Pesticides kill pests, right? That’s what the name implies and that how the products are marketed. Unfortunately, like many other quick fixes, it’s not that simple.
In today’s news, 25 states (California included) report head lice that have mutated a resistance to all known chemical treatments. In gardens and farms, there are an estimated 500 - 1,000 varieties of pest that have developed a resistance to pesticides. This is due to several factors:
Using chemical pesticides too freely can actually strengthen the pests we are trying to eliminate!
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. pesticide use doubled from 1960 to 1980. Levels have remained stable or been reduced since that time. However, pesticide use in third world countries for export crops has increased to the point that they represent 99% of the human deaths by pesticides.
There are several different types of chemical pesticides on the market today.
Organophosphate pesticides (Malathion, Naled) According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), organophosphates are the most commonly used pesticide. Initially developed as a biological weapon in WWII, organophosphates can cause paralysis, decreased mental function, and there may be links to ADD/ADHD and leukemia.
Organochlorine insecticides (DDT, Chlodane, Toxaphene) Organochlorine pesticides disrupt the peripheral nervous system. Most of these pesticides have been banned, globally, but stockpiles are still being used in some third world countries. Toxaphene has a half-life of 12 years.
Carbamate pesticides (Sevin, Temik, Furadan) Carbamate pesticides work by inhibiting an enzyme that controls nerve messages and they are banned in Canada and the European Union. One carbamate product, aldicarb, poisoned nearly 2,000 people in 1985. Twenty years later, it was officially phased out of use in an “agreement” between the FDA and Bayer, the manufacturer. This case makes me feel a little nervous about using any pesticide.
Pyrethriod pesticides (Raid, Ambush, Anvil) Pyrethroids are organic compounds from the Chrysanthemum family. Synthetic versions of naturally occurring pyrethroids are currently the most common ingredient in over-the-counter insecticides. Unlike their natural cousins, synthetic pyrethroids are more toxic to humans and they stay in the environment longer. Pyrethroids were developed in response to the damage caused by DDT. Pyrethroids work by overexciting nerve cells to the point of paralysis or cell death. Unfortunately, pyrethroids are highly toxic to the bees, dragonflies, gadflies, mayflies, and invertebrates that make up many food webs. They are also highly toxic to cats. Human exposure to pyrethroids may result in neurological and behavioral changes similar to ADD/ADHD. Anaphylaxis has also been reported.
Sulfonylurea herbicides (Glean, Accent, Harmony) Sulfonylurea pesticides halt an enzyme that helps create certain protein cells. This particular pesticide has a tendency to linger in alkaline soils, such as we have, and they move through the soil to groundwater. Sulfonylurea can adversely affect nearby plants that you are trying to protect.
Now, don’t let all these highfalutin’ words put you off. In fact, I challenge you to Google all of the ingredients in any product you use in the garden. Let’s see what we’re really up against when it comes to pesticides.
Rather than risking the uncertainties of political negotiations, accidental overuse, and the inevitable pesticide resistance, there are alternatives to pesticide use. First, be sure to identify the pests causing problems. If you are dealing with bagrada bugs, don't bother spraying. They will simply fly away until the toxins have dissipated.
Next, decide your tolerance level. I have two broccoli plants that are covered with aphids. I planted them at the wrong time of year (spring) and they never formed heads. Instead, I have a running supply of green leaves and protein-rich aphids for my chickens. The aphids seem to be perfectly content to stay on the broccoli plants and the abundant food supply is attracting other beneficial insects. Remember, many pesticides can kill beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, lacewings and parasitic wasps.
After identifying the pest and deciding how much you can tolerate, other methods can be used to combat pests on a small scale. As for my aphids, I could simply spray the plants each evening with a heavy stream of water from the hose. Rather than applying fungicides to my roses to prevent rust and brown spot, I place a large fan at the end of the row each damp morning to reduce moisture levels.
Pests need specific habitat and environmental conditions to become a serious threat to the garden. Interrupting just one aspect can minimize the damage, without adding toxins to your food supply and landscape. One effective method is the use of diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth (DE) can be used as an insecticide against flea beetles, slugs and snails, mites, aphids, earwigs and thrips, without harming anything else. In fact, my hens love to take dust baths in the stuff and it is a common ingredient in toothpaste!
Do yourself and your garden a favor and take the time to learn about the ingredients in any pesticide or fertilizer you have on hand. If you decide not to use what you already have, please be sure to contact your local Hazardous Household Waste service for disposal instructions. These chemicals should never be thrown away in the trash.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!