Returning to Our Roots | Organic Pest Control + DIY Recipes

Want to know something ridiculous? Going into gardening this year, I kind of felt like pests wouldn't happen to me. It was almost like everyone who went on and on about garden pests was just being overdramatic or something, and there was no way that it would ever be that bad for me. My mind changed about a month ago when I saw one of my sunflowers overloaded with red and black aphids. It was like an entire miniature bug army had taken over this one sad plant, and I was livid. Like so angry and horrified. How did this even happen?! How did I not see it coming?

One way or another, when you have a garden, you're going to have pests. And they're going to eat the little plants that you so tenderly grew and took care of. And even if you have the softest heart, if they completely destroy your crop, you're going to want to kill them. I am one of those people with a soft heart, but I also think very logically. Sometimes I feel like my contradictory mind is often at war; I have my parents to thank for that. My dad is extremely logical and straightforward in his thoughts; his jobs always get finished in an orderly manor, he likes to see numbers. My mom is creative and works in no official direction; there's a lot of jumping and dreaming. I do both, and that leaves me with some anxiety when jobs don't get finished quickly enough, or I finish too quickly and it wasn't my best work. 

When we had to dig up a mole and swiftly kill it with the garden hoe, I felt like the worst human being on the planet and also knew that even if I relocated it, it would just come back. Some things just have to be done, and figuring out an organic way to get rid of pests is one of them. That's probably the biggest fear of growing organic, and I cannot imagine the amount of energy and patience it takes for a large scale farmer. For us, we have a small garden that has so far been infested with aphids and cabbage moths. We have a few potato beetles, too, but no hornworms, slugs, cutworms, or squash bugs... yet. I did start noticing that more and more Japanese beetles are crawling and buzzing about. Those things are awful, and they've eaten a lot of my eggplants and raspberries.

It's been interesting to see which plants are often attacked and why. The sunflower that became infested with aphids was a curious matter. It was a over a month ago now that I was strolling and found that the entirety of the head was crawling with the little red and black bugs. There were so many that handpicking them would have been a mess. I tried spraying them with a soap solution, but they were so stuck, that it did nothing. I then grabbed the hose and sprayed them off until they were all gone. It took about a week of this, daily, before they were gone for good. Aphids have weak legs and spraying them with a strong stream of water prevents them from being able to climb back up the plant they're eating. They suck the life out of the plant, so they were built with a strong head and jaws, not legs necessarily. The curious part was that when I came home from my Chicago trip last week, the head of that sunflower looked like it had been cut off. It had just fallen right from the stalk, the cut in question black, almost charred looking. At first we thought someone had come in and cut it off, because it was too precise of a cut for a bird or squirrel to do, but now I am wondering if it had something to do with the aphids. 

Other than that, we've had aphids on our spinach, eggplants, and tomatoes. I've found cabbage moths and caterpillars on my cabbages, broccoli, and kohlrabi. Last night I was cooking a dish with our broccoli and found TWO big caterpillars hiding out in the broccoli crown. Blegh!!! There are little black beetles on our potatoes. So what can you do to make them go away? I've written down what I have personally been using, and so far it has worked rather well. It's not something that's going to help overnight, but after a couple of days or even weeks, you will start to see some results.

Essential Oil Solutions

There are quite a few solutions and sprays that you can make at home. I really don't recommend purchasing a pesticide or insecticidal soap. Personally, I just don't want to deal with finding one that's certified organic. I looked into a couple of sprays that are most often recommended to purchase and none of them were certified by the USDA. And if I'm going to be honest with you, I did buy one, and it did NOTHING. Zip. So disappointing. My own solution worked a LOT better. Don't forget that you can also plant these herbs near your plants to help with pest control. We companion planted this year, and I think it has helped keep the pest population down quite a bit!

To use these essential oils, it is a good idea to have a base recipe. For me, this typically consists of 1 gallon of water, 10-20 drops essential oils, and 3 tbsp Castile soap. You can also add other things along with those base ingredients that I will list below.

Rosemary

Works great for deterring many pests in the garden like flies, aphids, fleas, mosquitoes, and even works well for getting rid of larvae, like cabbage moth caterpillars. That is exactly what I have been using the oil for - it was a few weeks ago that I discovered a little green caterpillar on every single one of my cabbages and broccoli. I quickly made a solution of Castile soap, rosemary EO, and water and sprayed like crazy. I do this about once a week to make sure the moths are uninterested in laying their eggs there!

Peppermint

Peppermint is one of the most commonly used essential oils for pest control and is a great tool for fighting off aphids, squash bugs, white flies, ants, beetles, and is the best oil to use to get rid of spiders. Though I don't think you always want to get rid of spiders in the garden! They are the natural predators of a lot of garden pests. So if you see a spider, leave it be! 

Thyme

This is a great EO for getting rid of biting insects like chiggers, ticks, and roaches. It can help say goodbye to white flies, cabbage caterpillars, maggots, ear worms, and hornworms. These will eat your tomatoes like crazy! Thankfully I have not had to deal with them yet!!

Cedarwood

Use this to get rid of slugs, snails, ticks, moths, lice, gnats, cutworms, caterpillars, beetles, aphids, and ants. This one works great all around and should definitely be on hand for an all purpose pest spray!

Other Organic Solutions

Essential oils are really great for deterring pests, but they can be taken up to the next level by combining them with these various household ingredients. Or you don't have to use the essential oils at all, if you don't have them, and can just try these little things to see how they go! 

Garlic

Garlic has natural fungicidal and pesticidal properties that can help to control those pesky insects in your garden. Some of the insects that can be controlled and repelled by garlic are aphids, termites, white flies, ants, beetles, caterpillars, and slugs. To use garlic in the garden, peel about 4 bulbs of garlic and crush the cloves with a mortar and pestle. Soak these overnight in water that just covers the solution and a few tablespoons of Castile soap. Strain the garlic mixture and store it in a mason jar until ready to use. When you are ready, you can dilute the garlic water in a gallon of water and spray on your plants. Add some essential oils to help aid!

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a great control for ants! This is what most beekeepers use around their hives to keep ants and other insects that might invade a colony out. You can also use this to prevent your crops from growing fungus, which could essentially attack and destroy the roots of your plants. Sprinkle cinnamon around the base of your crops.

Apple Cider Vinegar

I just love this stuff for solutions all over the house! It's what I use to help our chickens keep up a healthy digestive system as well. You can use it in your garden to lure in aphids and and fruit flies. Place about a teaspoon in the bottom of a mason jar next to infested plants. The scent will attract the aphids, and they will fall into the vinegar and drown.

Cayenne Pepper

I see this one being used a lot, though I have yet to try it. It can help to get rid of all insects and also works great for getting rid of rodents. Combine one tablespoon of cayenne pepper with Castile soap and water and spray your plants lightly. This may cause the leaves to burn so be cautious!

Diatomaceous Earth

I cannot say enough about this stuff! It has saved me so much this past season, and I just really love using it. It is immediately effective whenever I apply it, and is really quite safe. Diatomaceous earth is fossilized aquatic organisms. This stuff, if purchased in food grade form, is not deadly to humans, but works amazingly well to get rid of insect. The tiny particles are sharp literally cut into their exoskeleton and tear them apart. I use this stuff on my potatoes and brassicas and will eventually apply it to my squash plants once I see a squash bug appear. If you want to use this, please make sure that you use food grade DE. It is okay for you to eat, I wouldn't recommend eating it directly, but it's said that you can. I sprinkle my plants with it and just watch the magic happen. It works best to apply when the morning dew is almost gone, so it gets a little damp and sticks and then dries up in the sun. 

My Favorite Recipe

  • 1 gallon water
  • Garlic solution (see above)
  • 5 drops rosemary
  • 5 drops peppermint
  • 5 drops thyme
  • 5 drops cedarwood
  • 3 tbsp Castile soap

I spray my plants with this about once a week in the early morning! So far it has been working really well to deter cabbage moths and aphids. I haven't seen any caterpillars or little green bugs in weeks, though I still see a few spiders around here and there. I just leave them and let them be. The worst pest we've seen so far are the Japanese beetles, which have reeked havoc on my eggplants. We bought some of the pheromone traps for them, the kind that keeps them alive, and then we feed them to the chickens. It works well!!

What do you use as a natural home solution in the garden? I would love to hear your ideas! 

xoxo Kayla