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The Organic Arsenal on Bonnie Hunt

by germinatrix | April 4th, 2009

When Insects Attack!When Insects Attack!



Bugs! Pests! Critters! Varmints! All bad things for the organic gardener, because we can’t just go to our local big box hardware store and get a bottle of poison and take care of business in one fell chemical swoop. For us, it’s a little harder work, but in the end we know that what we are doing doesn’t damage our environment. We can be comfortable with our children and pets playing in our yards, and we know that the food we grow in our vegetable gardens are wholesome and safe to eat.

Yesterday I was on The Bonnie Hunt Show – I’ve done it a couple of times before, and it is really great; not just because everybody is sweet and fun, but because Bonnie is an honest to goodness gardener who is VERY committed to organic practices. I was on the show with some tips on getting rid of the creepy sucky icky pests that inevitably attack our food crops and ornamentals, and everything we made on Bonnie’s show is easily available, either in our kitchen, our on/in our bodies (more on THAT later!)

The first gun in our Organic Arsenal was SLUG BEER. The prop dept built me a tabletop garden full of lettuces and herbs, and unleashed a buttload of snails and slugs right before the segment. Bonnie, who is really tough around worms, got very squeamish – and who can blame her? Slugs and snails are the GROSSEST things ever! They have a huge appetite for decaying matter and soft green leaves, and they can destroy a bed of lettuce in no time flat. Awful, awful creatures! Let’s kill them all! (sorry PETA)

So, I had Bonnie sink a pie tin in the middle of our tabletop garden, and in it we poured some beer. See, Snails and slugs are drunken bastards. They LOVE beer – it’s the yeast in it that attracts them. When you do this at home, rig up your ‘beer pool’ in the evening, because these slimy creatures are most active at night. Then in the morning, you are going to find your beer pool full of snails and slugs that died a happy, alcoholic death. Just pick up the pie tin and throw it away! SNAP!

The next weapon is the classic organic garden spray – Cayenne Pepper/Garlic Bug Killer! You can use this to kill all soft bodied sucking insects like aphids, mites, spittlebugs, and whitefly. Just check out the picture above – one little rosebud has ALL of those creeps on it! This spray will do them in! Here is the recipe:

3 cups warm water (needs to be almost hot to dissolve the pepper)

4 cloves garlic

2 heaping teaspoons cayenne pepper (powdered)

1 squirt low- phosphate dishsoap

Blend this in a blender REALLY well – you don’t want any chunks clogging your spray bottle. Now go outside (again, in the evening) and spray the leaves, the stems, and don’t forget the crotches of the leaves – bugs love to hide there. Leave the concoction on overnight, and hose it off in the morning. You will have aphid -free plants. Do this whenever you see an infestation starting, and you won’t be overrun by them.

Another great thing to do, especially for aphids, is to release ladybugs! I do it every year – you can have your own cute little army of aphid killers!

Now we move on to the bigger pests – the varmints. Possums, squirrels, rats – they need to know that there is a bigger, badder predator around. So another old garden tip is the use of something that grows right out of the top of our heads – hair. Yes, human hair – just sprinkle it around the base of the plants that the varmints like to eat – tomatoes, cukes, strawberries, etc… and they should get the message.

But let’s say they don’t. And if you have the worst of all critters – like deer and racoons – well, they are bad-asses. So when all else fails – PEE ON IT!. Yes, human urine has long been used as a barrier method to keep the ravenous hordes away from vegetable gardens. Urinate for the good of the earth! Don’t use chemicals – use PEE!

Of course there are so many more old garden tips to get rid of pests of all types – if you have a good one, leave a comment so we can all add it to our bag of tricks!

20 Responses to “The Organic Arsenal on Bonnie Hunt”

  1. You were great on the Bonnie Hunt Show and right on time with the tips for me. I’ve been hand picking all of our aphids because I’ve been too lazy to go to my garden books for a solution. Now I have one! Which of these tactics will work best for raccoons?

    As far as pest deterrents go, I’ve had some success with orange peels to keep cats out of the veggie garden and crushed egg shells to keep the snails away.


  2. colleen says:

    Do you put the urine on the plant or the ground around it?

  3. judy renault says:

    What do I do with my holly bushes which were stripped of their leaves by starving deer this winter? I only have a few leaves left — do I cut them back or leave them alone?

  4. Bugaboo says:

    I know going organic with pests is the way to be. But what about invasive plants? I have some very aggressive bamboo going crazy in my yard. I just don’t think something organic will work permanently?? Is RoundUp okay just this once or does that make me a bad person. I want to replant this area at some point if I can…?

    I didn’t have much luck with the ladybugs for my aphids. They all flew away. :(

  5. Suasoria says:

    Is it raccoons or opossums that only eat fruits/vegs that fall on the ground? What are they looking for, I wonder?

    A blast from the hose is about as intense as I get in aphid control. My Melianthus major is blooming and it’s infested – whitefly, I guess. Whenever I walk by it they stick to me, which is a problem, since I wear black most of the time.

    On another note, I can’t believe Domino has wiped out all the old content, including all your past blogs. Geez, what would it cost to at least keep up a website?

  6. germinatrix says:

    Hi Karyn! I’ve never heard of the orange peels – gotta try that one; lots of feral cats here in my ‘hood. And eggshells really work for snails – I was going to say that on the show, but things have to move so fast I can’t always get in everything I want to say! As for raccoons – they are TOUGH! And SMART! I know this because I had a pet raccoon when I was a kid. What a troublemaker! Raccoons like to hunt where there is nearby water – they like to dip their food into water and squash it before they eat it … so one important thing to keep raccoons out of your garden is to not give them access to standing water. This means no ponds or fountains! Sucks, right? But the urine trick should work … I’d try it, anyway. Tell me how it works!

    Hello there Colleen – the urine is intended to be a barrier around the perimeter of your garden so the big nasty varmints don’t coma anywhere near your plants – but I see nothing wrong with a two pronged approach : pee on everything!

    I’m sorry those nasty deer decimated your holly shrubs, Judy. They look cute, but they are pernicious! But they are also hungry, so one can’t really blame them. My advice to you would be to cut the shrubs down by 1/3 – no more. The hollies will start to grow back within a month or two – by the early summer, you should see strong growth. Good luck!

    Bugaboo! Yes, we must be organic with our invasive plants as well – and don’t despair – although Round up and other glyphosates aren’t organic, there are situations where their use is the only viable option, and errant bamboo may well be one of those situations. You would not be a bad person, just a person making the best possible choice under the circumstances. Roundup isn’t the worst thing in the world – it breaks down quickly in the soil – but I wouldn’t plant food crops in an area where you used Round Up. Use it to kill your bamboo and then plant a nice, non-invasive ornamental in it’s place.
    And the trick is to release the ladybugs in your neighbor’s yard so that they fly over to your place! Or you can wait until the early evening, wet down your garden with the hose, and THEN release your ladybugs. They’ll like your moist, cool, leafy garden and make themselves right at home.

    Susa dear … I’m commenting after a night of dining and have had a glass of wine or two, so it it REALLY hard for me to bite my tongue about the horrible Conde Nasty. WHY DID THEY DO THAT??? I knew it was going to happen, but it was a shock. I have most of the images and text, but the thing that kills me is the comments – let’s face it, the comments ARE the blog! This is where our community happens! Three years of great garden talk and friendships being formed – poof! But at least we can build our little corner of the web here, from scratch, with gusto!

    Your Melianthus is blooming? LUCKY!!! I just planted one – love that plant! But that damned whitefly – You might try worm compost around the base … I hear great things about it as a cure for whitefly. But frankly, the whitefly I get on my cannas is so intense it just laughs at my attempts to control it. I swear it almost mugged me last year, it was so bold.

    nighty night! I’m not sure I’m making any sense!

  7. You were fantastic on the Bonnie Hunt show! I use thuricide on my plants but am going to make up my own cayenne garlic mix and get myself some ladybugs :)

    I have also considered getting a preying mantis, but I don’t know enough about them yet. How long do they live? Do you have to get new ones every year? How do they stay in your garden? Any wisdom you could impart on the topic would be awesome.

  8. Mary McKovich says:

    Really enjoyed you on the show. Summer is coming and I really dread it ! Every summer I am overrun with ants. Any good remedies you might have to get rid of them?? I really need help!

  9. germinatrix says:

    Christina! Thuricide (just the name alone freaks me out!) is Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a so-called ‘safer’ insecticide. it paralyzes the digestive tracts of caterpillars.


    Even though the insecticide propaganda says that it is part of a sound, integrated pest management practice – its whole raison d’etre is to kill caterpillars; and that doesn’t just mean gypsy moths or the pesty variesty. Thuricide (bt as it is known in it’s generic formulations) will kill any caterpillar – so if you have been planting to give a habitat to butterflies and birds, you will kill off your fritillaries, your monarchs, your swallowtails – all of the beautiful inhabitants of your private garden paradise. And remember, birds eat caterpillars (they are my preferred helpers when it comes to getting rid of annoying caterpillars) – so who knows what affect it has on them when they eat bt poisoned ‘pillars?
    The insecticiders say that bt is non-persistent in the soil, in the water, and on foliage – but studies show that is false. They also say it is safe for humans, but when I was a baby gardener I used some on lettuces that wee being devoured by gypsy moth larvae and I had a terrible asthma attack right after. It has scared me ever since.

    Try all the other organic methods – and here is another good one – pick off a few worms from the offending plants, and blend them really well in a blender with the cayenne/ garlic spray at half strength, so the bug pheromones can be detected. This is really gross, but it’s supposed to work. And if there are only a few, just pick ‘em off by hand. It’s harder work than bt, but SO much better for you, your food, and our world! Right?

    And praying mantises are great – you should release them every year for about 3 years, and then they’ll just start breeding in your garden. They stay in the garden because they want to eat your insects!

  10. I tried the beer trick twice and not one snail scurried over! Is there a certain brand of beer that works better than others? These snails are driving me nuts!

  11. germinatrix says:

    Stacy, could your snails have gone to AA?

    It’s the yeast in the beer that they are attracted to, so I’d use one that is really dark and heavy – maybe that’ll do the trick. You could probably boost the attracting power with some powdered yeast thrown in for good measure. Be sure to do the beer pool overnight, because they like to do their misdeeds in the dark – you should get them then.
    Also, another thing to do if slugs and snails are devouring your luscious greens is to spread broken eggshells or sharp gravel around them as a ground cover. They have soft underbellies, and the sharpness of the shells and gravel cuts them.
    I’ll be crossing my fingers for you! Keep me posted, okay?

  12. isn’t that long light green thingin the above photo a larva of green lacewing–voracious aphid eaters??

    Sometimes it is best to let nature’s ways do the trick. We are soooo impatient, we humans. Especially when it’s our turn to host Garden Club…

  13. Mary McKovich says:

    anything for ants??

  14. germinatrix says:

    Hi Sue! Wouldn’t it be great if it WAS a lacewing larvae – I would’ve had a bug on bug massacre! But no, that green thing is a cabbage worm – the horrible creatures. they used to plague me much more than they do now – what with my Integrated Pest Management. The Pepper Spray works really well on them, as does releasing ladybugs – they eat the eggs of these buggers right along with the aphids they love!

    Mary – hello! Ants … I had a HUGE ant problem in my house a few years ago, and NOTHING helped. I usually use ant chalk, but I had so many that I was overrun, so I turned to Orange Guard, which solved my problem. Like MAGIC! It is food grade, so I didn’t have to worry about my little dogs getting poisoned, which is always good. It is said that you can use it on your plants, but I haven’t gone that far yet, since I use other things to combat ants on my plants.
    If you are overrun by ants on your plants, you are probably dealing with an enterprising ant colony farming aphids. Yes, they herd aphids and then they collect the sweet liquid the aphids secrete. I use a three-pronged method. First, I use pepper spray to get rid of the worst of it. Then, if I see the ants and aphids returning, I’ll blast them off the plant with water from the hose. And I ALWAYS release ladybugs. Every year. They love aphids, and if you don’t have aphids on your plants, you usually won’t have ants, either.
    I hope this was helpful!

  15. In reference to invasive bamboo: I have heard you can use white vinegar to kill weeds. Could’t hurt to try on bamboo. I think you need to use quite a bit.

  16. germinatrix says:

    Hi Heather! Yes, you would probably need enough vinegar to pickle all the bamboo shoots you are trying to eradicate! From what I’ve read – which isn’t much – you need a very concentrated form of vinegar, much stronger than regular household vinegar, to do any damage to regular annual weeds – perennial weeds always suvive from the roots even if the top growth is killed. So I’d imagine that bamboo, if damaged by the vinegar, would re-sprout from the rhizome it came from.
    BUT – there are formulations of vinegar and other acid-based herbicides on the market that are really good – like Burn-Out.
    I’m just not sure if they will help a running bamboo… that stuff is just out of CONTROL!
    Thanks for the heads up!

  17. Yonkers Sidecar says:

    Thanks for publishing this helpful information on KILLING aphids! I have quite an aphid colony starting on my rose of Sharon…I want to try your garlic cayenne spray, but this morning I noticed quite a few ladybug larvae (or tiny aliens) on the shrub. Now, I’m conflicted…I don’t want to kill the ladybugs when I apply the spray. Do you have any suggestions?

  18. Hi I was wondering if you have any tricks up your sleeves to get rid of grasshoppers? I live in Montana and we’re getting killed. I used some green spray twice, but the dam little things are just laughing at me.

    Thanks Dj

  19. I recently put cocoa shells all around my garden plants…and cocoa shells are notorious for getting a bit moldy…something that everyone always mentions as a negative….but here is what I am noticing…the slugs are hanging out on the moldy cocoa shells rather than my plants…I think they like cocoa shell mold better than my plants…has anyone else had the same experience?

  20. The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need!

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