Can we do without chemical pesticides?

Published in Poisons Beware

Are there alternatives to using chemical pesticides? Yes, of course.

Butterfly with cineraria Butterfly with cineraria Photo: Vivian Grisogono

In agriculture, chemical pesticides can be supplanted in various ways by more natural means of controlling unwanted plants, plant illnesses and insects. There are various methods for insect control, including one patented in 2006 which uses fungi to deflect insects from damaging crops (see the video below by Paul Stamets). Hvar has a wealth of plants which can be made into preparations used for organic agriculture. Not forgetting that the traditional method of controlling weeds in the vineyards was to plant beans in between the vines. So instead of grapes laced with hazardous herbicides, the producer finished up with two clean healthy crops. Sheep have always done a good job in keeping olive groves free of weeds. Organic agriculture does involve detailed manual work as well as an understanding of how plants grow and how they interact with their environment. The organic methods are ultimately much cheaper than chemicals.

Strimming for weed control. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

When I took on my own fields some ten years ago, the few trees - four olives, two figs, one sorry-looking almond - were well smothered among uncontrolled wild growth (ok weeds to most people) dating back several years. The fields were strimmed and rotavated twice to restore some order. Hand-weeding and strimming have kept unwanted growth at bay ever since. I have never used pesticides or artificial fertilizer. A couple of areas are left 'wild'. What are the benefits? I can safely eat whatever herbs spring up from the ground, as well as the fruits of the trees. I have rare joy when my favourite wild plants appear, whether aromatic herbs, fennel, tragopogons or my single solitary orchid.

Tragopogon, a favourite wild flower. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

There is also wildlife, with pheasants, fascinating insects and traces of other interesting creatures. My trees produce satisfying results, perfect for my needs. In 2016, my olives produced a fine 15% yield, my best yet.

Organic farming, weed control using sheeting. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Commercial farmers usually argue that chemical pesticides save them time. That's debatable. Chemical pesticides do not work, except in the short-term. In any case, there is a constant and ever-growing demand for organic produce, as consumers become more aware of its health benefits. Croatia's organic farming sector is pitifully small, but growing steadily, with eager customers ready to buy! Tourists on Hvar expect to find fresh organic produce. Their disappointment is damaging, not least financially. From every point of view, it is worth the farmers' while to go organic.

As for mosquitoes, are there better ways of dealing with them than blanket spraying of insecticides? Naturally! It's not so long ago that there were no pesky tiger mosquitoes, but plenty of bats, who will eat literally hundreds of mosquitoes given half a chance. Recreating the conditions for bats and other natural mosquito predators to thrive would be a major advance.

POISONS OUT!

THINK ORGANIC, GO ORGANIC!

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) 2016

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