Interplanting flowers with food crops will promote a balanced insect ecology, which in turn will enable natural insect control without the use of toxic pesticides.
I’ve always been an organic gardener. Early on, I thought natural insect control meant using an “organically approved” insecticide, such as rotenone, to defeat leaf-eating insects — especially my arch-nemesis, the Colorado potato beetle. I dusted my potato patch several times a season in a struggle to keep the beetle’s exploding population in check, barely managing to bring in the crop. But as I learned more about the ecology of insects such as ladybeetles, lacewings, praying mantises, and assassin bugs — what some call “the good guys” — I worried that blasting away with a powder intended to kill might not be doing them any good either.
One spring I vowed to use no rotenone at all in my potato patch, even if it meant losing the crop. I was amazed to find only five potato beetles on my potato plants during the entire season. I took that as luck-of- the-draw seasonal fluctuation — until I bumped into my neighbor across the road, whose garden was less than 70 yards from my own. “My, my,” she wailed, “ain’t these potato bugs just awful. I dust, and I dust, and I dust — and I’m still out here every day, picking ’em off by hand!”
That was my epiphany about the true nature of the teeming insect community around me, and my garden’s relationship to it. From that moment, I have never used a granule of toxin — however reputedly benign — to deal with insect challenges in my garden and orchard. I now find the potato beetle to be one of the easiest insect competitors to deal with.
How to Sustain a Natural Ecosystem
Using natural insect control makes perfect sense to me now. Who wants to eat food that’s been sprayed with toxic chemicals better suited to chemical warfare than gardening? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, American agriculture uses toxic pesticides at a rate of more than a billion pounds annually, and only a small percentage of those chemicals actually make contact with a target insect. The remainder is irrelevant to insect control, but constitutes an assault on the rest of our ecosystem. Pesticides suppress the soil food web (the foundation of soil fertility), pollute groundwater and natural water systems, and destroy vital pollinators and other species.
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