Bees, Permaculture & Organic Gardening

Whilst it is recommended to use no chemicals or sprays if at all possible there are times when some action may be required to prevent permanent damage to plants.

 

How does this fit with Permaculture, Biodynamic and Organic. First issue to understand is that permaculture is not necessarily Organic or Biodynamic but it can be and is the preferred option. Permaculture is about working with the environment and nature to create systems that are whole and sustainable into the long term future and mimic or recreate many of the natural systems found in nature. Most eco-systems have been damaged by mankind and the natural biological processes are no longer functioning as they once did. Fixing the system takes time and in most cases will require around 10 years or longer achieving a truly sustainable permaculture system that functions as nature intended with a natural balance between animals, insects and plants etc.

It must also be understood that some insecticides and fungicides that are classified as organic are no better or different than synthetic equivalents and should be avoided.

So how do you manage damaging insects, plant diseases and fungal disease during the transition period from a broken system back to a self-sustaining and self-regulating system? Failure to manage insect and disease issues within the garden can lead to trees becoming diseased with poor fruit production or all fruits rotting on the tree before we can utilise the fruits and even lead to tree death. It is easy for gardens to be overrun with insects and disease and no useful vegetables or fruits can be harvested for human consumption. Having your labours destroyed overnight by insects and disease discourages people from becoming part of the garden. As the gardener it’s difficult to watch all the fruits and vegetables you spent time and effort to plant go rotten or be eaten by insects destroying all your hard efforts before you can harvest is very discouraging and this is why we need to manage what happens in our gardens.

What criteria do we use to determine what sprays, potions and powders are acceptable for use and what is not acceptable?

Criteria:

  1. Must be safe for Humans
  2. Must be safe for Bees (bees are required for pollination of most fruit and vegetable plants)
  3. Safe for Fish
  4. Safe for animals such as Goats, Horses, Cows, Sheep, Pigs and chickens.
  5. None damaging to the environment/ecosystem and the long term goals of a sustainable permaculture garden

Finding ways to protect fruit trees and vegetable crops that can meet the above criteria is not easy and when you look at the Traditional Organic Solutions used by people as listed below you will find that most of these methods do not conform to the above criteria.

Here is a list of Traditional Organic Solutions used by people around the world. Lists of this nature can be found all over the web and people believe them but is it true and are they actually organic and safe.

Pests

Traditional Organic Solutions

Ants;

Garlic Spray, Borax Mixture.

Aphids;

Garlic spray, Rue, Wormwood spray, Bracken Fern spray, Camphor Laurel spray, Lantana spray, White Cedar spray,Pyrethrum spray, Rhubarb spray, Elder spray,Nettle spray, Soap spray, Derris dust & Chilli spray, Nettle spray.

Cabbageworm;

Chilli spray,Garlic spray, Soap spray, Rhubarb spray, White cedar spray.

Caterpillars;

Pyrethrum spray, Rhubarb spray, Chilli spray, Dipel, Derris dust or Derris spray.

Cockroaches;

Eucalyptus Oil, Borax mixture2, Mashed potato & baking powder mix, Bay Laurel leaves.

Cats;

Orange peel face up near plants, Lavender & Eucalyptus oil mix.

Dogs;

Garlic and Cayenne mix or Garlic and Tabasco mix.

Fleas;

Wormwood spray, Rhubarb spray, Pyrethrum spray, White Cedar spray will protect pets from fleas and lice.

Flies;

Tansy spray, Wormwood spray, Grow Rue, Fennel, Mint,Tansy, Wormwood and Basil in pots around the house and anywhere else you want to keep flies away.

Fruit fly;

Vegemite traps, Companion planting, Pick up all fallen fruit. Spray with Tansy or Wormwood spray.

Lacebugs & Leafhopper;

Garlic spray, Pyrethrum spray, Rhubarb spray, Elder spray, Lantana spray, Wormwood spray, Soap spray.

Mealy Bugs;

Garlic spray, Pyrethrum spray, Rhubarb spray, Lantana spray, Wormwood spray, White Cedar spray.

Mites;

Garlic spray, Pyrethrum spray, Rhubarb spray, Elder spray, Lantana spray, Wormwood spray, White Cedar spray.

Mosquitoes;

Lavender, hang in bunches around outside of house, Eucalyptus oil. Grow Basil in pots around the house.

Moths;

Lavender, dry flower and place in small bags amongst clothes.

Possums;

Garlic and Cayenne pepper or Tabasco, Chilli spray.

Scale insects;

Garlic spray, White oil.

Silverfish;

Eucalyptus oil, refer to Cockroach recipe for other methods.

Slugs & Snails;

Place plastic containers of beer near plants, slugs and snails are attracted to the beer and fall into beer and drown. Old coffee grounds spread around your plants or saw dust.

Spiders;

Repellent of Gin, Eucalyptus and Lavender oil and spray around area you want protected.

Stink Bugs;

Soap spray, Rhubarb spray, White oil.

Thrips;

Garlic spray, Pyrethrum spray, Rhubarb spray, Elder spray, Lantana spray, Wormwood spray, White Cedar spray.

Weevils;

Fresh Bay leaves in containers.

Whitefly;

Garlic spray, Pyrethrum spray, Rhubarb spray, Elder spray, Lantana spray, Wormwood spray, White Cedar spray.

To attract predators such as Lacewing which are predators for sap sucking pests,

Mix 1 teaspoon of Vegemite to 1 litre of water and spray all over your plants, this will attract the Lacebugs.

Diseases

 

Apple Scab;

Chive spray.

Black Spot;

Elder spray, Milk mix, Horsetail spray 2.

Brown Rot;

Seaweed spray, Bordeaux spray, Garlic spray.

Brown Spot;

Seaweed spray, Bordeaux spray.

Citrus Scab;

Bordeaux spray, White oil.

Fungi;

Elder spray, Garlic spray, Horseradish spray, Seaweed spray, Chamomile spray.

Leaf Curl;

Bordeaux spray, Horsetail spray 2, Seaweed spray.

Leaf Spot;

Bordeaux spray, Lime sulphur.

Mildews;

Milk mix, Horsetail spray, Bicarbonate spray, Elder spray,

Powdery Mildew;

Chive spray, Horsetail spray, Mustard seed powder, Nettle spray, Bicarbonate spray.

Rusts;

Bordeaux spray, Bicarbonate spray, Lime sulphur or Wettable sulphur.

 

 

Pests

Traditional Organic Solutions

Ants;

Garlic Spray, Borax Mixture.

Aphids;

Garlic spray, Rue, Wormwood spray, Bracken Fern spray, Camphor Laurel spray, Lantana spray, White Cedar spray, Pyrethrum spray, Rhubarb spray, Elder spray,Nettle spray, Soap spray, Derris dust & Chilli spray, Nettle spray.

Cabbageworm;

Chilli spray, Garlic spray, Soap spray, Rhubarb spray, White cedar spray.

Caterpillars;

Pyrethrum spray, Rhubarb spray, Chilli spray, Dipel, Derris dust or Derris spray.

Cockroaches;

Eucalyptus Dust, Borax mixture2, Mashed potato & baking powder mix, Bay Laurel leaves.

Cats;

Orange peel face up near plants, Lavender & Eucalyptus oil mix.

Dogs;

Garlic and Cayenne mix or Garlic and Tabasco mix.

Fleas;

Wormwood spray, Rhubarb spray, Pyrethrum spray, White Cedar spray will protect pets from fleas and lice.

 

Most of these so called Organic pest and disease solutions are not able to comply with the criteria listed above as they are toxic to either fish, bees, animals or humans and lack target species selectivity being general broad spectrum cover sprays. Neem oil as an example is relatively safe for humans and mammals and even has medical uses for humans but is toxic to bees, fish and beneficial insect species so great care should be taken when using products like Neem Oil in the garden to avoid killing bees and most fish species and therefore does not fit the criteria as listed above and should not be used or should be avoided.

Neem oil, Wormwood spray, Tomato leaf spray, Pyrethrum spray, Derris spray, white cedar, Derris Dust, Borax, Tobacco Spray and Elder sprays etc. are all highly toxic at some level to either humans, fish, animals, beneficial insects and bees. They are none selective and kill a wide variety of insects outside the target species. Unfortunately you will find many websites promoting these poisons as none toxic and this is simply not true. The benefit of these so called organic poisons is that most of them are easy to make and cheap home brewed and are relatively short lived in the garden and break down within 24 to 48 hours. If breaking down in a short time frame is your criteria for Organic or being able to make it at home is part of your criteria then go ahead and call it organic but remember it’s a POISON and it’s toxic to many none targeted beneficial living creatures.

So what methods can be used to help control pest and disease outbreaks that do comply with our criteria as stated above?

 

Physical controls; Physical barriers such as nets, elevation, Copper Tape, hand removal of pests, removal of hiding places for pests, racking up leaves and composting etc. are all helpful at reducing insect pests. Companion planting can also have many benefits. Building up the biodiversity within the soil and the environment in general is one of the best ways to achieve long term sustainability and natural pest control. Having strong growing plants that are naturally insect resistant is always a good idea.

Home Made; Milk spray, Garlic spray, Chilly spray, Chive spray, Coffee grounds and Natural soap sprays are all relatively safe for humans, animals and bees and for the most part fish if used carefully. Unfortunately they are also only marginally affective in most cases but worth trying for minor pests like slugs and aphids in spot usage. Remember always that tobacco related products such as neonicotinoids recently banned in the EU are made from tobacco and you must question the use of all tobacco insecticides and there long term effects.

White oil; made from vegetable oil and water has been used in orchards for centuries and has proven itself to be affective, simple and very low toxicity when used properly. Mostly used as an over wintering spray on fruit trees to prevent fungal and insect infections. Often used when buds swell in spring just before flowering. Best to avoid using at other times of the year and never use when trees are in flower. When used correctly White oil is safe and effective for the environment and humans, mamals, bees and fish.

It is worth noting that copper spray is often combined with White oil for better fungal control but due to its long term potential to be toxic in the soil (Despite being called Organic) is something that should be avoided if possible. Depending on the level of environmental degradation in your garden it may be needed periodically until natural balance can be restored to the environment.

 

Dipel (Bacillus thuringiensis); This is a biological control found naturally in nature and is part of the environment in high functioning ecosystems. The particular commercial strain available to home gardeners and beekeepers in Australia has a very narrow field of activity and only affects around 8 or 10 different insects and only during there grub stage of development. This product is considered safe for Humans, Fish, Animals and Bees. Some strains available in other countries have a much wider field of activity and are not suitable for use with bees and may not be as safe as the product used here in Australia. Different varieties of Bacillus thuringiensis are used around the world as an organic control for a variety of different insect pests and has no set withholding period allowing product to be picked and eaten immediately after spraying (Spray-Pick-Wash-Eat).   Once an ecosystem has been re-established to full high functionality it is hoped that naturally occurring Bacillus strains would appear and help in the process of keeping pest species at manageable levels. Adding Bacillus thuringiensis to a damaged environment may be of long term benefit during the process of healing the environment. Like all products it should only be used if and when needed and is deactivated (Breaks down) when exposed to light for several days. Very safe and fits the Criteria as listed above.

 

Diatomaceous Earth (Absorbacide™); is an off white talc-like powder that is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton (such as bed bugs, ants, termites, ticks, cockroaches, hive beetle, earwigs, aphids or fleas) it compromises their waxy coating so that they dehydrate and die. But it doesn't hurt mammals, birds, fish or humans. We can eat it. We do eat it! It's in lots of grain based foods because lots of grains are stored with diatomaceous earth to keep the bugs from eating the grain! Bees avoid crops and places where DE has been used and are not affected unless someone maliciously sprayed or sprinkled it directly on the bees or in the hives. DE is safe for fish, birds, animals, humans. DE is one of the safest and easiest ways to protect plants from insect attach. Localised application on and around the base of the plant or plants you want to protect. The main drawback to DE is its expense; at around $50 to $70 for a 5kg bag it’s relatively expensive. I only recently discovered this product yet it has been around for over 150 years. For further information you can visit this website http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/degen.html. D.E. does however require continuous re-application as it can be washed away or in high humidity situations will not be picked up by insects so some trial and error is required to determine the best way to use in your given situation. D.E. is often used in beehive traps instead of oils or poisons to kill Hive beetles and Mites but required weekly or monthly replacement depending on the environmental conditions. Meets and exceeds the criteria stated above. I would recommend its use over pesticides due to its being exceedingly safe to handle and no residual effects.

 

Traps and Pheromones; can also be used safely. Insect traps are bated with pheromones that attract specific insect species and once in the trap they die. Codling moth on apple trees is very easily controlled with the use of Pheromone twist ties that are hung in the tree shortly after flowering and disrupts the moth’s natural breading cycle. Very safe and fits all criteria as listed above.

Summery

Deciding whether to use or not use something to control an issue can be difficult at times. Placing a blanket No sprays allowed policy does not work in damaged environments and sometimes doesn’t work in well recovered environments in urban areas due to contamination from sources beyond the gardens borders and control.

By carefully selecting processes and products that will allow the gardener to achieve better outcomes whilst encouraging greater use of the garden. Educating people on best practice and minimal usage of carefully selected pest control agents will go a long way to achieving long term sustainability and a Permanent place in the local Culture or better known as Permaculture.

A word of warning; if people are not properly educated or given the tools they need to achieve the goals they seek then they will use the traditional tools handed down from their families and many of these tools would be toxic to the goals of a sustainable organic future for our environment.

We must also accept that almost none of the plants we use for food production are of wild varieties and as such would not survive without our help and intervention to protect them from time to time.

The manager, general workers and users of a home garden or larger projects such as community gardens have a responsibility (Duty of Care) to respond correctly when someone asks about various pest control products or practices and if they are lacking knowledge it is important to make sure to become familiar with the products or practices being asked about and to put aside prejudice and look at all sides of a situation or product and its usage. Being biased against a given brand name or company (Monsanto) or lacking education (unfamiliarity) is no excuse for using products or methods that may in-fact be detrimental to a gardeners long term goals of Biodiversity and Permanence in Culture.

If we put bees first when thinking of our environment we will always find a better way. Remember once a beehive has been placed it should never be moved unless truly required. Permanence of beehives in orchards and on farms would remove many issues and change forever the way we farm the land and use our home gardens.

 

Steve