Q: I've planted vegetables and herbs this year, but they're getting kind of buggy. Are there safe pesticides I can use?
Claudia V., Boise, Idaho
A: Pesticides are responsible for allowing farmers to grow huge quantities of crops for an ever-expanding population, but — and it's a big but — we keep finding out they have all kinds of unintended side effects that damage bees (fewer bees, less pollination, fewer crops), disrupt hormone function in people, animals, fish and insects (affecting development of sperm, fertility and, some conjecture, sexual identity), cause behavior and cognitive problems (ADHD in children) and trigger cancer (such as leukemia). And they show up in breast milk; some studies find 60 percent or more of samples contain harmful chemicals.
In addition, contamination of groundwater by pesticides is a worldwide problem, and pesticides that are banned for use on agriculture in this country (and manufactured by U.S. companies) are routinely shipped overseas for use on vegetables that then are imported back into America.
So, for home gardeners, the smart move is to make your own natural pesticides. Some of our favorite home remedies:
Throw a kegger for slugs! Shallow plates of beer set out around plants (slugs love strawberries, corn, beans, lettuce ... and beer) will distract and drown the plant-munching pests.
Go Italian: Bugs hate garlic and onions. Save all your skins and ends from cooking, throw in a hot pepper, and soak them in a bucket of water for 48 hours. Strain and spray to discourage thrips, aphids, grasshoppers and chewing and sucking insects.
Juice 'em up: Use the peel of four organic lemons and their juice; steep in a gallon of hot water. (Some people add a teaspoon of natural soap.) Strain and spray to control aphids.
Counterattack: Plant radishes next to cucumbers to scare away beetles; rosemary, mint and thyme near cabbage to scare away cabbage worms.
Let us know how your garden fares this year!
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