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Don't Panic, Natural Pest Solutions

Now that The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided that the pesticide chlorpyrifos (widely marketed as Dursban) no longer meets safety standards, consumers must seek alternative products to kill insect pests. At the time of the EPA's announcement, chlorpyrifos was the most widely used chemical pesticide in the United States-found in more than 800 consumer products ranging from ant and roach sprays and wasp killers to lawn insecticides and flea collars for dogs and cats. Yet the EPA's ban on chlorpyrifos didn't come as a surprise to the millions of gardeners in the U.S. who already use all-natural methods. These gardeners shun chemical pesticides in favor of natural and less-toxic alternatives for controlling pests in their homes and gardens. George Wagner of Mission Viejo, California, who at age 63 already has nearly 50 years of gardening experience under his belt, says he doesn't buy any chemical insecticides fertilizers. I don't want to expose myself to chemicals in the garden, he stated. Concerned about the safety of pesticides, Wagner has been an all-natural gardener for more than 15 years. Experience has taught him that Mother Nature tends to take care of insect pests in a healthy all-natural garden. But sometimes even Mother Nature-and her all-natural gardeners-need a little extra help. Wagner admits that his Hungarian pepper plants were infested with aphids and spider mites last year. But instead of reaching for a chemical pesticide, he used a natural spray called Pyola from the Gardens Alive. Pyola is a natural spray that combines pyrethrin, a popular natural insecticide made from chrysanthemum flowers, with canola oil. The result is a spray that kills a broad range of insects in all of their life stages. Wanger says environmentally friendly Pyola did the job well. "This year I don't have a single aphid or mite," he said proudly.

DURSBAN AND DDT

Dursban isn't the first popular pesticide to be banned in the United States. In 1972, the EPA banned DDT after receiving intense pressure from environmentalists. Brought to public scrutiny by the publication of Rachel Carson's groundbreaking book Silent Spring, the widely used insecticide was linked to wildlife deaths and tumors in laboratory mice. Even before the DDT ban, Joy Bell's allergies and chemical sensitivities had convinced her to use earth-friendly solutions for her yard and garden in Clayton, New Mexico. I prefer all-natural products because each one of us needs to do what we can to preserve the environment, said Bell, now 77 years old. With all-naturals, I don't feel like I'm bathing myself in chemicals everytime I go out into the yard. It's comfort to me to know that I'm not exposing myself to that. Plus, she reasons, if you've got beneficial insect such as ladybugs and praying mantises working for you in your garden, why kill them?

ALL-NATURAL METHODS TAKE TIME

While advocates of all-natural pest controls maintain that all-natural methods are very effective, they also point out that all-natural pest control can often take more time to work than powerful, broad-based chemical insecticides. Chemical pesticides kill quickly and indiscriminately, said Niles Kinerk, CEO of Gardens Alive!. Natural methods of insect control can be very effective, yet nature's system of pest control can take a little longer and involves a little more effort than spraying a chemical pesticide that kills everything in its wake. The natural alternatives are worth the extra time and attention to protect yourself, your family, your pets and your environment. Kinerk also reminds gardeners that, until the introduction of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers after World War II, virtually all farming was done naturally. All-Natural methods have proved to be very effective for many, many centuries, he said. In many cases, we're simply rediscovering and improving upon pest-control methods that have been successfully practiced for hundreds years.

NATURAL INSECTICIDES

As an example, Kinerk points to the insecticidal properties of the neem tree, which is native to India and Africa. The seeds of the neem tree have been used to repel insect pests in stored grains, in the gardens and in homes. Today, the extract of the neem tree seed is the active ingredient in Neem-Away Insect Spray, available exclusively from Gardens Alive! Neem-Away suppresses an insect's desire to feed and disrupts its hormonal balance so it dies before molting. Field tests have shown Neem-Away to be effective against a wide range of insects from aphids and caterpillars to corn borer and squash bugs. Neem-Away will not harm beneficial insects such as lady beetles and lacewing. Neem-Away and many other natural insecticides are most effective when applied several times at intervals of seven to 10 day. Natural pesticides also work best when applied at the early stages of an infestation-not when your plants are completely covered with insect pests. According to Kinerk, it's best to examine your plants regularly so you'll notice when insect pests arrive. (If an insect infestation is severe and immediate action is necessary, check with your local county extension agent for the least invasive pest-control product.) Sally Cassell, 58, of Branford, Connecticut, also points out that applying common sense to gardening can also help reduce insect pests. Cassell, who says she's not on any bandwagon but thinks that all-natural pest-control methods just make sense, had a problem with insect pests on her stand of kale plants last year. Her solution: separate the plants. She reasoned that putting all of that tasty kale together made it too easy for insects to find it. When she spaced the plants throughout her garden, her insect problems became much more manageable. So much of gardening is getting in touch with the natural cycles of plants and insects, said Kinerk. The more observant and more knowledgeable gardeners become, the more they find they don't need to use Dursban or any other chemicals in their gardens.

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