Does organic pest control methods work on mosquitoes, rodents, ants, ticks & fleas? Here is everything you need to know about biological pest control.
What is Organic Pest Control?
The organic pest control method, also known as biological pest control, is a method of controlling pest animal species (predators), pathogens or parasites) with things that are mostly natural or made out of natural substances. The most common natural processes that allow this are called predation, parasitism and herbivory.
Organic pest control and management comes in form of weed control, weed prevention, organic insect control and plant disease control, all of which rely on approaches and techniques such as integrated pest management, biological control, ecological strategies, physical control and shade cloths.
A lot of procedures and applicants have been released all touted to be organic and great for the environment, but one pertinent question to ask here is if organic pest control methods really work? And if they do, to what extent? But before we delve into that, we have to first find out the various methods of organic pest control.
Types of Organic Pest Control
- Bacillus Thuringiensis
Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) is one of the ways to control bacteria naturally. This is a naturally occurring bacterium found in the soil. There are many different types, and some can be used to kill a specific insect or class of insects.
When a target insect takes a bite out of a plant sprayed with the type of BT the insect is sensitive to, the insect gets infected and stops feeding. Inside the insect, the bacterium releases a protein that causes the pest to die within a few days.
- Floating Row Covers
This is usually a translucent, white, porous polyester fabric that acts as an insect barrier, while letting in up to 80 percent of the available light. These row covers come in lightweight or heavyweight types— the lighter ones are used for controlling pests in summer, because it will keep out bugs without cooking your plants. The heavier ones reportedly traps more warmth and so is better for season extending.
- Sticky Traps
These traps come in form of a rigid material of a particular color that’s coated with a sticky substance. They are used to catch insects that are attracted to that color. To be effective, the traps must be clean and sticky. Also, use at least one trap (hung at plant height and close to the plant) every 3 to 5 feet.
- Pheromone Traps
Many insects produce powerful smells called pheromones that they use to lure the opposite sex. Scientists have duplicated several of these scents and used them to bait special traps for luring the target insect. But because these “sex” traps attract mostly male insects, they aren’t very effective controls as the female insect is not usually caught.
- Parasitic Nematodes
Don’t confuse these beneficial nematodes with destructive root-knot nematodes. Once inside a pest, parasitic nematodes release bacteria that kills the insect host within a day or two.
- Insecticidal Soap
Insecticidal soap contains unsaturated long-chain fatty acids (derived from animal fats) that dissolve the cuticle (skin) of insects. Insecticidal soap sprays are commercially formulated products sold specifically for insect control.
- Oil Sprays
Oil sprays work by suffocating pests. To be effective, the oil spray must hit the pest directly.
Does Organic Pest Control Work?
While organic pest control methods have generally become popular, especially among organic farmers, but the question still remains, do organic pest control methods work effectively for a farm or garden? It may come as a surprise to you that various research has found out that in many cases, conventional pest control options are more effective than organic ones and can be used less often to get the job done.
For instance, the National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy says that copper, when used as an organic fungicide, must be used at a rate of four pounds per acre. Sulfur must be used at a rate of 34 pounds per acre. Chemical fungicides, by contrast, can be used at a rate of 1.6 pounds per acre to generate the same result.
But in other cases, organic pesticides can be more effective than chemical ones. Biopesticides, which are made from living things or are found in nature, are often organic and carry lower risks while being more effective. Some biopesticides are targeted and work on only a small number of species.
Others only affect the targeted organism for a short period of time and then break down quickly to reduce the risk of pollution. Here are a few effective biopesticides that can be produced organically:
- Microbes. Fungus and bacteria can be used to control weeds and insects without having a negative effect on the environment.
- Plant materials. Garlic oil, black pepper and corn gluten all break down quickly after use.
- Hormones. Insect hormones, such as those that regulate mating behavior, can alter the way that a pest acts without killing it outright. For instance, a hormone that is used on moths may prevent them from mating or engaging in food-finding behaviors.
- Plant-incorporated protectants. These are genes and proteins that are introduced into plants through genetic engineering. These are rarely considered organic, as they fall under the umbrella of GMOs.
In most people’s minds, the word “organic” is synonymous with words like “natural,” “healthy” and “safe.” And it’s certainly appealing to think that something labeled “organic” works as well as or better than an artificial chemical concoction. But unfortunately that’s not always the reality.
For one thing, some natural insecticides actually are very similar to synthetic ones produced in laboratories. In a 2010 study published in the online scientific journal PLos One, Canadian environmental and agricultural researchers compared the effectiveness and environmental impact of organic-approved pesticides with synthetic ones in thwarting soybean-eating aphids.
They found that the organic pesticides had a similar or even greater harmful effect on other species and the overall environment, in part because much larger doses of the organic pesticides were required to get the job done. “These data bring into caution the widely held assumption that organic pesticides are more environmentally benign than synthetic ones,” they concluded.
They recommend that, instead of focusing on whether a particular chemical is natural or synthetic, organic farmers should be allowed to assess all pesticides for their impacts before making a selection
There is an assumption that natural pesticides are safer, healthier, or more environmentally friendly than synthetic products. Yet the underlying truth with natural pesticides is that they are still toxic substances to some degree. In fact, some naturally procured pesticides are deadlier or carry a higher risk than synthetic options. So, before you use any method, be sure how safe it is to your plants and the environment.