By Molly MacDonald, Dietetic Intern Summer 2016
Any farmer or avid gardener can tell you how annoying it is to have all their hard work literally eaten away by insects and pests. And while some go for the RoundUp or any commercial insecticide on the shelves at Home Depot, here at The St. Joe’s Farm, using natural pesticides, only when necessary, is the go-to. And who are the usual suspects here on The Farm? Well, this year we’re dealing with white flies (pictured above), the occasional flea beetle and the infamously well-camouflaged hornworms, who always enjoy a good meal.
Pesticides, which could be either naturally or synthetically derived, are substances that terminate, repel or alter the functioning of a pest. Natural pesticides, which are primarily used in organic farming practices, could be anything from natural soaps and detergents, to sulfur sprays, or even treating crops with non-pathogenic bacteria.
For instance, when those pesky bugs start making their mark on good produce, The St. Joe’s Farm Manager Amanda Sweetman typically reaches for one of the most-widely used, natural pesticides in organic farming. It is a little microbe known as Bt (which stands for bacillus thuringiensis) that is naturally found within the soil. It thrives off of feeding on larvae and can even produce toxins that can destroy the stomach lining of the insects that eat it. And while its effects sound very unpleasant, it is harmless for humans to consume! The National Organic Program (NOP), overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), follows rigorous standards and regulations of these pesticides to ensure they are safe to consume.
Regardless, pesticides are not loosely used on St. Joe’s Farms. In fact, a lot of the time it’s the natural predators, such as birds and beneficial insects, which are relied upon to keep the pest population down. However, if the crops are showing signs of degradation or damage due to insect and pest abuse, then the bacteria-based pesticide, Bt, will only be used on those damaged crops, specifically. You can think of the pesticide practice here at St. Joe’s as being like an antibiotic treatment. Physicians will avoid prescribing antibiotics unless the patient truly shows signs of needing it; that’s how the plants and produce are cared for here at The Farm.
While this is one way to care for your crops, there are so many other techniques and bug repellants out there. In fact, some people make their own natural insecticides at home! Do you have a garden or farm at home? Try using these techniques to keep your produce looking beautiful!