by practicing companion planting and letting Mother Nature control the pests for you. Nearly every vegetable has a companion plant that will drive away pests and discourage disease. Some plants will add nutrients to the soil that will benefit neighboring vegetables. Plants that grow well together include:
- Tomatoes and basil — (Also great together in a sauce!) The basil repels flies and tomato hornworms. Petunias will also keep the hornworms away.
- Peppers and basil — This herb also repels aphids, mosquitoes, flies, and spider mites.
- Green beans and corn — Beans add nitrogen to the soil, which is good for the corn. They’ll also use the cornstalks to climb, so you won’t need a trellis. Cornstalks also give a vertical boost to zucchini.
- Onions, lettuce and, carrots — Onions are great companions for most vegetables since they repel carrot flies and aphids.
- Garlic and lettuce — Garlic does more than keep the vampires away! It repels aphids that feed on lettuce and other leafy vegetables.
The list is endless, but you get the idea. Farmers and gardeners were using these symbiotic relationships long before insecticides were invented.
While more scientific study is needed, many people believe that organically produced foods are better for the environment and pose fewer health risks than foods produced with chemical pesticides. The jury is still out on whether foods produced organically are more nutritious or safer than conventionally produced foods.
When it comes to landscape plants and lawn care, there are some stunning statistics about home pesticide use in the U.S. and its impact on the environment. Switching from chemical to organic fertilizers could help protect earthworms, which are essential for the health of the soil. If you have more questions, the National Pesticide Information Center is a great resource, and every county within the U.S. has a Cooperative Extension office that works closely with university-based specialists. They can answer questions about gardening and organic pest control methods and regulations in your county.
Jack Malone is a farmer and freelance writer who prides himself being eco-friendly. He enjoys finding new ways to practice green-farming with no chemicals.