Grasshopper On Flower 

Organic Pest Control Series: Using Organic Pesticides

When faced with a pest problem, gardeners often wish for a solution that comes in a spray bottle. It’s true that many poisons sold in garden centers will kill any, and often all, insects in your garden. But pesticides are hazardous to humans and wildlife, and most will kill beneficial insects along with the problem pests.

Even organic pesticides can kill beneficial insects, so they should be carefully used and only as a last resort. Learn about insect pests often seen in your area and their natural enemies, as well as cultural methods that keep populations low, before you decide to grow a food crop.

The organic pesticides described in these pages pose minimal harm to organisms you don’t want to harm, including humans. These products also are accepted under the National Organic Program Standards, which serves as a framework for certified-organic food production. In turn, the nonprofit Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) evaluates whether or not specific products comply with those standards. OMRI uses a panel of experts that includes farmers, scientists, environmentalists and businesspeople to decide which products should be approved for use by organic growers. Approved products usually display the OMRI seal on their label, or you can check OMRI to see whether a product is approved, restricted, or not allowed.

OMRI has two category codes for permissible products: “A” for allowed and “R” for restricted. Allowed products may be used freely at the grower’s discretion; most of them are soil amendments and organic fertilizers. Many organic pesticides carry a restricted code because they can harm beneficial insects and other wildlife, and thus should be used sparingly. Although all of the products listed here carry OMRI approval, many fall into the restricted category and should be used only when cultural controls have failed, and always according to label directions.

Two old-time natural pest control remedies, rotenone and sabadilla, are not included here because they are no longer commercially available and thus not likely to be used. Rotenone was once widely used by organic gardeners as the big guns brought out for tough insect pests such as Colorado potato beetles and cabbage worms. Made from the powdered seeds of jicama and other tropical vines, rotenone was a staple in garden dusts and pet flea powders. Rotenone is no longer approved for use on animals or in gardens, which is a good thing. A recent study has linked exposure to rotenone with a significant increase in Parkinson's Disease in humans. The only current registered use for rotenone is as a fish-killing agent for targeted invasive species.

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