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We always say, “you are what you eat”, and most of us think we’re being healthy when we eat five servings of fruit and veg a day. But do we really know what we’re eating? When we buy a punnet of plums or a bag of kale from the supermarket, do we know what they were sprayed with while growing or after they were picked? No we don’t, which is the real benefit of eating plants you planted, nurtured and harvested in your own garden – you can control what goes onto them, and therefore what goes into your body. This is why we all need to be talking more about biological control, or ‘biologicals’.
Simply explained, biological refers to a natural ‘circle of life’ – the predator and prey relationship found in nature, like a lion catching a springbuck. The lion kills something, which is gruesome, but there’s no collateral damage – only the springbok is hurt. With biologicals we take that part of nature and focus it to benefit our gardens – we take the natural enemies of a pest in our garden, and we use them to keep the pest (and only the pest) under control: birds eat caterpillars, ladybirds eat aphids, and beneficial bacteria, viruses and fungi keep other pests and diseases in check.
A biological approach centres around nature, embracing the synergistic relationships that occur naturally to ensure survival and sustainability. ‘Biological thinking’ views nature as being brilliantly creative and diverse – with soil (a living ecosystem) being integrally interconnected with roots and plant health. As an example of the complexity of the soil ecosystem, there are about a million fungal and bacterial organisms in a single teaspoon of soil, each of them playing a part in the natural cycle of life in the garden.
If you want an example of how effective biological control can be, look no further than the declining infestations of prickly pears in South Africa. At the beginning of the 20th century prickly pear was a big problem, taking over swathes of agricultural land. Then clever scientists introduced a little cochineal bug, which did its thing and got prickly pear under control. Port Jackson willow is another local biological success story, where a gall-forming rust fungus and a midge have both proven to be effective control agents.
More relevantly to us and our veggie gardens, tomato plants are very susceptible to Phytophthora root rot, caused by phytophthora fungus-like organisms. Inoculating your soil with the spores of the Trichoderma asperellum fungus, which colonises root systems and protects them, can control this. The result – no more root rot, and no chemicals needed!
Another problem we all face is the caterpillars that always arrive when we plant cabbages or mustard, or any member of the cabbage family. If you spray your plants with the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) beneficial bacteria, the caterpillars will stop eating and eventually die, and if a bird eats them it’s no problem.
A range of biological pest control products is finally available on local retailer shelves. Keep an eye out for the new EcoBuz brand and the four biological products launched in spring 2019. This exciting new development introduces safe, effective pest-control solutions that don’t compromise the health of beneficial insects, birds, pets, people or soils and the environment.
Benefits of Ecobuz biological products for edible gardeners:
- Safe, effective, chemical-free pest-control solutions
- No residuals – this is of great significance with all edible crops as it means applications can be applied right up to harvest. (Each product is unique, so always check the packaging and inserts for specific details.)
- Biological product ‘mode of action’ is unique in comparison to chemical counterparts. This makes these products ideal for use in rotation with chemical treatments to prevent and manage pest resistance (where frequent and repeated use of the same chemicals results in a pest no longer being susceptible to its effect).