Roots 'n' Shoots: Pest Control: Biological control; organic & green recipes

Why is RnS Moving to

Google had brought out an algorithm update in May 2017. With previous updates like Panda or Penguin, Mr G had penalized blogs or websites with low quality content and those more focused on aggressive adverts (including multiple ads or pop-up ads in articles). However, many blogs/websites that weren't shady got penalized beyond recovery too and a lot of people lost their income. The May 2017 update has had wide-scale effect on blogs and websites, but without any explanation from Mr G as to why or what it does. RnS has been hit by it too and hard. RnS organic search stats (i.e. users from Google) have dropped by 75% since. Even though RnS is not a source of income, I tried to figure out why RnS is being culled. It seems that it doesn't really have anything to do with RnS per se, but likely because RnS is FREE and not paying for page ranking (via AdWords or Ad Ranking). Now it is likely being aggressively shoved to lower page rankings to accommodate the paid ads.

I cannot rely on Mr G anymore to get RnS' content where it is needed. So I am busy moving RnS to Wordpress where you can find me as Whisker Flowers @

I am also imposing 301 redirects from already moved posts and pages!

- The Shroom - (AKA Whisker Flowers)

Pest Control: Biological control; organic & green recipes

My philosophy on pest control:

ü    Effective – preferably works with the first treatment
ü   Environmental and people friendly – do not want to kill off all the helpers in the garden and certainly do not want to poison myself or wait for two weeks for the chemicals to degrade before harvesting
ü   Cheap and sustainable – made from easy to find, cheap products and the chemicals are not long lasting in the environment

So here I will list homemade remedies for all pests big and small, which have been tested and are now trusted…

The dishwashing soap I use is good ol’ Sunlight liquid and the white spirit vinegar is the Boston (5% vinegar solution) brand. I always have my spray on a fine mist to ‘fumigate’ the plants until they are shiny wet (not necessarily soaking, but it won’t affect the plants adversely).

Spray the plants and the ground surrounding the plant, as the little buggers (aphids especially) jump off or sit on the ground until it is safe to attack the plant again. I would not recommend spraying toads or frogs accidentally as their skins are very sensitive, it won’t kill them, but they won’t appreciate the rash either J.

1tsp = 5ml

WhiteFly Spray

White fly
(Trialeurodes vaporariorum)
Wikipedia - Gaucho
This is a reliable white fly killer on the first treatment. For heavily infested plants, spray till soaked, for follow up or deterrent treatment, spray lightly. Works wonders for infested tomatoes and persimmons.

1L of water
1tsp of dishwashing soap
1tsp of white spirit vinegar

Preferably do not exceed the amount of soap or vinegar, as it may burn ‘finer’ plants (such as comfrey). The concoction does not harm any other ‘higher’ insects, such as bees, mantids, spiders or beneficial flies.

Aphid Spray

This is a once-off killer of green, red and black aphids (still testing it on the woolly aphids). Aphids I always spray till the buggers are drowning. Works like a charm on ornamental flowers and strawberries.

Common Rose Aphid (Macrosiphon rosae)
1L of water
1tsp of dishwashing soap
1tsp of white spirit vinegar
1tsp of homemade citrus-peel tea

You must add the citrus, as that is the main thing that kills the aphids. Can also be used on whiteflies if the solution is already made up. The citrus tea is made by adding three chopped peels of oranges (or other citrus, I would recommend two if you used lemon) to enough hot water to cover the peels. Leave overnight, pour the liquid into a glass jar (microwave the liquid in the glass jar without the lid for 5sec – just to kill any bacteria or fungi that survived the hot water) and store in the fridge (keeps for up to a month!). Again no harm to any other insect.

Woolly Lemon Pests

I tried to research which pests this is exactly but there is a woolly aphid, woolly white-fly and a woolly scale that all look similar and feed on lemons. Apparently this is a widespread and common problem on most citrus, especially during winter. Here you can choose from two recipes that I have, but the main thing is to catch this before it overwhelms the lemon plant else you will be spraying the buggers the whole day. Aim for the bottom of the leaves and you will likely have to treat again in about a weeks time.

Option 1: Bicarb recipe
1 L of water
1 tbsp of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tsp of dishwashing soap

This will settle on top of the fluff and dries them out! Does not harm any higher insects.

Option 2: White oil concentrate, complementary of Gardening Australia
2 cups of vegetable oil (sunflower for instance)
1/2 cup of dishwashing liquid

Mix well to make a concentrate that can store for a few months. To use this add:
2 tbsp of white oil concentrate
1 L of water

Cover the insects with by misting/spraying it on. This will smother them, also works for regular scale on citrus and other pests as well! Do not apply in hot weather as it may cause burn on plants (apply in the cooler afternoon or shade).

Powdery Mildew Spray

Powdery Mildew
(Podosphaera fusca)
It is very easy to spot powdery mildew on your Cucurbits (squash, watermelon, zucchini and cucumbers). Small coin-sized white powdery spots on the leaves, sometimes on the stems, are noticed in late summer or when the plants have been wet/moist for extended periods of time. Fungi are more of a pain to get rid of than insects, 2-3 treatments of the solution should do the trick, can also be used preventatively. For heavily infected plants – spray until soaked, for a few spots, spray until shiny. I tested the solution on the powdery mildew on the carrot leaves: it does not kill off the fungus as with the cucurbits, but it prevents the spread and lessens the growth rate of the mildew - which already assists with carrot growth, else just remove the infected leaves.

1L of water
1tsp of dishwashing soap
1tsp of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/2 tsp of sulphur

The solution does not harm any insects. The sulphur is optional, but it does give the solution an extra kick. Simply add the sulphur (usually sold as "flowers of sulphur" at your local pharmacist or chemist) it won't dissolve in the water, so just shake it before spraying on the plant to get an even distribution on the leaves.

Eggplant Rust

Eggplants get rust during spring, especially if it has been raining often. The look like orange blisters when viewed from the top of the leaf. On the underside you will see the growing structure of the fungus. They belong to the Basidiomycota division or the ‘True Fungi”, which include the cap fungi/mushrooms. The make aeciospores on the surface of the leaf, this is those orange round structures on the underside of the leaf after the tissue has burst open. Rust is treated with sulphide compounds and lavender/rosemary have antifungal properties, so I use an interesting mixture of sulphur powered and lavender tea  J.

Eggplant rust
(Puccinia substriata)
For the lavender tea:

1 Cup of fresh chopped lavender leaves and two rosemary sprigs of ~15cm

600ml of water (will give ~500ml of tea given evaporation  J)

Now you can go get yourself some ‘Flowers of Sulphur’ from the chemist or pharmacists. This is really cheap and easy to find  J.

So use a dripper to soak the eggplant rust spot with lavender tea and then dust with sulphur using a paint brush. This will make a sulphur-caked spot, which should be fairly rigid and not easily dislodged, but just re-apply if it falls off. This will kill the rust.

If you do not have lavender leaves to make your tea, you can use the sulphur on its own by making a paste with sulphur and water, then spreading it on the spot. The sulphur will inhibit the fungus from growing or maturing its reproductive structures, if you keep its growth suppressed it will die at some point as it has come to the end of its ‘life cycle’. Lavender on its own does not affect the rust, it is the combination that finally kills the rust.

Do not use lavender flowers for the tea, as the active antifungal agent of lavender is found in the leaves and the fresher the lavender tea, the more viable the antifungal agent  J.

This recipe does not harm any animals or plants.

Please note that the smell of sulphur is hard to wash from your hands, some gloves can be used to apply the treatment to plants.

For a full profile on Eggplant Rust, see here.

Red spider mite
(Tetranychus urticae)
Wikipedia - Gilles San Martin

Red Spider Mite Spray

I do not (touchwood!) have a problem with these since I moved most of the veggies out into the African sun - they do not like excessive heat because of their soft bodies that dry out quickly. Given this my Whitefly or Aphid spray should work sufficiently to dry them up! I shall get someone to test them on their red spider mite infestations J.

- 12 Oct 2012 -
Had a little red spider mite infestation on my eggplant. So I used the powdery mildew spray (minus the sulphur) to get rid of the colony. The bicarbonate of soda hardens on the spider mite's webbing and dries it out making in curl and break! Didn't think it would work so well, just sprayed them with the powdery mildew spray out of frustration as I had the solution already made up J. So just to recap the recipe:
Severe Spider Mite Infestation
on our potatoes (Dec 2013)
Tetranychus urticae

1L of water
1tsp of dishwashing soap
1tsp of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

The solution does not harm any 'higher' insects.

Scale insects

Australian Bug,
Fluted Scale,
Cottony Cushion Scale
(Icerya purchasi)
There is only one solution when it comes to these critters and that is to get yourself armed with a butter knife and go to town popping them off the plant. Because of their biology (attached to the plant and protected by a shield-like plate) you can't get chemicals in there to kill them, except chemical systemic pesticides that are transported in the plant's phloem (water and nutrient channels) that is tapped into by these insects. I did try such a chemical previously, but within two seasons they became resistant to it - so just scrape them off then!

-Update 2014-
Recently watched an old episode of Gardening Australia where they supplied a recipe to control scale:

White oil concentrate:
2 cups of vegetable oil (sunflower for instance)
1/2 cup of dishwashing liquid

Mix well to make a concentrate that can store for a few months. To use this add:
2 tbsp of white oil concentrate
1 L of water

Spray on all insects, the oil will smother them. Might require repeat application in about a week. Do not apply in hot weather as it may cause burn on plants (apply in the cooler afternoon or shade).

Full profile for Scale Insects: See Here!

Moth caterpillar,
Noctuidae species


These are dark green and brown caterpillars of moths that live in the soil and at night they sever young plants and seedlings at the ground level. The moment you notice cut-off plants dig 20cm around the plant 1-2 cm into the ground and you will most likely find the culprit. Also treat the ground with wood ash (potash or potassium) to solve the problem and this provides essential nutrient for the plants as well J.

Beetle/Chafer deterrent spray

I have had a request to come up with a control for those pesky brown beetles (Hypopholis sp., the Rose Chafer & Sparrmannia sp., the Woolly Chafer) that eat your rose bushes, fruit trees and vegetables at night.

Rose Chafer,
Large Wattle Chafer
(Hypopholis sommeri)

1L of water
1tsp of dishwashing soap
1tsp of concentrated tea

The concentrated tea is made by adding 10 tea bags to 600ml of boiled water (to compensate for evaporation, to end up with ~500ml, just a nice amount to add in a jar). Leave the tea to steep overnight, strain and put in a jar or container. Store in the fridge. The tea contains tannis (tannic acid), which is unpalatable to insects, so it should prevent the beetles from feeding. I have not tested this recipe, as I do not have a problem with these beetles (touchwood!). Therefore you can increase the amount of tblsps of tea (not soap) you add to the water until the beetles stop feeding, increase the tblsp by twofold (2, 4, 6 ect). The spray won't harm other insects, only taste bad to those that eat it. Spray once a week and every time after rainfall. That should do the trick J Good Luck!

Fruit fly organic trap

I know I said that I don't like using food as pest control, unfortunately there is no other alternative when it comes to fruit fly control. The South African market it full of chemical control products for fruit fly, but I really don't want to use these - they are scary stuff with like a month withholding period! Anyways, this trap is based on one suggested by Gardening Australia; get yourself some plastic drinking bottles (500 ml or smaller is fine). Make holes in them, at the top, no larger than 1 cm (to prevent good insects from getting into the traps!). Then add 50 ml of the following concoction to each:
Euaresta aequalis Fruit fly
Bruce Marlin

For 250 ml (that is 5x 50 ml traps):
125 ml fruit juice (any will do)
125 ml of water
1 table spoon of jam (that cheap jam impersonator "flavoured jelly" stuff is also fine)
1/2 teaspoon of yeast

Mix it all together and add to your drinking bottles. You can hang these around your infested trees or sink them into the ground a bit. They work really well, but require replacement every week during the fly season.

Update May 2015 : This trap did not really work out so great, I caught a bunch of non-target insects, please see my Post on the Mediterranean fruit fly as well for other control suggestions.

Bird deterrent

The best is a cat, but if you are short on one of those you can use any reflective surface, such as tinfoil, old CDs and mirrors will do. You can make a wind or sun chime out of the reflective pieces. Birds do not like silver or red light being reflected into their sensitive eyes – there are scientific studies on this J, watched a whole documentary on reflective red and silver rotating pyramids that are used in strawberry fields and on buildings to deter birds. I use little plastic windmills - those that kids play with - works wonders as they are colourful and squeak when they turn in the wind. Put a few colourful and reflective ones about the veggie patch to keep hungry birds away J.

The irony – the cats keep the birds out of the garden, now to keep the cats from trampling and snoozing on seedlings J or even worse making a litter box out of the garden L. I do not want to use ‘Get-off’ sprays as I do want my kitties come home again. I am going to test a collection of strong aromatics based on essential oils and shall report back!

Stuff that doesn’t work

Aphids, Whitefly, Red Spider Mites: Any garlic or onion based solution does not deter these pests. Rather ‘live’ onions and garlic repel pests – I hypothesise (good research terminology J) that the agent, which deters the pests is only active in the living plants, which is not entirely impossible J - plant one onion/garlic for every 2x2m plot and one per pot (additional to whatever is already in the pot – tomato, eggplant etc.). The onions/garlic does not deter each and every pest, but it seems to reduce the frequency of their visits. Onions planted near herbs increase their essential oil content J, another bonus.

Any pesticide based on mixing garlic and chillies I do not recommend, as it burns the plants and working out proper concentrations for these mixtures is difficult. I also do not recommend using food (milk for powdery mildew, fruits for fruit fly traps) as deterrent sprays, rather eat your food. It just doesn’t make sense or feel right to me to use food as deterrents.

Cat deterrent: Camphor barrier around the garden. I observed one of my cats sniffing the camphor directly, did not seem offended by it and subsequently walked into the veggy patch.

Also note that pest control through organic pesticides forms part of a holistic IPM (Integrated Pest Management), which includes diverse crop planting, crop rotations, the use of green manures, organic fertilisers (wormery & comfrey) and the recruitment of beneficial insects (as biological control) in order to control pest populations and increase crop production.

Pest Posts:

Pesticide Resistance: Mechanisms & Prevention
Eggplant Rust
Scale Insects
Fruit Fly

Biological Control Posts:

Frogs & Toads

On The Fence:

Parktown Prawn


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