Spinosad: Beat Pests in 2014

As you plan your 2014 garden, consider adopting a more organic approach if you haven't already.

by Jessica Walliser
Help keep pests out of your garden with spinosad, an organic pesticide. Photo by Jessica Walliser (HobbyFarms.com)

As you plan your 2014 garden, consider adopting a more organic approach if you haven’t already. Although certified organic farms have dozens of pages of rules to follow in order to maintain their certification, home gardeners don’t have to go through quite the same effort. However, adopting natural methods of soil care and pest management are simpler than you might think.

Come spring, it’s quite likely that you will begin to encounter some pest insects in and around your garden. Mexican bean beetles, Colorado potato beetles, cabbage worms, hornworms, sawflies, cucumber beetles and lots of other “bad guys” will be making their debut in a few short months. You might want to start thinking about how you’re going to nip them in the bud before they cause any significant damage. 

All gardeners should look at preventative measures first and foremost when it comes to keeping away pests. This means doing things like choosing resistant crop varieties, covering susceptible crops with floating row covers before the pests show up (great for cabbage worms and Colorado potato beetles in particular), or surrounding young squash plants with a collar of aluminum foil to deter vine borers from laying eggs. Other preventative methods include placing paperboard collars around tomato seedlings to foil cutworms or hanging pheromone and/or red sticky traps in the orchard to trap coddling moths and apple maggot flies. 

Sometimes, though, despite our best efforts at prevention, the pests come anyway. So, what to do? I’d like to introduce you to an organic pesticide that’s fairly new to the market and can be a great tool for cutting down on pest problems without resorting to toxic chemicals: spinosad.

Even though spinosad is an organic product, I still recommend using it only when absolutely necessary—in my book, that advice goes for any pesticide, organic or not. 

Spinosad-based products have become a great tool in the arsenal of many organic gardeners and farmers, and with good reason. These products (brand names include Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew, Entrust, Green Light and Monterey Garden Insect Spray) are made from a unique fermented soil-dwelling bacterium called Saccharopolyspora spinosa, which was discovered by a scientist in the Caribbean in the early 1980s. Spinosad-base products work most effectively when ingested by the pest, so critters with piercing-sucking mouth parts aren’t very susceptible, but a wide range of other insect pests are.

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Insects that ingest spinosad die within a few days of consuming it, and they stop feeding immediately. Spinosad-based products have a low toxicity to beneficial insects like ladybugs and minute pirate bugs, but you’ll want to apply it only when no beneficials are present—obviously good advice when applying any product to the garden. However, spinosad is known to be toxic to foraging bees, so it’s absolutely essential that you apply the spray when no bees are active—early morning or evening is best. And it should go without saying, but please follow all label instructions.

Spinosad works to manage pests like Colorado potato beetles, Japanese beetles, Mexican bean beetles, cabbage worms, budworms, hornworms, spider mites, flea beetles, sawfly larvae, asparagus beetles, cucumber beetles, various caterpillars, bagworms and many others. It is a great alternative to synthetic chemicals and is extremely effective.

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