Wherever there are people, there will be pests that thrive off the human population. Over the centuries, researchers have developed many different ways of dealing with insects, rodents, and weeds. People are beginning to realize that taking a heavy approach to preventing pests can have negative effects on their health and the environment as a whole. By Ron Neal.
Victoria, British Columbia. September 2019. There are many natural pesticides and repellents, as well as new approaches that both commercial operations and individual households can take to reduce pests without contributing to a bigger pollution problem. So maybe it’s time to rethink our pesticide usage.
Anyone who has had to call the vet because a pet ate poison meant for rodents or weeds understands that pesticides can create problems for any population. Unfortunately, chemicals that are meant to disrupt the reproductive cycle or even kill insects and other pests can create the same problem in humans and other animals.
Pesticides are usually designed to be filtered out of the blood and excreted, but sometimes they build up in the body. Infants and children tend to be the most vulnerable because their systems are not developed enough to remove the toxins. Proximity to ground-laid poisons and an inability to avoid exposure makes pesticides more harmful for pets, too.
Although health risks such as cancer or cognitive decline make pesticide exposure a concern for humans, the effect on the environment is also becoming clear. Certain pesticides have been associated with a significant decline on bat and honeybee populations. Without bats, which eat insect pests that are harmful to humans (mosquitoes, midges, gnats), the insect pest populations will increase. Without the pollination that bees provide while they gather nectar to make honey, whole plant species may be wiped out through lack of germination. This threat continues up the food chain. Predators and people who eat animals affected by pesticides may get sick and even die as a result.
The negative effects of pesticides relates primarily to agriculture, where pesticide use is heaviest. The earth’s sizeable population demands efficient use of arable land to produce crops to feed people. The spread of a particular insect that eats corn, wheat, or soy could pose serious concerns for the pricing of these staple foods that year. Farmers often use pesticides to prevent it. However, the widespread and heavy use of pesticides among large farms is leading to an increase in pesticide use in small farms. Small farms cannot compete unless they can produce at a certain level, which often forces them to use the same forms of pest control in the same quantities.
There are things that people can do to decrease their use of pesticides and their exposure to pesticides in their day-to-day lives. The most obvious includes a serious consideration of which pesticides are necessary. Outside of agricultural production, most people have few reasons to use pesticides. Controlling harmful insect populations, like certain species of mosquito, can help prevent the spread of serious diseases like Zika. Where these concerns are irrelevant, households can simply ask themselves if they really need to use pesticides inside the home or on the property. In many cases, people may decide that they do not.
There are cases when homeowners do need to take action to control pests on their property, but there are many alternatives. Prevention often works much better than heavy pesticide use trying to find a cure. Creating barriers that make it difficult for termites or weeds to move underground can make it harder for them to damage property. Making the home less-hospitable for pests can also help. Simply keep all food tightly sealed and clean floors regularly. Sealing gaps in exterior walls and at the back of cabinets makes it more difficult for ants or rodents to get inside.
Outside, insect pests that eat the leaves of certain plants may damage or even kill it by preventing it from getting enough sunlight through the leaves. So people who want to prevent pests from becoming a problem in the home or yard may also want to take advantage of natural sources that have pesticide or repellent effects. Since many insects rely on their sense of smell to find their target, going for something strong-smelling often acts as an effective deterrent. Why not use some of the following?
aromatics, like onions or garlic
oranges, which contain the natural repellent limonene
Although many home gardeners will cut up a fresh onion or garlic and place it right into the soil, most recipes recommend steeping the ingredient in hot water to make a liquid to spray onto surfaces. But make sure you do some research first, to make sure that the repellent chosen is safe for the plant or indoor surface.
And don’t forget soap and cooking oil. Both create a potent combination you can spray on plants. Spraying a combination of pure dish soap and cooking oil makes the leaves unappealing to many insects. But remember that cooking oil can help cook the leaves in hot sun, so apply it later in the evening for it to take time to absorb.
It is becoming widely recognised that chemical pesticide overuse is contributing to species collapse, and worse, may continue to do damage until humans change the way they approach pest control. By examining their own use of pesticides and looking for natural, less-harmful alternatives, households can maintain a comfortable property without making the problem worse.
Images courtesy Neal Estate