When I was a kid during Saturday lawn chores you’d hear my dad yell “Get me the Chlordane,” or “Someone didn’t put the “Paraquat away,” and “Go to the hardware store and buy some sodium methyldithiocarbamate (actually he said Vapam).” These are either hardcore insect sprays, weed killers and soil fumigants that have been taken off the market for years. And, let’s not forget the neighbors used to lend this stuff to each other over the fence while eating a sandwich. Today it’s a different story.
Insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides, molluscicides and all the “cides” are ever changing in this world. Without them we’d still have out of control diseases like malaria. Technology has allowed manufacturers to create chemicals to get a handle on things like that, but, in the early days their concentration was more on getting rid of the problem and not so much on the long term effects of what they did to animal and human life. So today begs the question “How to know when to use organic, natural or chemicals in and around the house?” Let’s explore!
All lawn and garden chemicals have signal words on their labels to signify their toxic intensity denoted by: Danger, Caution and Warning. This indicates the acute level of toxicity if the product is swallowed, spilled on skin, splashed in eyes, or inhaled. And, just in case you get sloppy there’s always a number to a poison control center or the manufacturer to call in an emergency
Sprayer Tip: Guess what? Household products have signal words, too. Some of them are stronger than lawn and garden chemicals. Check the labels on bleach, cleanser, oven and toilet bowl cleaners to name a few. You’re going to be surprised what you find!
DANGER: Highly Toxic - Bright Yellow
When you see Danger on a label, which is sometimes followed by a skull and crossbones, this is the most toxic of the three warnings. It’s imperative you heed the manufacturer’s directions so it’s used effectively and you stay safe!
WARNING: Moderately Toxic - Bright Blue
This signal word means it’s moderately toxic. Test show that moderate eye and skin irritation will happen when taken orally, dermally, or inhaled.
CAUTION: Slightly Toxic - Bright Green
This indicates that the substance causes mild eye irritation, is mildly hazardous when ingested, applied topically, or inhaled.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit some of the world’s largest chemical companies. On average it takes $7-10 million dollars, and an equal amount of years, to bring a pesticide molecule to the marketplace. In fact, most never make it because there are governmental agencies that have the last word. And, if they say no, it means no and the chemical companies must start from scratch.
Over the years there’s been an interesting change in the tide as the consumer is always searching for safer alternatives. The big boy chemical companies have taken notice and since they have scientists with laboratories in place they’re stepping up to the challenge. Now that we know the risks the question begs where do you start: chemical, natural or organic control?
In all my years of garden communication I’ve preached using the Integrated Pest Management (I.P.M.) approach. In a nutshell you do whatever you can organically first. If that doesn’t work go natural. And, if that doesn’t work we go with chemicals starting with caution on up. This step-up progression is good for you and your garden.
ORGANIC CONTROL METHODS
Hands down this is the Cat’s Meow in gardening when spraying food crops, flowers and ornamentals with organic products like spinosad or bacillus. You’ll find that your flower and crop yield becomes larger each year. The only downside is that organic control methods kill everything, good bugs and bad bugs so you have to weigh the options.
For a farm to become organic there’s a three-year transition period from conventional to organic required by National Organic Program guidelines. Even though the land was farmed organically during that time, everything that is grown has to be sold as conventional and is not considered organic.
NATURAL CONTROL METHODS
Natural pesticides are elements that went through a laboratory. Neem Oil is an example of a natural pesticide. There’s a process of collecting neem plant seeds then processing it ‘technically’ makes it natural but borders on organic. Here’s another example. If you call my radio show to control aphids on roses I’d give you a simple recipe of 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons of liquid dish soap mixed with water in a Chapin 1-gallon ProSeries XP Poly Sprayer. The ingredient that doesn’t make it organic is the liquid dish soap as it was processed through a laboratory. Truth be known we really don’t know what’s in it because we can’t pronounce most of the ingredients (ie. here are three ingredients found in Dawn Liquid Dish Soap: C10-16 Alkyldime-Thylamine Oxide, Phenoxyethanol, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate. See what I mean?). Natural control methods also don’t discriminate and will kill good and bad bugs.
Horticultural vinegar can be used to manage weeds and ward off insects and pests! Just make sure to apply it with the Chapin 2-gallon Horticultural Vinegar Folding Handle Sprayer. Its special seals have been specifically tested for use with agricultural vinegar and comes up with a win!
CHEMICAL CONTROL METHODS
When all else fails slowly jump into chemical control methods when the others don’t work. Chemicals are interesting as they are designed to target certain problems (ie. Insects/disease) and may avoid killing good bugs. For instance, Bonide makes Mosquito Beater. It lists to kill insects including: mosquitoes, flies, blackflies and midges. If the product data sheet doesn’t list the good bug, it’ll be safe!
Award-winning radio & TV garden communicator
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