For years, The Gardener’s Guide To Common Sense Pest Control was the go-to book on how to control harmful insects in our trees, yards, and gardens without the use of dangerous chemicals. Inspired, as the authors tell us, by the publication of Rachel Carson’s now-classic Silent Spring in 1962, it sought ways to control harmful weeds and insects naturally as well as effectively.
The Gardener’s Guide operated from two perspectives: that chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides were dangerous to humans and the environment, and that they encouraged “the rapid growth of insect resistance.” In other words, not only were pesticides harmful, they were over a short time, ineffective.
Now a new edition of The Gardener’s Guide to Common Sense Pest Control, “completely revised and updated” is available. Written by William Olkowski, Shelila Daar, and the late Helga Olkowski, with editor Steven Ash, the new edition is the most complete and most accurate volume on the various ways to control insects without using risky and ineffective chemicals. In a broader sense, it’s also an authoritative guide to sustainable gardening, with an emphasis on using locally successful plants (ones suited to your particular climate and altitude conditions), nurturing healthy soil, conserving water and energy, sending less waste to the landfill, and encouraging beneficial insects and other creatures by creating and protecting wildlife habitat.
When Olkowski et al began to address the problem of natural pest controls back in the 1970s, there was no such term as “integrated pest management” or IPM. Once the term was introduced , it was exploited by pest control companies and other commercial interests. The authors listed certain key features that included monitoring, evaluation of “injury levels” or what can be tolerated before treatments are employed (as opposed to automatic, periodic, and preventive spraying of chemicals especially when they’re not needed); and a “spectrum” of treatments that address all components of the problem in its treatment including the plant, the environment, and the management of the problem. In other words, no one-step solution, but a variety of natural factors employed as preventive and curative solutions to the pest problem.
Here’s their definition of Integrated Pest Management: “a decision-making systems approach to pest control that uses regular monitoring to determine if and when treatments are needed, and employs physical, mechanical, cultural, biological, and educational tactics to keep pest numbers low enough to prevent intolerable damage or annoyance.” What that basically comes down to is applied science. Observing and recognizing problems, then dealing with them in natural, sustainable ways.
What follows is thorough and equally scientific. After general chapters on natural pest controls, an introduction to IPM and strategies for pest treatment, the book goes into details on beneficial insects, microbial tools, and chemicals with a consideration to toxicity; botanical and inorganic compounds, as well as pheromones and insect growth regulators. Then it deals with the pests themselves: weeds, insects and the various ways to safely and sanely control them. There’s sections on pests found in lawns, vegetable and ornamental gardens, and shade trees. Like we said, thorough.
The authors have long been associated with the sustainability movement, in both gardens and daily living, as well as the Integrated Pest Control movement. They’ve been involved with the Bay Friendly Landscape and Gardening Coalition, a nonprofit that works with public agencies, the landscape industry, and property owners to reduce waste and pollution while conserving natural resources and encouraging the making of beautiful and productive gardens. The efforts that resulted in the new edition of the book are ongoing.
It’s important to note that the authors don’t completely embrace organic gardening. They suggest that pesticides should be used as a last, desperate approach. Many of us aren’t that pragmatic. We’re more absolute on the chemical-use issue, drawing our line in the sand in a way that excludes their use altogether. (The book even has a section on dealing with pest control companies so that you’re in charge of what they do, rather than business as usual; ie stand back and spray.) This point doesn’t disqualify the information in the book, information that gives every available method and technique for controlling pests ahead of that last resort. Like us, you probably will resolve your pest problem without even considering the use of dangerous substances.
Personal note: when we were first starting out in business we found the original Gardener’s Guide to be an invaluable resource that was both inspiring and informative. This new edition reflects what the authors and those of us involved in organics, have learned in the last decades. As in all things, the more time that passes, the more we know about controlling pests naturally.