Tuesday, December 22, 2015

20 Organic Home Recipes and Products to Control Bugs, Pests and Weeds

Photo by Andy Potter.

For those of us who farm or garden organically, we must protect our produce, crops, orchards, and vegetables from a very long list of pests. Below, I’ve compiled a list of 20 products, hints, and household recipes which may be useful to you in combatting the pests and weeds in your garden.

1. Orchard/Apple tree pest recipe: You need an old cleaned plastic gallon milk jug. Cut a 3 inch diameter hole on the side-top, leaving the jug’s handle intact. Add to the jug a banana peel, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of apple cider vinegar. Add a few cups of hot water and mix until the sugar dissolves. Hang 1-3 of these prepared jugs near the trunk of your apple tree. Replace the solution as needed throughout the summer, starting early. (My sister-in-law swears by this and has used this recipe for 20 years in our farm’s wonderful old McIntosh Apple tree.) Try on any other fruit tree, too, especially pear and cherry.

2. To kill weeds use a 10% vinegar spray (is about twice as strong as household vinegar). You may add a little soap, too.

3. Clove oil works to kill weeds and bugs. It is best for wide-leafed weeds. To make clove oil weed spray, pour 10-20 drops of clove essential oil into an empty spray bottle. Fill the remainder of the spray bottle with tap water, close tightly and shake well. Use as needed. Clove oil has fungicidal, herbicidal and insecticidal properties in addition to being a weed killer.

4. Herbicidal and/or insecticidal soap based products such as “Safer” are available commercially. Non-toxic herbicide sprays are more effective if you spray the weeds when they are young and during full sun. Get the tops and the undersides of the leaves.

5. Dried or liquid molasses can be used to kill weeds and insect pests including fire ants. It also enriches the soil. Apple cider vinegar and molasses have been used together to fight fungal diseases.

6. Fill a milk jug half-full with water and add 1/2 cup of milk. Use in a spray bottle to control powdery mildew.

7. Home Recipe for Bug Spray #1: 1 teaspoon vegetable oil + 1 teaspoon dish soap + 1 teaspoon baking soda. Add to a quart of water in spray bottle and shake before using for aphids and other bugs.

8. Home Recipe for Bug Spray #2: Mix several cloves of crushed garlic, ¼ cup canola oil, 3 tablespoons hot pepper sauce and ½ teaspoon liquid soap in 1 gallon of water, mix well. Put into spray bottle, shake well before using.

9. Home Recipe for Bug Spray #3: Blenderize or finely chop one garlic bulb and one small onion. Add 1 teaspoon of powdered cayenne pepper and mix with 1 quart of water. Steep 1 hour, strain through cheesecloth, then add 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap to the strained liquid. Mix well. Spray plants, including leaf undersides. Store the mixture for up to 1 week in a labeled, covered container in the refrigerator.

10. Use boiling water to kill weeds in sidewalk cracks.

11. 4-Legged Pests: 1) Keep out deer, rabbits, raccoons, and cats by placing rags soaked in white vinegar on stakes around your vegetables. Re-soak the rags every 7-10 days. 2) For deer, blend 2 eggs and a cup or two of cold water at high speed. Add this mixture to a gallon of water and let it stand for 24 hours. After 24 hours, spray on foliage. The egg mixture does not wash off easily, but re-application 2-3 times a season may be needed. 3) For deer, mix together 1 tablespoon of baking powder + 1 egg yolk + 1 litre of water. Spray plants every 2-3 weeks. 4) Use the ScareCrow motion sensor water sprinkler. 5) Use Nite Guard Solar lights which are motion sensored to scare away your night time visitors.

12. Tobacco as pest repellent for caterpillars, aphids, other insects, rabbits, and slugs: Soak 1/2 cup chewing tobacco in 1 cup Listerine mouth wash plus 2 cups water for 1-3 days. Strain, and spray affected plants.

13. Marigolds and nasturtiums help control bugs by attracting them, so intersperse these flowers through out the vegetable and squash garden. For the squash bug, try to plant resistant varieties such as the butternut, acorn, zucchini, and cheese squashes, or set traps, such as cardboard or flat rocks under the plants. They will hide under the cardboard or rock, and then you can destroy them.

14. Use salt or salt water to kill slugs.

15. BT spray works well for worm prevention for the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. If you see those little white butterflies in your garden, get the BT spray out. (See top photo) Bioinsecticide BTSD spray works for very young potato beetles, too.

16. Mulches: To kill or prevent weeds, use corn meal, or, corn gluten meal mulch which also provides nitrogen fertilizer while smothering out the weed seeds. Chipped wood mulch 2-6 inches thick helps control weeds. Gravel mulch works well for xeriscape plantings. Hay or straw mulch is good in the garden, but remember it may contain seeds. Shredded leaf mulch (cold mulch) in the fall improves soil microbiota and fungi. Or, organic farmers commonly use black plastic (mulch) around row crops to prevent weeds.

17. Flame weed propane torches can be used to kill weeds.

18. For mechanical weed removal, experiment to find your favorite hoe or tool. There are many kinds on the market, with both long and short handles. I love the short handled Japanese Nejiri Weeder hoe. A great gardener friend prefers the winged weeder; another, the stirrup, or scuffle hoe.

19. Row crop cover fabric helps control insect pests. It may be used on potatoes or squash or any crop being plagued by insects.

20. For a bug repellent for yourself as you work in the garden, try mixing lavender with vinegar. Put dried lavender into a bottle and add 2 cups of vinegar. Let set for a week to infuse. Strain to remove lavender. Dab on skin when working outdoors. For a natural fly repellent for cattle, try pyrethrin (an extract of chrysanthemums) sprays. Or, make your own natural fly sprays by combining one cup vegetable oil, two cups vinegar, one cup water and one tablespoon essential oil (clove, eucalyptus, mint, citrus or citronella).

NOW IT'S YOUR TURN… If you have any favorite weed and pest remedies, please leave in the comments below to share with other organic growers. Let us know what does or doesn’t work best for you.

Copyright Notice: Please do not republish from this post in part or in full without permission.

Readers, note that this originally appeared on my former site, Big Picture Agriculture, July 2014. 


  1. Could I post a link to this site on a garden forum?

  2. Thankyou and absolutely - yes - links are always welcome and encouraged!

  3. Here is another:

    To control insects, boil leaves and stems of a potato plant. Sprinkle the cooled liquid onto insect-prone vegetables. The natural solanine in potato plants kill many insects and repel others without harming plants. (Don't use it on edible plant parts.)

  4. Here, too, from Dr. Weil's site:

    To discourage pests I use nontoxic products containing pyrethrum or neem. Pyrethrum is a mixture of insecticidal compounds found in types of African chrysanthemums that controls aphids, whiteflies, stinkbugs, and mites. You should be able to find pyrethrum products in your local garden center. (Some will say they contain pyrethrins.) Check labels carefully to make sure you choose the product intended for the crops you're growing or the pests you're trying to eliminate. Neem comes from the seeds and leaves of an Indian tree, Azadirachta indica. The compounds it contains (such as azadirachtin) act as insect repellents. Neem is non-toxic to animals and humans and is beneficial to bees and, while these products are somewhat more expensive than most synthetic pesticides, they pay off in the long run.

    In addition to pesticides, consider adding beneficial insects such as ladybugs and praying mantis in your garden (sold at garden centers). Ask about soap you can spray on plants to kill insects. And you can always pick insects off mechanically or wash them off with foreceful streams of water. Another possibility -- local ordinances permitting -- is to install some chickens which will eat certain pests.

    You'll do best if you grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers that are native to your area. You should be able to get this kind of information at your local garden center. While you're there, ask about knowledgeable veterans of organic gardening and farming in your area. Organic Gardening magazine and its Web site www.organicgardening.com are also good sources of information. You can find even more information and links to organic gardening Web sites at www.gardenguides.com.

  5. More....

    Diatomaceous Earth
    This product, which you can find in garden centers or online, is nothing more than fossilized microbes that have been ground into a powder—a powder that is similar to shards of glass, shredding any soft-bodied insects that slither across it. While soap sprays are good for many soft-bodied flying insects, diatomaceous earth is used for all crawling, hard-bodied insects (those with an exoskeleton), such as ants, spiders, cabbage root maggots, carrot rust fly larvae, cutworms, and onion root maggots. It also shreds the bodies of snails and slugs. Simply spread the powder on the surface of the soil around vulnerable plants. Just be forewarned that there is one major drawback: diatomaceous earth only works when dry, so you have to reapply it whenever it rains.

    Milky Spore
    A cousin of Bt, milky spore attacks the Japanese beetle larvae, which are those fat white grubs you’ve probably seen when digging in the soil. The grubs mainly eat the roots of grasses, potentially decimating your lawn, but the adult beetles eat a wide variety of plants, from vegetables and fruit trees to roses and other ornamental plants. If you kill them in the grub stage and they never become adult beetles. Milky spore only has to be applied once; after the soil is inoculated it takes a few years to spread and provide complete grub control, but the effect is permanent.

    Iron Phosphate
    This naturally-derived mineral is the active ingredient in organic snail and slug killers, like Sluggo. The iron phosphate (which is also referred to as ferric phosphate) is coated with an “attractant” that snails and slugs find even more irresistible than plants, but the iron inside acts as a poison. This form of iron, at least in such small doses, is not harmful to people, pets, or the environment, and it holds up better in the rain than diatomaceous earth. Many other slug and snail killers contain a more toxic form of iron, ferric sodium, which is not approved for organic agriculture, though it is often marketed as a natural product—so be sure to read the label.

    This is one of the most toxic of the natural insecticides, though it is permitted in organic agriculture (though synthetic versions, called pyrethroids, are not). Derived from the pyrethrum daisy, the substance kills most insects on contact and is especially effective on flying insects that are hard to control with other means. It’s not effective on pests that live underground or deep in the crevices of plants, where the spray can’t penetrate. While pyrethrum degrades quickly in the environment and is only mildly toxic to people, pets, and wildlife, it does not discriminate against killing beneficial bugs—so use it sparingly and follow the safety precautions on the label.

    There are other such botanical insecticides, like rotenone, nicotine extract, and sabadilla, though these are all more toxic than pyrethrum, and in some cases are considered more toxic than some of the synthetic alternatives that are available.

  6. Awesome article. This is very useful for every homes and we can get rid of bug and others harmful insects. Thank you for sharing it. Pai Hygiene 10 organic pesticide for soil