Mending the Garden with Natural Pesticides

DSC_0086BY AMANDA MOSES

Creepy critters, pesky squirrels and inquisitive birds are just a few of the many pests that can damage a beautiful garden.

Garden Educator Jacqui Roytman has been in the midst of preparing the Spring Creek Recreational Fund’s (SCRF) Urban Garden Classroom’s (UGC) spring crops with her students. One afternoon, she noticed that a few of the plants were half removed from the ground, and others had their leaves ripped off. She realized that the squirrels were enjoying the UGC’s vegetables as midday snacks.

Roytman decided to use this garden issue as an opportunity for the students to learn about natural pesticides. “There are different ways farmers and gardeners deal with pests,” Roytman said to a group of third graders, “What we want to use is natural pesticides, which are organic methods that help stop bugs, birds and squirrels from messing up our garden.”

DSC_0018She explained to the children that there are some farmers who use chemical pesticides to stop bugs from eating their crops; however, chemicals are harmful to both the pests and the humans who consume the vegetation that is grown. Roytman showed the students an example of two natural pesticides: garlic and vinegar in a spray bottle, and a bowl with a powdered mixture of chili and cayenne pepper. “So what we want to do first is make sure our plants have been fed plenty of water before we add these natural pesticides. If we put natural pesticides on first, then when we water our plants the mixtures will all wash away,” she said, lifting up a large garden hose.

The group of third graders formed a line behind Roytman, and then took turns watering each garden bed. As they watered the plants she explained to the students the way in which the soil absorbs the water, and instructed them to observe how the force of the wind shifts the direction of where and how much water pours into the garden beds. “Why are the squirrels so mean and eating all of the plants,” one student asked. Roytman responded by saying, “They are just hungry and our garden has so many delicious vegetables.”

DSC_0043Roytman decided to create an impromptu birdbath to accompany the bird feeders within the garden, so that everyone, including the birds and squirrels, can still enjoy the garden without damaging the garden beds. Third grader Jaydn Rosario, 8, was happy to see Roytman show kindness to the critters that live outside of the UGC.“I think Miss Jacqui is so nice, and now we can help the plants grow and watch the birds take bathes!”

She then handed each student a cup so that they could sprinkle their natural pesticide—made of chili and cayenne powder—around each of the plants. “The smell and taste of these spices will deter pests from eating and touching the plants,” Roytman said. In addition to the powder, some students were given a spray bottle filled with garlic and vinegar to sprinkle the plants with. “It’s okay if you get the natural pesticides on the plants because it’s just herbs, so it won’t harm them,” she told the class.

Rayshanna Ford, 9, was delighted to help stop the pesky pests from gobbling up their plants. “I am happy we can help our plants grow and keep them safe,” Ford said.

Photos: Amanda Moses