Another Earth Day has come and gone, and with it our yearly reminder of our impacts and footprints, of how and what we’ve been using. Indeed, examining our personal patterns of use can become an all-consuming task. But understanding our own behavior is not always enough to find the greenest solution.

Take pest control.

Whether you’re in an outer-ring suburb, a one room apartment, or a sprawling farmstead, you and bugs will cross paths. With the largest biomass of all terrestrial animals and an estimated 30 million species, bugs are probably the most diverse and consequential things we observe in our daily lives[1]. Whether we like it or not, we share our space and resources with these mysterious little animals.

In the current pest control paradigm, high science has replaced the input of the lay observer. A century of miracle cures has conditioned us to meet our expectations by bending nature to our whim. Even our all-natural treatments usually consist of spraying on a layer of some faraway expert’s special concoction. We need not accept this “spray it” philosophy. Anyone can create low cost, low impact pest control solutions by following a few simple guidelines:

1) Be reasonable:

Everyone has their own tolerance level when it comes to bugs. If you have the problem, you will always have the best understanding of the solution. The more reasonable you can be, the higher the likelihood of a satisfactory outcome.

2) Be curious:

Forget smelling the roses –check the underside of the leaves! Hang out in those weeds by the alley. Frustrate your hiking buddy by wandering off of the trail to watch the pollinators do their thing. When you take the time to look for behaviors, you will discover that the world’s smallest zoo is always there waiting for you to peek in.

3) Be bold:

If you think you have a potential solution, try it and see how it goes.

4) Be patient:

Sustainable solutions will not happen over night. A combination of methods may give you the desired result. Stick with it and trust your instincts.

Photo by Leonardo Boiko

Real Life with Insects

Here are a few real-life examples of common sense solutions forged from everyday observations:

• Observation: Aphids have poor mobility.
• Application: Aphid populations can balloon out of control in the garden, in the orchard, or even on your house plants. A quick blast with the hose will remove most of the population without damage to sturdy plants. Dislodged aphids will often starve before they can return up the host plant. A daily dose for a week or two will moderate the population and neutralize damage. This is a free alternative to synthetic chemical controls and expensive biological controls.

• Observation: Ants will often consume other insects.
• Application: Some gardeners attract ant populations by spritzing their crops with sugar water. The ants, initially attracted to the sugar, with often stick around to patrol the plants for garden pests. You rest easy, while the ants do all of the work.

• Observation: Mosquitoes become most active around dusk.
• Application: Rather than relying on candles or bath oil to discourage mosquitoes, just avoid their prime feeding times altogether and stay indoors. In this case, altering your own behavior is the most effective solution.

• Observation: Insects are less active in cool weather.
• Application: When removing wasp nests from your eaves, wait for a cool, frosty morning when the cold-blooded creatures will be too lethargic to mount a defense.

• Observation: The hideous “crawling mustache” zipping around my living room is eating something.
• Application: The House Centipede, not only completely harmless, may be the greatest practitioner of home pest control. This predator actually prefers a diet of cockroaches, silverfish, ants, spiders, and bedbugs. In this case, all you need to do is find a way to coexist.

These, of course, are just a few examples.

We all have the innate power to synthesize solutions by observing the world around us. It is generally understood that children must be free to discover the world for themselves. Remember then that childhood is supposed to be training for adulthood. When we value observation and discover for ourselves through trial and error, we embrace our own utility – which is probably the greenest habit we can cultivate.

[1] Source: Smithsonian Online

Do you practice natural pest control?  What methods have you found that are most effective?