How to Avoid Harmful Pesticides and Protect Pollinators by Susan Jardine.

Introduction by Ann.

Most of my garden has been planted with pollinators in mind, especially my honey bees. I stopped growing vegetables a few years ago because it was too much work maintaining them alongside all the bee-work. However, I’m aware of the need for us all to grow some food in whatever spaces we have, and be less reliant on fruit and vegetables shipped in from other countries. I’m starting small and cultivating garlic, tomatoes, and beans this season. My beekeeping friend Tony Harris gave me some runner beans three years ago and I am nurturing bean seedlings this season. Compost has been maturing for a year or so in three bins and I’ve got lovely new soil to boost the vegetable garden. When I get some help, I will put up the shelter for tomatoes that I bought recently. The weather will soon be warm enough to plant these out.

I’ve never used pesticides before. In the past cabbages and broccoli have been ruined by cabbage white butterflies, and gooseberry leaves infested and destroyed by greenfly. My lettuces always bolted. This disheartened me and is probably why I didn’t carry on gardening but my friend Susan Jardine has given me some tips and I’ve asked her if she will share her knowledge with you in this guest blog.

Susan hosts a colony of honey bees in her garden. Photo by Peter Mytlewski.

Susan is a talented lady with a vast store of knowledge about plants and their medicinal uses including how to care for them properly. Susan is a champion of the environment and regularly picks up roadside rubbish. Recently, she lobbied a local Member of Parliament and was instrumental in getting the Local Council to clean up a beauty spot that had been defiled by dog faeces. Owners allowing their dogs to foul the paths, and leaving bags of dog faeces behind is a bigger problem now than it seemed a few years ago. However, after Susan got on the case there is a dedicated bin for bags at the site.

Susan is qualified in gardening with a permaculture certificate and she currently works as a gardener. She is also an experienced forager and we pick mushrooms together at the end of summer. Her nettle soup is second to none! Thank you, Susan, for writing this blog.

A Guide to Avoiding Poisonous Pesticides.

Companion planting.

It’s good to nurture our plants and appreciate their presence. Avoid planting all the same plant species together because pests will spread quickly just like viruses and diseases do in human populations cramped together in small spaces. Intersperse plants with other plants that repel pests like aphids, or attract predators like hover flies. Marigolds are a good example. Alyssum can be grown around veg or flowers as it attracts hover flies. Intercropping is a useful strategy and involves putting in deeper rooted plants beside shallow rooted fast- growing plants. For example, lettuces can often get hot and bolt so consider planting taller plants next to them to provide some shade cover. Garlic and chives under roses can repel black spot and aphids. Nasturtiums are great for attracting aphids so it’s good to plant them near veg and flowers that are particularly affected. Dill, Poached egg plant, and fennel attract hover flies which eat aphids.

Ladybird beetle eating aphids on lupins.

Comfrey is good planted as a small hedge around or near veg garden because it brings minerals to the surface via their deep roots and they also attract bees. Comfrey is also a good feed for tomatoes and potatoes. Once they have finished flowering cut them down and put in a black bin with some water. Leave till the following year before using it. It doesn’t smell very nice but your plants will love it. You can do this with nettles too. Anything strong smelling tends to keep carrot fly away and it’s best to grow carrots high in raised beds, or cover with Enviromesh which is a UV resistant mesh product available widely in garden supply shops to protect vegetables from aphids and other nuisances. Small solid fences work well too at protecting carrots since then carrot fly can’t seem to fly higher than 60 centimetres. Pots of mint around can help deter pests but make sure it is in its own pot as it will spread like wildfire. Grow flowers that attract bees and other pollinators. Keep a little part of your garden wild if you can and get some wild flowers in which insects and pollinators love.

Weeds are just plants in the wrong places. Dandelions for example are fodder for bees and other insects. They are very good for humans too and our ancestors ate them after a long winter. Try to leave a part of your lawn lawnmower-free. I know this is hard for people who like a tidy garden, but it’s not about dominating nature, it’s about working along- side it. We have lost huge amounts of insects because of all the pesticides we put on our lawns and gardens every year, hence our birds like swallows and swifts are declining in large numbers. Attract predators such as birds into your garden with bird feeders in winter. However, in summer if you feed the birds less, they will eat your caterpillars!

New nestbox to keep bluetits out of Ann’s bait hives.

If you provide nesting boxes for birds and bees this will keep them in your garden. When birds are feeding their young nice tasty caterpillars, it is much better than peanuts for the young. Also, in that wild bit of your garden you can provide areas like piled-up logs for hedgehogs who like slugs and snails. Sadly, our hedgehog populations have fallen so it’s good to encourage them into your garden with a little hole in your fence for them to get through. Lacewings, ladybugs, dragonflies and, yes, wasps eat a lot of aphids as well as their role in pollinating plants.


With wasps, you can provide sugary drinks away from people so wasps have an alternative to your beer or Prosecco. Wasps become a nuisance towards the end of summer when food becomes scarce. During the brood-raising season wasps get all the sugar that they need from feeding on larval excretions but they stop producing brood at the end of summer. Adult wasps are not designed to eat solid food. To discourage wasps from building nests you can hang brown paper bags in a shape like a nest around sheds etc, undercover or inside, as they won’t nest near other wasps. Birds like blackbirds, magpies and starlings will eat wasps. Hedgehogs, and badgers will too if they can get into a nest. They will devour wasps and put up with the stings!

This nematode above has just killed the Asian hornet. Photo Wikkicommons.

If you have honey bees, I know you don’t want wasps around as they can try to raid hives for the honey, and they kill bees and suck out their honey crop contents, but they do serve a purpose which I had to mention. For green houses you can buy nematodes online that enter the pest and release their bacteria which is toxic to the pest. Nematodes kill the pests in a couple of days and they reproduce inside some insects such as the hornet above.


When it comes to soil, I would say that having a good humus-rich soil full of earth worms, some compost, seaweed manure (preferably organic) is important. Most cows are fed antibiotics and growth hormones, as well as pesticides for ticks and worm dosing, all of which are toxic to the soil. Horse worming treatment is very toxic to the soil. Also, with horse manure it should be left for at least 6 months before use as fresh horse manure can damage plants.

A few years ago, I heard of someone who got manure from a farm that had been using a certain pesticide on their cattle. The gardener put this manure on their veg patch and the vegetables that did grow were stunted and misshapen. So, we must be careful where we get our manure from. Chicken pellets are another good source of fertiliser but it is best if this is organic as this goes into your soil and your food. Mulching over a fertile soil is a good thing to do and it keeps pests at bay as well as slugs. Mulching encourages worms. Bare soil attracts weeds and dries out. There is so much more to say on this subject but I will leave it there for now.

Making Non-toxic Pesticides.


Neem spray.

You need 1 litre of water, 1 tablespoon of cold pressed neem oil and 1 teaspoon liquid soap un-fragranced. This solution will stay effective for about 22 days. Neem comes from a tree called Azadirachta indica that grows in India and is used as a medicine for all sorts of ailments. It is a fungicide, insecticide, and miticide and very useful.

Oil sprays.

2 cups veg oil, half a cup of pure liquid soap like Castile soap, or olive oil soap. Shake thoroughly till it looks milky and use as a spray. This is a great pesticide for aphids, caterpillars, mites, mealy bugs, and citrus leaf miner. After a quick wash, vegetable can be eaten on the same day as this application is non-toxic.

Garlic and onion spray.

Chop one clove garlic and one onion then add to 1 litre of water. Add a teaspoonful of cayenne pepper to this add mixture with some liquid soap then shake leave to soak overnight. Next day you can then spray any infestations. You can also make this same recipe with one tablespoon of chilli and one litre water with some liquid soap added.

A citrus spray kills aphids and other soft bodied insects. Grate the rind from one lemon and add to 500 ml boiling water and then steep overnight and strain and put in spray bottle.

Tomato leaf spray.

Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family. They contain alkaloids such as tomatine which can effectively control aphids. Chop two cups of tomato leaves taken from bottom of plants and add to one litre water steep overnight then strain and put in spray bottle. if it has been raining heavily spray again and use these sprays until unwanted bugs have been eradicated. I know it’s a bit more labour intensive but manually removing caterpillars, and slugs, etc is an option. Ducks are great for eating slugs which are a difficult problem and some people swear by ducks and their usefulness. A few of the following suggestions can be tried against slugs such as; coffee grounds, sharp stones around plants, beer pots beside the plants, copper pipe, soot, and night time raids to collect them! Thrushes love snails so you want those lovely birds in your garden.

Holistic Approach.

It’s always good to remember that a holistic approach to pest control is needed, and that really healthy well cared for plants have more chance at defending themselves against infestations than poorly nourished stressed plants. Also, the encouragement of beneficial insects in the garden and predators all help. Good luck.

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Thank you, Ann 🐝

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