Though it feels as if summer has officially stepped in, spring has made its way through our world, signaling plants and animals everywhere life is anew.
And where there is life, there are annoying insects. And where there are insects, out come the bug sprays.
Using pesticides in the garden as well as on the body, for example DEET, just provides more poisons to an already toxic world. There are many non-toxic ways of reducing these pesky critters from good bugs such as ladybirds, lacewings and praying mantises. Birds too such as hummingbirds feast on some and if you are lucky enough to have a bat or too, say goodbye to more six legged creatures.
Yet it is necessary many times to apply topical sprays to both plants and skin to keep insects from biting. Neem oil is one that is growing in popularity especially in the cosmetic industry where it protects the skin health to relieve dry skin, soothe itchiness, redness and irritation; and keeps hair shiny and healthy. But for gardeners looking for healthy alternatives, using neem oil is a very effective way to protect plants and keep the environment clean. It works a bit differently than most commercial pesticides.
Scientists are still not sure why neem oil keeps bugs away, but studies indicate that fatty acids and steroids work on the insects’ hormonal system, throwing them out of whack. And the intense smell of neem gives it a repellant nature, making some leaf-eating bugs thoroughly disgusted with the odor, causing them to move on to another more hospitable garden.
But here is the good thing: Unlike most chemical pesticides that kill ALL bugs, including the good ones, neem oil does not hurt beneficial insects, it only affects chewing and sucking ones. The good bugs don’t eat the plants, they just eat other bugs so they are spared ingesting the oil.
Another way to apply neem is through the soil where the plant absorbs the oil and takes it up in their tissue. Though insects that feed from the outer most layers of the plant won’t be affected, most chomping insects tend to avoid the plant since they feed on the deeper layers where the neem is absorbed.
The effects on humans have been studied significantly and it has been deemed safe by the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency). They state it is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for use in food products.
And there are no restrictions on maximum allowable residues for farmers, so it is safe to spray in the vegetable garden.
Neem oil spray can be purchased at garden centers, but by making your own, you can adjust the concentration for harder infestations.
For garden spray, a solution of .5 percent to 1 percent is good. For more difficult situations, you can increase up to 2 percent.
Take a quart of warm water and mix in 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid detergent (Dr. Bronner’s is great), slowly add 1 to 2 teaspoons of neem oil stirring vigorously, then fill the mix in a clean empty spray bottle. Spray the solution on all leaves and their undersides since bugs love to hide. If any solution is left over, saturate the soil around the roots as well.
Once made, you need to use the neem solution within eight hours since the oil starts to break-down immediately. Always make a new batch for each use. Spray once a week until the problem disappears and use every two weeks for preventative measures.
If you have sensitive plants, spray just a little in a small area and wait for a day or two to see if all is well.
Neem oil can be purchased at health food stores as well as on the internet. It’s always best to get cold-pressed versus solvent extraction which uses hexane, a constituent of gasoline.