When it comes to organic gardening, using insecticides might be the last thing on your mind. For the most part yes, insecticides and organic gardening don’t mix. That’s because most pesticides you’ll find will be chemical-based and have harmful affects on not just the environment but you as well. Some pesticides, however, can be considered organic because they’re derived from natural substances instead of man made chemicals. There are three in particular that Love and Carrots uses: Neem Oil, Bt and Pyrethrum.
Neem oil is derived from the seeds of the neem tree. Once inside an insect it mimics the insect’s own hormones, which blocks its actual hormones from working. This changes the insect’s behavior, making it “forget” to carry out vital life functions such as eating and mating. If you don’t see a massive die off right away don’t panic. Unlike toxic insecticides that are essentially indiscriminate poisons, neem oil’s affects work over time. Besides being environmentally friendly, the advantage of neem oil is that because it has to be ingested to work, it only affects chewing and sucking insects. In other words, it doesn’t cause any harm to beneficial insects. Although many people report an unpleasant aroma, the one Love and Carrots uses smells just fine. In fact, it smells kind of nice.
Bt is derived from Bacillus thuringiensis, a natural occurring bacterial disease of insects. It works by paralyzing an affected insect’s digestive system, essentially causing them to starve. Like neem oil its impact is not instantaneous but happens over time. Like neem oil it has to be eaten to be affective, meaning it also won’t harm beneficial insects. Strains have been developed to target specific insects, making it a very targeted method. Love and Carrots uses Bt Kurstaki, which controls caterpillars, loopers, cabbageworms, hornworms, leaf folders and leaf rollers. One drawback with Bt though is that because it is susceptible to sunlight it degrades quickly, anywhere from a week to under 24 hours depending on the strain. Still, because it is nontoxic to humans its a great choice to use on foods.
Pyrethrum is derived from the flower head of the Pyrethrum daisy, also known as Dalmatian chrysanthemum, and is the strongest insecticide allowed under National Organic Standards guidelines. It works by shutting down an insect’s nervous system, ultimately leading to the insect’s death. Unlike the other insecticides we mentioned it affects insects upon contact, meaning beneficial insects will be harmed as well. Because of this pyrethrum should only be used conservatively. This involves only spraying plants that are heavily infested with insects that can actually be reached and only at times when beneficial insects, such as bees, are not active. Also, since pyrethrum can be harmful to fish and amphibians you’ll want to avoid getting it into any waterways. Despite this disclaimer, pyrethrum has a low toxicity to humans and degrades quickly in the environment, making it a relatively safe insecticide.
Even though theses substances don’t really pose any harm to humans, it’s best to wait a few days after application before harvesting. And remember, these are still insecticides so wash your hands after using and read labels to make sure you’re using them properly. One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes these insecticides can be mixed with other substances to increase efficacy. Because of this, looking at the lists of ingredients used is vital in making sure the overall product you’re using is indeed organic.
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Contributed by Ian Whittington
Can you guess what’s growing here? If you said grass you’d technically be right. But hidden beneath this jungle of weed is something far more appetizing.
The asparagus that you’re used to eating is actually the plant’s shoot when it first emerges. When allowed to grow asparagus ends up looking more like a fern, which proved challenging when tackling this bed. In a well-weeded asparagus patch this wouldn’t be a problem. But when you’re trying to pull a clump of grass while avoiding the asparagus, patience is definitely a virtue.
It took six hours over two days for one person to weed this portion of an asparagus patch. Because it had been months since this area was weeded the weeds were not only dense but had strong root systems as well. That’s why regular weeding is paramount. The more often you weed, the less you’ll have to pull. Doing it as a family is a great way to make the task go by quickly. Of course you could avoid it all together by having your friends at Love and Carrots do it instead!
Weeding will not only keep your plants identifiable, it’ll also help reduce competition for water and allow full access to sunlight. A mass of weeds suffocating your asparagus could result in stunted plants, which means less to harvest at the start of spring the next year.
Why the next year? Asparagus has a very short harvesting season at the start of spring. If your plants are young it could only be a couple weeks. If your plants are established it could be as much as 8. Use your asparagus’s diameter as a guide. Once it’s about the size of a pencil it’s done for the year and needs to be allowed to grow to prepare for the next winter. This asparagus was done months ago.
Even if it isn’t harvestable for long, asparagus is still a great addition to your garden. It’s a perennial, which means it’ll come back year after year. Although you do need to wait two to three years before you can even think about harvesting, your plants could end up lasting you more than twenty years. That’s a lot of asparagus. With Love and Carrots taking care of your plots, all you’ll have to do is cook and eat.
Contributed by Ian Whittington
In the Garden…Common Questions & Answers
Answer: Harvest, Harvest, Harvest! Sugar Snaps are ready when plump pointer-finger length and Snow Peas when thin and pointer-finger length. Not to worry if a few Sugar Snap pods snuck past your harvesting eye growing more fibrous and less sweet–you can still harvest and instead of eating the whole pod, pop it open and use the round peas inside of the pod. The more you harvest, the more will grow. If you don’t harvest, the plant will think it’s completed its life cycle and stop producing new white flowers and then fruit i.e. your peas.
Answer: Your Broccoli plant is bolting due to the warm wet weather. I would harvest it, yellow flowers and all ! Chop up buds, flowers, stems and leaves to eat raw or lightly steam them and toss into a pasta dish. If you harvest the main head, smaller florets will sprout from the side–they’ll likely be small but if you don’t harvest the main head and let it grow from flower to seed, your Broccoli plant will think it’s completed its life cycle. You can also help keep the soil cool with mulch (straw, leaves, shredded wood) which will help slow the flowering process.
Answer: Carrots take a while to mature. There are varieties that are ready in about 60 days and others in 90 days. Use your fingers to move around the soil near the top of the root and base of the stalk and stems and if the diameter is about an inch, they could probably come out. If the roots seem stuck, use a garden fork or hand spade to help free the carrots– if you try to pull it out using only your hands the tops could break off or half the carrot could stay stuck in the soil. Carrots sown in March will likely be ready to harvest by May/June. No need to rush the harvest, however. Carrots can stand to stay in the ground as long as you mulch the soil around them to keep them cool and moist.
Broccoli, Peas, Turnips, Eggplant and Mustard Green photos and questions courtesy of Bryan Sivak 2014.