Firstly, we should note that “pests” are not actually out to cause us problems, but in abundance, they are symptoms of an unbalanced ecosystem. That’s why large monocultures are difficult to grow without chemical inputs: Areas solely occupied by one type of plant makes easy work for the insects that like to eat that plant.

Secondly, it’s important to realize that “pests,” like weeds, are actually an important component to natural systems because, without them, we reduce our population of beneficial, predatory insects. After the predatory insects are gone, pests then return without those elements to maintain the ecological balance.

This is all to say that our pesticides should not actually be insect killers but repellents and that the presence of some pests isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually not a bad idea to have some sacrificial plants in the garden to benefit the system rather than our dinner plates, and it’s important to realize that strong pesticides kill indiscriminately.

In extreme cases in responsible gardens, where we are trying to save a crop that’s being attacked, there are some easy, all-natural DIY solutions for thwarting hungry bugs from feasting on our fruits and veggies.

Garlic-Chili Spray

Not only does it sound somewhat delicious, especially for us hot sauce aficionados, but garlic-chili spray is an organic garden classic. Even better, we can grow the ingredients necessary to make it, so our system is that much more sustainable with this “pesticide.”

For this pest deterrent, it’s as simple as slicing up some spicy chili pods and cloves of garlic. Put them in a jar, filling it about half way, and then add water until the jar is full. Let this soak for a couple of days, strain away the particles and put the liquid into a spray bottle. Lots of people like to add a few drops of natural, biodegradable dish soap.

Warning: This stuff is potent and will work over the sinuses and eyes, so use caution when transferring the liquid between containers and be aware when applying it in the garden. In turn and applied once a week, it will keep lots of pests off the plants.

Cooking Oil Spray

Cooking oil, the kind in just about any kitchen, is also a pest deterrent just waiting to happen. However, it’s important to realize that oil must be extremely diluted in order to not damage the plant, but it will still be effective at preventing sap-sucking bugs like aphids.

For the cooking oil spray, make a concentrate of a tablespoon of biodegradable dish soap and a cup of soap. This concentrate can be stored in a dark, dry place until is time to use it. When heading to the garden, four tablespoons of the concentrate should be mixed with two cups of water.

Like the garlic-chili spray, this one can be applied once a week to keep bugs at bay. In general, however, it’s probably good practice not to use anything when pests aren’t a problem.

Soap and Citrus

Having a biodegradable dish soap, a la Dr. Bronner’s, is a real benefit when aiming for organic pest control. Likewise, citrus (and plants from the mint family, like peppermint and basil) are great for keeping certain insects at bay.

To make the basic soap and citrus spray, combine a couple of tablespoons of dish soap with five or six cups of water and few drops of essential oil of lemon. This can be applied to plants liberally without harming them, but bugs struggle to breathe and will avoid it.

Apply this mixture as needed, and it will provide the leaves and veggies with some temporary relief. Just be sure to use chemical-free soaps.

While we have these options, the first line of defense against insect should be planting wisely, and that means mixing in pest-repelling plants like culinary herbs and creating balanced ecosystems rather than monoculture gardens. Ultimately, healthy plants growing out of nutrient-rich soils are well-equipped to defend themselves and will do much of this work for us naturally.

Image source: John Williams RUS/Shutterstock