Bee a Pollinactivist: 15 Tips to Tackle Bugs and Weeds Without Pesticides

Downtown Medford a Statue Marching Against Monsanto

Downtown Medford a Statue Marching Against Monsanto

The first two posts of this series highlighted current issues and corresponding causes of pollinator decline. The third post was all about creating habitat, and this post is all about (well, mostly about) solutions for helping our most important winged beings thrive by eliminating synthetic pesticides.

 1.  Mosquitoes: Educate Yourself and Delay the Spray
Educate yourself so you can make informed decisions about the impacts of mosquito-borne illnesses versus the synthetic pesticides used to control them. Beyond Pesticides has conducted the research and provides information on the various mosquito-borne diseases and pesticide-borne illnesses. Learn more about mosquito-borne diseases, the commonly used sprays (Anvil 10-10 being a popular and highly toxic adulticide), and their health-related impact here and No-Spray Coalition.

2.  Start Your Own Pesticide Posse
I made up a name for it: STOPSitizens Together Opposing Pesticides. Originally that first word was Samaritans, but my editor and his goofy sense of humor preferred Sitizens.

Beyond Pesticides offers resources to help you bee an even more awesome pollinactivist by eliminating pesticides in your community. Here in Jackson County, Oregon, we have a taxpayer-funded organization called Vector Control. These are the folks responsible for spraying the county, including public areas where children play, where dogs ruff and tumble, and where waterways are the source of farmland irrigation and water for the diverse wildlife that resides here. For decades folks in the county had no knowledge of this organization’s existence until just a few weeks ago. Vector Control sprays between 3:00-6:00 AM with a pesticide that is a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor, Anvil 10+10. Anvil 10+10 is a pyrethroid that impacts thyroid and immune system functions among other things. Now a group of citizens have formed a pesticide posse (my words) called No-Spray Jackson County and are rising up to advocate for a solution that doesn’t kill humans and wildlife. Many counties across the US have a similar entity. You can call these folks and asked to be placed on a no-spray list as well as sign up for spray notification through email, or you could start your own pesticide posse. Important: if you sign up to be on a no-spray list, you also hold the responsibility to take preventative steps to reducing mosquito populations in and around your home.

3.  Understand a Mosquito’s Short Life cycle
Bugged by mosquitoes yet don’t want to douse your family or your yard in poison to eliminate them?

Consider this: A mosquito’s entire cycle of life lasts for less than a week. According to Dino Martins, PhD, a prominent entomologist, this short life cycle predisposes a mosquito’s subsequent generations to mutate with each application of pesticides. Already, some mosquitoes are showing a resistance to pesticides. Likewise, pesticide applications are killing off predatory species that would otherwise keep mosquito populations under control. Biodiversity has all it needs when we don’t interfere. In the long term, according to Dr. Martins, pesticides will be ineffective. Time and energy may be best utilized finding and tackling mosquitoes when they are at the larval stage.

4.  Preventative Measures to Reduce Mosquito Populations without Killing Pollinators or Wildlife or Species that Pray on Mosquitoes (think bats) or Yourself
Beyond Pesticides has a list (with some edits/additions from yours truly) of easy-to-accomplish tasks to reduce or eliminate mosquitoes:

  • Clean up– Cut back any overgrown vegetation – mosquitoes use these areas to hide. Ensure waterways are clear of debris; eliminate pooled or stagnant waters from debris, containers, drains, and anywhere that pools water. Watch out for leaky faucets. Mosquitoes can breed in puddles the size of dimes, so keep a keen eye out for stagnant water! Clean bird baths and any other container of sitting water weekly to prevent those little buggers from making babies.
  • Natural Predators– Use indigenous fish populations, like bluegills or minnows, to eat mosquito larvae in shallow waters and ornamental pools. Copepod crustaceans can also be used to eat mosquito larvae in ditches, pools and other areas of stagnant water. Don’t forget about bats! One bat can consume 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour, and many bats are in trouble from a disease wiping out their population. Help conserve these important mammals while keeping the mosquito population down by installing a bat house!
  • Behavior Modification–As indicated above, wear long sleeves and long pants/skirts, and use least-toxic mosquito repellent when outdoors. Try to avoid being outside at dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Monitoring– Check sources of water for signs of mosquito larvae often.
  • Least-toxic Pesticide Options– Use Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bt), a biological larvicide (“mosquito dunk”) that prevents mosquitoes from developing into breeding, biting adults in standing waters that cannot be drained.
  • Take Action– Let your local council members, mayor, or state delegates know that safer, more sustainable options exist. Download Beyond Pesticide’s sample letter to send to public health officials in your area.
  • Take an Integrated Pest Management approach, meaning cause the least amount of harm to the non-target species. See more about managing mosquitoes and insect born-diseases (considering safety first) here.

5.  DIY Mosquito repellent

  • Here is an easy and nontoxic recipe to protect your loved ones from those nasty, itchy bites.
  • A friend in Dubai tells me that restaurants place a plate of smoldering coffee grounds at each table, and this deters mosquitoes.
  • Check out this list of plants that repel mosquitoes and other pest’s insects.

    7 Plants that Repel Mosquitoes

    7 Plants that Repel Mosquitoes from Knowledge Weighs Nothing

6.  The Ants Go Marching
Is it me or do we give too much negative attention to ants? Sure, those red ones that sting are a hassle. Fortunately, I’ve never lived in a place that hosts fire ants, so I really have no idea what I’m talking about there. But in general, are they so bad? I mean, they aerate the soil, which provides oxygen to plant roots. They enrich soil with organic material (aka ant poop). They’re cool dudes.  When we get ants inside, we find the source and caulk the hole, sprinkle a little peppermint or lavender oil around the area, find crumbs and clean them up, and the problem usually resolves itself. If the cleanup is insufficient, we pull out the heavy artillery: coffee grounds and diatomaceous earth with a dash of spice.

In a former house, we lined the perimeter with grounds, cinnamon, and diatomaceous earth (this was used sparingly because it can cause harm to any insect that walks through it). Eventually the ants went away all stoked on caffeine and spices. Once in a former life when I had a roomie, the ants arrived like an army preparing for combat. My rooms and I marked lines on the wall with peppermint oil (to stop them from crossing over), sprinkled turmeric (floor and counter) to block the line from moving any farther into the kitchen, and took a bowl of sugar placing it several feet away from the back door (point of entrance). When they discovered the sugar, we moved it incrementally farther from the building until they were gone. That, and a peace treaty in the form of a big sign, “Dear Ants, Please Go Away, love Toni and Kenda.” They did go away and no blood was spilled. I think it was the sign.One of my dearest friends on this planet (and aforementioned roomie), shared a website showing 7 Ways to Get Rid of Ants. Thank you. Heart emoticon with smiley face. Here’s another article touting the virtues of cinnamon to repel ants.

What are your super groovy solutions for ants?
I’d like to share with my neighbor who currently uses Ortho Home Defense (highly toxic; learn more here).The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides has cool fact sheets on various pests including ants (pdf) and nontoxic ways to deal with them.

7. Yellow Jackets

Yellow Jackets images

Images of Yellow Jackets according to region from the Digital Museum of Natural History

These sharp-stingered tormentors are highly underrated. They help keep your garden free from all sorts of nasty pests, especially early in the summer. Sure, they can be assertive and their stings hurt, so don’t hang out with them. They’re not your buds. If you see a few near your home, be a super sleuth and follow them back to their nest which will likely be somewhere near the ground or behind old wood or in a dead tree. Often, they will squat in an unused rodent burrow. If the nest isn’t in the way of humans or pets, let them bee. If it is in the way of humans or pets, you may have to take some action and place them on the witness protection relocation program. Yellow jackets will attack a person or dog when threatened or pissed. When one YJ stings, he will leave behind a chemical that alerts other YJ’s of a threat. This is why they are a problem, because a person (or animal) can get stung numerous times. This happened to me and my sister when we were children playing in the woods. We survived the ordeal and gained some character as a result (so we were told by my dad).

  • Click here to learn more about removing the nest in the evening when they’re not active and using a nontoxic control. Learn how to distinguish Yellow Jackets from other bees and wasps here.
  • If they are scoping out a place to build a nest near your home, take swift action, and they will move on. It happened to us only days ago. For some reason, the little buggers wanted to come inside through the bedroom door, which connects to a deck. I suspect they liked the ambiance and found it a decent place to lay down some roots. We, on the other hand were not nearly as enamored with them as they were with us. This is the superhero action we took:
    • Check for holes along the door and caulked to remove any entrance points.
    • Hang a paper bag by the door, because Yellow Jackets are territorial and will not build a nest if another wasp has claimed the space. The bag was our pretend hive.

      Safe ways to eliminate yellow jackets

      Hornet Detractor

    • Use a cucumber! Yellow jackets do not like the scent of a cucumber. So, if they’re haranguing you at an outdoor event, slice up a cucumber and place it around the table. See ya. Wouldn’t wanna be ya.

8.  Bugs in the Veggie Box. Oy.
What a hassle eh? As I write some little chewy being and his extended family are decimating my black bean and eggplant leaves. I collected a winged fellow (who I thought was the culprit), took him to the extension office only to find he is not the muncher. It’s dark outside. Right now. I literally just returned from a flashlight exploration, and still, did not see any critters out there going all commando and turning my veggie bed into bug food HQ.

I’m conflicted. There’s that groovy part of me that’s all, “Well, this is how earth works. Bugs eat stuff. Just share and be thankful for biodiversity.” But the not-so-groovy part of me is like, “WTH? I don’t want those little bastards eating my food. I want to grow stuff without hassle and stress. Isn’t gardening supposed to be relaxing?!? Where the hell are all those good bugs people talk about? The ones that eat the bad bugs? Where’s my biodiversity”

Just yesterday I rescued a drowning spider in the shower. I turned off the water, stood there, shivering, and dripping, lightly blowing on her limp little body in the palm of my hand until each leg sprang back to life. I then placed her on the witness protection relocation program increasingly worried about separating her from the rest of her fam. Do I not get some good karma points for that? To cash in for the bad bugs? I planted my companion plants. I have marigolds and zinnias and pollinator plants to attract good bugs. The bad bugs are eating those too. The good bugs didn’t get the memo.

Time to Be a Badass Against Bad Bugs – A Spicy Recipe to Repel Bad Bugs
I am digging this field guide with a big shovel. It lists 15 “bad bugs” along with simple (no synthetic chemical) controls and a half-dozen or so “good bugs” and ways to attract them. I made one of their suggested solutions:

**crushed garlic (whole head) and small onion
**a TBSP of powdered cayenne
**a TBSP of dish soap.

Add the ingredients to a quart-sized container with warm water (I used a mason jar). Let that sit for an hour. I used my seed sprouter lid and poured out the liquid contents into a large measuring cup and then transferred that liquid into a spray bottle. I took the remainder of the crushed onion and garlic and made another recipe in case I needed a second batch. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. You’re supposed to spray on the leaves in the morning after watering, but I was too impatient for that. I did it this evening, which may explain why I didn’t see anything on my nighttime bug rendezvous. I have high hopes it will work and not kill my plants.
What DIY alternatives have you tried to eliminate bugs in your precious veggie bed?

9.  Get My Drift?
A slight wind (over 5 mph) can create a pesticide drift that could go on for miles, and pesticides can become volatile (in the form of vapor or gas) in temps 85 degrees fahrenheit and higher in the lower atmosphere lasting for months. Aerial sprays lose up to 40% through drift. Read more here and here. According to an article published by the Iowa State University extension: Spray drift increases during warm weather application. “The higher the temperature and lower the humidity, the faster evaporation occurs.  As a result of evaporation, spray droplet size decreases. The smaller droplets are then more susceptible to moving off target with prevailing winds as they become entrained in ambient air currents.”

What does this mean for you?
If your neighbor sprays his yard (yes, I make the sometimes assumption it’s a guy), your neighbor is spraying your yard too. I’ve been talking to the neighbors (individually) asking them to tell me when they plan to spray (most do or their gardeners do – Roundup, 2,4-4, Crossbow), because I am growing an organic garden and want to cover my plants. One-by-one I’m exploring alternative options to dealing with their problems (weeds, poison oak at another, etc) to share with them. So far, they have all been open to it. Lesson learned: Most people want to do good by earth.  Big smiley face emoticon.

10.  Avoid planting trees that “require” insecticide applications as part of their maintenance program. Any tree in the Tilia family, for instance, is in that category. Some nonnative plants may also fall in this category as well. Always check with your local nursery when purchasing plants, or like I mentioned in my last post: Go Native!

11.  Are you Roundup ready?
Glyphosate is ubiquitous and under its common name, Roundup, is found in the majority of households in the US. It’s sprayed on genetically modified food crops and many cities use it to control weeds. Much like DDT decades ago, present day humans are mindlessly moving through our days dousing the earth with this and many other toxins.Given how this pesticide shows up in tests on water, beverages (wine and beer – hello!), breast milk, and baby food, it would be no surprise if we all have glyphosate in our systems. You can now test your urine or water for glyphosate. The folks at this lab are overwhelmed with those who want to be tested, so be patient. Sign up on their email list, and you will be notified when they’re ready to take on more clients. At some point in 2016, they are going to send out a report showing the data from tests completed to date. I’ll share the information widely.

12.  Check out Environmental Working Groups report on Rethinking Carcinogens to learn more about all things cancer-causing including the biologically disruptive chemicals in our environment. While you’re checking things out, have a look-see at Great Healthy Yard Project and take the pledge and be part of the solution.

13. Beecome a Bee City USA!

Bee Lives Matter

Bee Lives Matter by KS Pepper

Help your town earn Bee City USA status! By doing so, you align the voices of local government with those of its citizens by fostering dialogue about the important role pollinators have in our ecosystem. Follow my journey in J’ville as I take a closer look into this town’s efforts or lack thereof regarding sustainability and then, as a newcomer, navigate the special nuances of local government. When it happens, J’ville will then be part of a Buzzway created by Pollinator Project Rogue Valley. Large contiguous spaces starting from Ashland moving northward will form one ginormous pollinator protected area.

14.  Instead of Roundup (and other toxic herbicides) which will kill your soil to death as well as the living beings who cross its path, try these no-kill-the-earth options that include household products like vinegar!

  • I use regular household vinegar and spray directly on the weed if I’m too lazy to pull it. Because vinegar is nonselective, it will kill everything you spray just like Roundup. Target the specific weed or root as not to kill your soil. The blog, A Garden for the House goes into greater detail. Check out Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides pdf on using vinegar as an herbicide.
  • If your household vinegar doesn’t do the trick on those particularly stubborn weeds, try some heavy-duty stuff: Pure 20% Vinegar – Home&Garden 1 Gallon. Follow similar safety guidelines used for synthetic pesticides including covering your eyes, nose, and skin. I claim no responsibility to any injuries you incur using anything that kills anything.
  • It is not likely you’ll need this one, but check it out if you’re battling something that’s out of hand: 30% Pure Vinegar – Home&Garden (1 Gallon)
  • Read this article from Gardens Alive about mulching and mechanical controls instead of Roundup.
  • Try the sun! Solarizing your lawn or weed-ridden area to eliminate grass or weeds is a growing trend for eco-warrior gardeners. Solarizing is basically covering weeds (mowed if possible) with plastic which keeps sun (a vital requirement for growing things) away. In just a couple of weeks, you will have dead weeds – voila. Done.
  • Newspaper, cardboard, and brown paper work wonders (another trick learned through the Master Gardener program at OSU). I’m dealing with an invasive plant in my own backyard. Rhizomes. Oy. After about 30 hours of digging, I got it to where I could cover the rest of the space with cardboard, newspaper, brown paper – anything I could get my hands on. I scored a load of brown paper after a picnic where all the tables were covered with the stuff. Instead of landing in the trash, it’s now advocating for my weed-free yard. I followed the paper with a thick layer of mulch. This process also helps bring life to the soil beneath as all that stuff decomposes. If you have just regular weeds, put the paper on top and walk away. Had my weeds not been invasive, I would’ve saved myself the trouble of all that digging.

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  • Some locals around here recommend Bonide Burn Out Weed and Grass Concentrate Killer, 1 gallon.
  • Scott Goode, master gardener, engineer, and soil expert extraordinaire uses his weeds -before going to seed- in compost heaps between rows of planted veggies. His main tool de force? A broadfork much like the Treadlite Broadfork (14″) – Garden Hand Tiller – American Made. One day sooner than later I will be sharing some of his vast wisdom and knowledge about the abundant life force that exists beneath our feet, soil.
  • We’ve used boiling water on crabgrass with success. It requires multiple applications. Here’s how you do it: Fill the kettle to the brim. When the kettle whistles, make yourself a cup of tea, take the kettle with the remaining water outside, and pour the boiling water directly on your weed or irritating plant whilst drinking tea. If you do this every few days for a couple of weeks, you have eliminated a problem with zero toxins, and you’ll be hydrated.
  • Weeds are desperately underappreciated. They provide natural beauty and food for pollinators. Unless your weeds are invasive, one option is to let them hang around long enough to feed the bees.
  • Instead of using 2,4-D (any synthetic chemical, really) to manage poison oak or ivy, check out this pdf from Journal of Pesticide Reform on more earth-happy alternatives.
  • Check out the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) product lists. Please note:  Albeit harm reduction, an OMRI certified product may still be harmful to pollinators. Read and follow the instructions very carefully to minimize risk.
  • The Pesticide Research Institute has a free app to help you determine low risk/hazardous ways to deal with insects and weeds. Get it now!

15.  March Against Monsanto
March Against Monsanto is a worldwide movement several million people strong organized at the local community level bringing awareness to a global synthetic pesticide issue. In addition to education, there are rallies in almost every country 1-2 times a year. The first rally this year was on May 21. Out of the approximately 4 million marchers around the globe, we had a small but mighty group in Medford, Oregon. I played the role of Bumblebee. While marching may not directly save the earth, it will help educate people who are unaware of the crime against sustainability caused by the many agrochemical perps like Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, this list goes on. Sooner than later, Monsanto may be bought out by Bayer confusing the consumer once again. But the bottom line remains the same, citizens do not want to be surreptitiously toxified (I might have just made up that word) by companies making a gazillion dollars from poisoning the earth. Learn more here.

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Additional Resources

  • Lawn care without pesticides (pdf) by the Journal of Pesticide Reform
  • My bestie suggests you check out Symbiot Biological Pest Management Company. Their website has some good info on identifying and controlling bad bugs.
  • Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides has factsheets on dozens of pesticides (herbicides and insecticides included) that are worth a read, especially if you’re a user.
  • Useful tips (numerous factsheets) about weeds, lawns, and landscapes from NCAP are found here. From bindweed to compost tea to rose diseases, NCAP does a smashing job on offering tools.
  • The Pesticide Research Institute has all kinds of information at their Home and Garden Resource Center here. PRI also provides a free tool for consumers, gardeners, beekeepers, and others who wish to find information on pesticides—Pest Smart website. It contains essential information regarding synthetic pesticides including the Hazard Tier rating and whether or not it is toxic to bees.
  • Heard great things about this book, and now it’s on my to-buy list:


What are your super groovy, DIY, nontoxic alternatives in lieu of synthetic herbicides and insecticides?

Hope and Good News and all That Jazz

A big congratulations goes to the state of Maryland, because they are the first state in the US to ban homeowners from using neonicotinoids. Maryland listened to beekeepers and took action. Well done.

Bee Zazzled at my growing Zazzle Store!

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“But now science is the belief system that is hundreds of years old. And, like the medieval system before it, science is starting not to fit the world any more. Science has attained so much power that its practical limits begin to be apparent. Largely through science, billions of us live in one small world, densely packed and intercommunicating. But science cannot help us decide what to do with that world, or how to live. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it cannot tell us not to build it. Science can make pesticide, but cannot tell us not to use it. And our world starts to seem polluted in fundamental ways—air, and water, and land—because of ungovernable science.”
~Michael Crichton

“A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones – we had better know something about their nature and their power.”
~Rachel Carson

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25 Comments:

  1. Love it! So many great tips in one place. Gotta take care of our pollineighbors!

  2. Biodiversity certainly has its act together, but I wonder why yellow jackets have a thing against cucumbers?

  3. I use a mixture of white vinegar, table salt, and a squirt of non-toxic dish soap on weeds. Works like a dream! And so inexpensive!

    • This solution goes to show that everything we need is right there in our cupboards. No need to go to HD or Lowe’s or wherever and spend $$ on something that will kill all those beneficial bugs. Thanks, Koren!

  4. Great article, Kenda! So many great resources are provided – I will share it out.
    Note that since you’ve written this, Jackson County Vector Control District has switched to Deltagard, or that’s what we were told a few weeks ago.
    Still nasty stuff: https://www.backedbybayer.com/~/media/BackedByBayer/Product%20Labels%20-%20pdf/DeltaGard.ashx

    Also, a Tilia tree doesn’t HAVE to bee sprayed. Its just that people take offense at the aphid poop that drops from the tree on to their cars. Rather than parking elsewhere, they spray for the aphids, which kills the bees.
    A Tilia tree is a fabulous pollinator tree! I believe the Britt has several trees on the far side of the seating area. I was there a few weeks ago, and enjoyed seeing and hearing the bees just loving those trees! 🙂

    • Thank you, Kristina, for your ongoing and fabulous wisdom. I totally agree and I’ll change that wording one day regarding the Tilia tree.

      Imagine the horror of aphid poop on our cars! How easily folks lose sight of the stuff that is truly important. 🙁

      Oh yes, I do like the group’s new name. 😉 I am giddy to share they chose my idea: PROTECT (people responding and organizing to eradicate chemical toxins). 🙂

  5. oh – also, the new name of the No Spray group is now PROTECT Jackson County.
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1577681469149293

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