Take a look back through resent history back to the 1940’s and you’ll see the world was spraying just about every kind of plant and insect with harmful chemicals.
Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane or DDT, discovered by Paul Müller in 1939 is probably the most notorious, being linked to premature births, cancer, birth defects and eggshell thinning in Passerines and birds of prey. Due to its persistence in the environment and lipophilic and hydrophobic properties, DDT can accumulate in higher Vertebrates as the predator in the next trophic level consumes more prey and hence the apex predator (in this case Bald Eagles) gains more of the metabolites (DDE). This major issue was realised in 1950s as the populations of Ospreys (Pandionidae), Eagles and Pelicans began to decline. It was because as the parents began to brood the eggs, their weight would break the eggs that were unusually thin.
You’d be surprised to hear that in some parts of Africa, DDT is still used to control mosquitoes.
The well documented mysterious loss and colony collapse of honeybees (Apis spp.) in many countries in recent years has been linked to pesticides. As around three-quarters of the world’s food crops require bee pollination, rightly there’s great cause for concern. The use of pesticides and in particular Neonicotinoids have been largely to blame. This has resulted in The European Union banning their use for two years.
You’d be please to hear that at Kent Chilli Farm, we don’t use any form of pesticides on our plants but use biological pest control instead. This involves the release of beneficial insects into the glasshouse enabling us to create our own eco system where nature does our pest control. In general, these insects are parasitoid wasps (e.g. Ichneumonids) and in most cases troublesome insects are parasitized resulting in the production of even more insect parasitoids. This is done by the adult wasps ovipositing their eggs into pest insects such as caterpillars where the larvae feed on the host from the inside out, eventually killing it!
We’ve even bought Ladybirds (Coccinellidae) in the past and released those into the glasshouse to help us control troublesome insects.
I’ve lost count of the different types of insect we’ve spotted in and around our plants. Some of the more obscure insects get their five minutes of fame on Twitter and get indentified by some of the entomology experts among our followers. It’s nice when customers are looking at our plants and something fantastic like a Dragonfly (Odonata) or a Bee Fly(Bombyliidae) enters the glasshouse. If we’d sprayed with insecticide we wouldn’t see any of these. Sometimes birds also fly in through the open glasshouse roof.
Because nuisance insects are sometimes present amongst our plants a little bit of insect damage has to be tolerated which is a fair deal as far as we are concerned. This is something shoppers should consider when they go to buy fruit and turn their nose up at small blemishes on fresh produce.
We believe the use of insecticides should be a last resort.
There are so many other choices available.
The best place for plants is always outside. Plants in the garden will benefit from natural pest control with plants being visited by ladybirds, lacewings and hover flies all of which will dine out on those pesky aphids. With UK weather being rather hit and miss, put those plants outside on warm hot days and bring them inside when the weather is less than ideal. Have that plant permanently housed on the kitchen windowsill and the chances are it will see some Aphids during the season but see very few visits from insect predators.
We also use sticky insect traps. These are coloured yellow or blue and are used to identify which insects are active around our plants. The traps, similar to fly paper catch insects so they can later be studied with a magnifying glass and according to the identification a control plan can be put in place.
An absolute last resort for us is the use of washing up liquid. A very weak soapy water spray will kill Aphids on heavily infested plants. As Aphids breathe through spiracles on the side of their bodies, the spraying of a soapy solution blocks these causing them to suffocate. This is something we’ve done on only a hand full of occasions on individual plants.
Join us in making pesticides a rarely used word.
Let nature take care of itself.