I’m all for pesticide-free gardening. It’s friendlier to the planet, it doesn’t leave residue on your food, and it’s less harmful to the things you’re not trying to kill, like ladybugs and dogs. There’s only one downside: pests.
I’m beginning to think that the whole idea of organic gardening is a vast, six-leg conspiracy, hatched by the pests themselves. They got together to solve the life-threatening problem of pesticides and, in a remarkable show of pan-pest cooperation, launched the organic movement. The leafrollers wrote the literature, the cutworms did the PR, and the slugs – well, the slugs were supposed to set up the web site, but they never got around to it.
Before you could say “insecticide,” they had world-wide buy-in, and right-thinking, ecologically conscious humans started to do their work for them. The rest is history.
Don’t get me wrong. I try to be a responsible steward of land and water. I know the earth’s tolerance for chemical pesticides isn’t infinite, but neither is it zero. I can’t think that taking the time and using the energy to plant a vegetable garden, and then watching the crops succumb to pests that chemicals could kill, is anybody’s idea of good resource management.
I’m sure that, were I a more skilled gardener, I would have an arsenal of organic pest-fighting tools and wouldn’t be so quick to resort to Liquid Sevin, a toxic soup that kills every garden pest known to man. As it is, my primary organic pest-fighting tool is Monterey Garden Insect Spray, a commercial organic pesticide whose active ingredient is spinosad.
In the unlikely event that you’re unfamiliar with spinosad, let me fill you in. It’s a compound that was first produced by fermenting a soil sample populated by the bacterium Saccharopolyspora spinosa. The soil sample was collected when a vacationing scientist with the Natural Products division of Eli Lily stumbled on the remains of a defunct Caribbean rum distillery. He scooped up the sample, brought it back to the lab, and left it to ferment for three years.
What possessed him to let it ferment for three years? Dow Chemical (which now owns that Eli Lily division) doesn’t say, but I’m betting he forgot about it. He put the thing in a test tube, and then went about his Natural Products business. Three years later, when he was cleaning out his cubicle, he found it. “Oh yeah!” he said. “Here’s that soil sample from the Caribbean rum distillery. I wonder if it’s produced any natural insecticides.”
Actually, first he probably tested to see if it produced any cancer cures, non-caloric sweeteners, or wrinkle creams. Once he ruled out the big money, he tested for insecticides – and hit the jackpot. Sure enough, S. spinosa generated metabolites that were deadly to caterpillars, borers, leaf beetles and the like, while not harming beneficial bugs like lacewings and ladybugs.
Because it’s made from metabolites produced by fermentation involving a bacterium found in nature, it’s organic. (It’s worth noting that this bacterium has never been found in nature again, leaving open the possibility that someone accidentally spilled Liquid Sevin on the original soil sample.) Because it’s organic, we gave it a shot. We sprayed our garden with Monterey, and the pests just laughed – in between bites of our collard greens.
We’re going over to the dark side and breaking out the Sevin.