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Organic Gardening: Natural Pest Repellents

We're hearing a lot these days about health hazards in our foods – mercury in fish, growth hormones in beef, trans-fatty acids in snacks – so the thought of planting an organic garden at home may be more tempting than ever. By tending your own garden, you can control what you plant and how it's raised, knowing that the fresh produce you bring to your table is as clean as it can be.

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To discourage pests, use nontoxic products containing pyrethrum or neem. Pyrethrum is a mixture of insecticidal compounds found in types of African chrysanthemums that controls aphids, whiteflies, stinkbugs and mites. You should be able to find pyrethrum products in your local garden center. (Some will say they contain "pyrethrins.") Check labels carefully to make sure you choose the product intended for the crops you're growing or the pests you're trying to eliminate.

Neem comes from the seeds and leaves of the Neem tree, Azadirachta indica, which is native to India. The compounds it contains (such as azadirachtin) act as insect repellents. Neem is non-toxic to animals and humans and beneficial to bees. Though neem products are somewhat more expensive than most synthetic pesticides, they pay off in the long run.

In addition to natural pesticides, consider adding beneficial insects such as ladybugs and praying mantis in your garden (sold at garden centers). Ask about soap you can spray on plants to kill insects. And you can always pick insects off mechanically or wash them off with forceful streams of water.

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