Category Archives: Pests and Pesticides

Aphid Alert II: Indoor tomatoes

(Scroll to the bottom for today's story in honor of Black History Month. It's not a happy one, but it matters. I've removed the video clip at the end of that section as it downloaded too slowly for some computers.)

WARNING: This post contains graphic photographs of pests on leaves.

White fly '08

Our December report on the aphids infesting the Manic Gardener’s indoor tomatoes has continued to fascinate viewers everywhere,  so we recently sent a crew for a follow-up story. The unfortunate events surrounding this interview have been vastly exaggerated, leading to the promulgation of false information across the web. (The Manic did not lift up our camera-man bodily and throw him out of the house, though she may have tried.)

We are happy to inform you that our EFG (Exposing False Gardeners) personnel sustained only minor injuries. The camera, we regret to report, was destroyed and all visual footage lost save these few photographs. (Final results from the lab indicate that it was the bricks, not the orange juice, that did the damage.) Fortunately, the audio survived, so we are able to offer you the transcript below. We hope that this clears up all misunderstandings.

EFG has no plans to return to the home of the Manic Gardener in the foreseeable future.

At last report, the woman known as the "Manic Gardener" was holding off a SWAT team with a combination of unripe tomatoes and pure invective. As one team member was heard to say, "The mouth on that woman!"

Here is part of that fateful interview: 

Continue reading

Pesticide “Inert” Ingredients–Not so much.

Through the stream Second in a series.

The Curious Case of the Missing Information

Here’s one of the oddest, and to my mind most outrageous things I learned while working on the organic lawn article. It’s one of those things I’d heard rumored, and once I started working, it was something that turned up again and again in various documents I consulted: the claim that “inert” ingredients on a pesticide label weren’t necessarily inert.

Pick up any pesticide, and somewhere the label will say “Active ingredients” (and then the name of a chemical, and a percentage, often under 10%) and then “Inert ingredients” and a percentage. These inert ingredients are not named, but no worries; if it can’t react with other chemicals, it can’t harm us. It’s chemically inactive. That’s what inert means, right?


Continue reading

Tangled in the Web: Pesticide Research


The fjord

First in a series.

I’ve been working on a single, simple (ha) post for the past three days. This hunt makes me feel a bit like Theseus in the maze, playing out a thread behind him so he’d be able to find his way back—except it seems sometimes that the thread has broken, and I’ll be lost in cyberspace forever, adrift like the unfortunate astronaut in 2001, A Space Odyssey, when the wayward computer Hal snapped his umbilical cord leading back to the mother ship. (A bit of a mixed analogy there. Sorry.)

The topic of the moment is “inert” ingredients in pesticides—you know, the ones that aren’t active. When I try to trace the citations in a paper by Caroline Cox and Michael Surgan (“Unidentified Inert Ingredients in Pesticides: Implications for Human and Environmental Health” –with a name like that it had better be true, because it sure ain’t beautiful.) I find that those sections in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations are either “reserved” (which apparently means unavailable, censored, you know, the old need-to-know-basis thing) or simply missing—absent, gone, etc.

Continue reading

While the gardener’s away, the cats will play

Pasqual_flr_2 This poor bedraggled thing is a pasque flower, and the culprit in its uprooting is this cat. (Does he look contrite to you? Me neither.)

Quark_pasqual_flr_culprit_3 I was already sad about this flower before it got uprooted, and now I’m devastated. Downright distraught.

Pasqueflower_2 Pasque flowers are the most lovely of wild flowers here in Montana, and I cannot seem to grow them! I’ve had one in a flower border for years; it sprouts each spring, but never flowers. Last fall I bought two more, one of which I put into the lovely earth in the new raised bed which stayed covered all winter. Pasqual_flr_1By the time I opened it in late April, the thing had already bloomed and gone to seed, and was well on its way to dying of thirst.

And then the cat dug it up. Perhaps I am, as Shakespeare said, Kate the cursed, at least as regards pasque flowers.

Has anyone else figured out how to keep cats out of newly prepared beds? I’m pulling row covers over mine, after finding cat poop in one. Grrr.

Organic Pest Control: Vacuum-Cleaner at the Ready

You know how these things go: a comment on my cinch bug post led to a brief conversation with my husband, me maintaining that vacuuming up bugs off the lawn is pretty odd, and he claiming that we’d actually done something similar ourselves.

"What? Vacuum up bugs–oh my god."

"Remember the roaches?"

"Agh–yes. You’re right."

"And that’s what finally got rid of them."

This isn’t strictly speaking a gardening story, but it is an organic pest-control story, so I’m going to go ahead and tell it. It took place in our San Diego days, which is a good thing, because if that many roaches had inhabited a stove in New York, neither the stove nor I would have survived the experience. Nor the vacuum cleaner, come to think of it. (I’m not afraid of bugs, but New York cockroaches are a different order of being, truly the stuff of nightmares–mine, anyway, when I was a child. It’s probably because I was the one my two squeamish sisters assigned to kill them.)

There in San Diego we noticed roaches on our stove-top from time to time–slender, half-inch long items, not New York’s lumbering giants, which are often over an inch long and half an inch wide–(and here you see one of the many ways that growing up in New York City leaves one permanently twisted: everything, for the rest of one’s life, exists in comparison with the New York version and these paler imitations are, well, paler imitations. The rule applies to fireworks, cockroaches, you name it. And you wondered what the "twisted roots" in the blog tag meant. Now you know.)

So, back in San Diego, (remember San Diego? (remember Alice’s Restaurant?) This is a story about San Diego) I got up from bed one night and turned on the kitchen light to find the stove-top aswarm with roaches. We didn’t want to spray lethal chemicals all over the surface where we cooked dinner, so we took to lying in wait for them in the dark, then flicking on the light and leaping at the stove, bug-squashers at the ready. It worked great in that we got lots of bugs every time, but there were always more. It looked as though we could go on this way forever, and we weren’t that bored with our lives.

It was Steve who proposed taking the sides off the stove. When we did–pay dirt. Or pay bugs, except that I haven’t found anyone willing to pay. They swarmed over the insulation just inside the metal sides. We could actually see the little hollows where eggs were laid.

Clearly, a couple of sponges weren’t going to do the trick. And again, I suspect it was Steve who suggested the vacuum cleaner, because he really does have a "beginner’s mind" in the Zen sense–open to new ideas and therefore infinitely creative.

There was something perversely satisfying in vacuuming up those bugs by the dozen. We practically fought over the nozzle–"That one’s going to get away!" "Let me!" "No, let me!" And then there was the other side of the stove to do.

As Steve reminded me today, after that it was just mopping up. There were a few stray roaches over the next couple of days, but really, it was over. No sprays, no traps, no powders and, thank god, no nightmares.

We get locked into set ways of thinking about things (bugs=Raid), and this rigidity cramps our style. Sure, vacuuming the lawn may seem odd–but no more so than vacuuming the inside of the stove. If we’re going to give up pesticides, we’re going to have to be creative.