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If you intend on growing some of your own food, two of your biggest enemies are going to be pests and fungus. Prevention is always better than treating afterwards. There are some pests and fungus that are very predictable.
For example, where we live in North Carolina, tomatoes are widely grown but they are very susceptible to blight. The solution is to spray them with copper. It is just something you do at various points to ensure a better harvest. Tomato blight can ruin your whole harvest quickly.
Organic and Non-Organic Pesticides and Fungicides For Home Gardens
Don’t think you can get away with just not doing anything. If you do then chances are you are going to have a disappointing garden and harvest.
I don’t know anyone that doesn’t do something to combat the pests and fungi that inevitably try to invade your garden. Don’t think you can just keep an eye on things and kill a few bugs manually here and there. The whole reason a lot of people are amping up their gardening game is survival. Now is not the time to take risks in your garden. There are organic sprays and methods that you can use if you don’t want to use chemicals but don’t for an instant think you can get away with not using a few things in your garden.
The Neem tree is what Neem oil comes from. It is found in many hair products and cosmetics and considered quite safe to use. It is effective against a lot of different insects, mites, and fungi. Neem is OMRI listed so it is approved for organic agriculture. It is very affordable. A pint of Garden Safe Neem Oil Extract will make 16 gallons of spray and comes in around $10.
Copper is effective against tomato blight and other fungi that are commonly found on a variety of fruit and vegetables. It is very safe in many ways but you do want to be sure to avoid spraying on any pastures or lawns where sheep and other copper sensitive animals might be grazing or make sure to not let them graze for a period of time after spraying. If we spray copper on our grapes we always keep the sheep out of the vineyard for a week or so.
Permethrin vs Pyrethrin
Permethrin is the synthetic version of the organic pesticide Pyrethrum. They are very similar chemically speaking. One reason why people choose the synthetic version is cost. Pyrethrin is derived from the Chrysanthemum flower thus it costs a lot more to produce. I do have to say that a little goes a long way no matter which you choose.
Permethrin is used in a lot of insect repellents for people and animals alike. Sawyer Products, the same company that makes the water filters, uses Permethrin for their signature bug spray. It is usually well tolerated by everyone and considered one of the safest synthetic pesticides out there.
Sometimes horticultural oil is referred to by brand names such as Stylet Oil. It is basically just highly refined mineral oil with an emulsifier to help it mix with water to form a dilution that you spray on crops. It coats leaves and fruit thus forming a protective barrier that is inhospitable to many fungi and it makes it much harder for insects to damage fruit and leaves.
This is a product that you can use often. Due to shipping weight and other factors, this is definitely a spray that you can get a better deal on if you buy it in 2.5 gallon jugs at a farm supply store. I linked to a gallon size container above. A gallon will last a small gardener for awhile but if you are growing a lot of crops it is not economical to just buy it by the gallon.
I don’t know how many people actually use Sevin anymore but it was once a very popular insecticide to use for potatoes and other garden vegetables. The active ingredient is Carbaryl. It will eliminate a variety of grubs, beetles, and other pests. It is in a powder form that you just dust over things so it can make your garden look a little messy for some time.
There are many generic brands of dust that contain the same chemical so if you are interested, just look for dust based insecticides that are for vegetables and list Carbaryl as the main active ingredient.
This is typically used for potato beetles. I do have to say that it is a bit controversial in terms of sprays because it does have a toxic effect on honey bees. This is not something you want to use if you have a hive or if your neighbors keep bees.
I like Serenade because it takes care of a lot of fungal infections and is organic. At the same time, there is a warning to wear a mask when spraying it. The name brand is fairly easy to find but there are less expensive generic equivalents that you can buy. Use Serenade to control black spot, gray mold, powdery mildew, leaf blight and rust, and much more.
This is something you can just mix up at home. Here is a link to an excellent article on how to make your own pepper spray for use in your garden. This is a natural solution for those that are experiencing a lot of insect damage to plants.
Sulfur is an excellent natural fungicide. You can mix it up as a spray or use it as a dust. A little goes a long way. 4 lb bags are good to have on hand but if you are going to use it a lot and have the space you can definitely save some money by purchasing a 50 lb bag at a farm supply store and then storing it away in buckets or similar. This is a way to put back a lot of fungicide for hard times. Just because something is easy to get now doesn’t mean it will be in the future.
This is a very effective fungicide but you, unfortunately, have to make it at home. It smells and is caustic even when diluted down to the right strength so you need to always wear good eye protection and a face covering. It is fairly easy to make but it is a smelly process. It is something that is widely known among grape growers. Here is a link to how to make it. We always reduce the recipe down to just make 5 gallons or so at a time. There is no rule saying you have to make a ton at once. It keeps forever in thick plastic jugs.
Sometimes it can be hard to find baking soda online for a reasonable cost since so many are putting it back but at the same time, it is something that a lot of preppers keep around. It is effective against powdery mildew and early blight. The video above shows how to make a spray for using in your garden.
Peroxide kills a variety of harmful fungi and bacteria but you do need to be careful how strong you mix your solution or you risk damaging your plants. If using standard 3% hydrogen peroxide like that found at regular drug stores you just need to add a single teaspoon to a cup of water to make a spray. So for a full 16 oz spray bottle you would need 2 tsp. You can spray after every rainfall to prevent fungus. Peroxide also helps rid your garden of some insects too. Here is an article that explains how to use peroxide in a lot more detail.
Sodium Percarbonate (Non-Scented Oxygen Cleaner)
This breaks down into oxygen, water, and soda ash fairly rapidly but before doing so it basically sanitizes the surface of plants and fruits. Yes, you can buy name brand products like Mil-Stop or Green Cure and such but they are very overpriced. Once you know the chemical names for pesticides and fungicides you can save a lot by purchasing the pure form and diluting. We do this all the time. Add 1 tbsp per gallon of water. Don’t mix more than you need as this spray does not stay stable. Spray every 2 weeks to prevent mildew. If you have any spray left over, you can use it to clean around the house as you would oxygen cleaner.
All preppers should have some diatomaceous earth on hand because it is just so darn useful for so many things. For starters, it will eliminate fleas and ticks on your dog and areas where they hang out a lot and sleep. In the garden, diatomaceous earth will help eliminate bugs. Dust on plants and the areas surrounding them. You can get a duster that will “poof” it onto plants with a simple push or squeeze. For more info on diatomaceous earth, check out our in-depth article.
This is something that everyone with a small piece of land that wants to grow anything at all should spread. Milk spore is a powder that is spread on the soil of gardens, pastures, etc. It works to prevent grubs that form into insects by not letting them get past the larvae stage. You just sprinkle it on the ground. This is good to do after a little rain but when you know that it is not going to rain a lot for 12 hours. The moisture helps it stick.
It keeps forever if kept dry and not exposed to very extreme heat. I recommend just buying a 20 lb bag and then storing what is left so you can reapply over the years. The shaker cans sold at home improvement stores very expensive compared to the large bag. I think the last time I checked it was nearly $30 for a 10 ounce shaker or $50 for a full 20 lb bag. Split the cost and bag with a friend if you want but don’t waste money on the tiny shaker.
Milky Spore prevents Japanese Beetles for a long time. We spread some a decade ago and we are still seeing a major reduction in beetles.
Dr. Earth Fungicide Concentrate
This is an essential oil based fungicide that is quite effective. It actually makes your garden smell good rather than chemical like. You can buy it premixed but I recommend just getting a bottle of the concentrate and mixing your own as needed.
Other Pesticides and Fungicides
Of course there are plenty of other chemical pesticides and fungicides to choose from. Captan is one that is very effective but I would not use it unless the problem really cannot be solved by using one of the natural or less harsh methods discussed in this post.
Sprays work best when they have time to dry. Many bottles will say how long the ideal period is for drying. For example, a bottle of spray might say to spray when you know you have a 24 hour period without any rain. If it comes a downpour a few hours after you spray then you probably are going to have to do it again fairly soon.
There is evidence that some plants can help others keep bugs and insects away. In fact some of the plants that can help are actually flowers and can make your garden look even nicer or provide you with some cut flowers to brighten your home.
Manual Removal of Some Bugs and Grubs
Manual methods are only practical on a small scale or on homesteads and farms where there is an abundance of labor. Bug removal duty is something kids can do for example.
Colorado Potato beetles and Japanese Beetles and more can be removed by getting a bucket of soapy water. Dish soap will work just fine or you can use Dr Bronnors if you prefer a more natural soap for use around your place. Go through and knock them off into the bucket and they will not be able to get out of the soapy water so they will drown.
Washing Fruits and Vegetables
ORGANIC DOES NOT MEAN NON-TOXIC!
It is very important that new gardeners and old alike understand that just because something is labeled as organic, doesn’t mean it is not harmful to breathe in or consume. A lot of deadly or harmful substances are 100% organic.
Make sure to wash your fruits and vegetables before consuming them. Don’t get me wrong, if it was just a downpour and your garden got totally soaked or it has been raining for days, you are probably fine eating something without washing it but you still are probably going to want to so you can avoid bugs, dirt, or anything else that crawls.
Wear a face covering and goggles when spraying your garden.
Different pesticides and fungicides have different safety gear requirements. While I would wear just a dust mask or even a bandanna around my face when spraying something like Neem, if I am spraying lime sulfur, spinosad, or Serenade, I am going to wear at least an N-95 or equivalent. I know those are hard to come by but you would be fine wearing one of the cloth masks that are being made at home. When it comes to masks, something is better than nothing. More harsh sprays like Captan or other chemicals may require a P-100 or better mask.
No matter what you are spraying, make sure to wear something over your eyes. It just takes a little wind to send that fine mist into your eyes. Some of the organic sprays can really hurt. Lime sulfur is fantastic against fungus but you definitely don’t want that in your eyes. If you do get any sprays in your eyes, make sure to stop and go rinse your eyes for a few minutes. We keep one of those eye wash cups and a bottle of saline around for fast removal.
Carefully consider what you are trying to grow. Opt for things that are known to work well in your area.
While it can be fun to try to get challenging things to grow, make sure that you are not doing too much of that. One reason people sometimes have to use more sprays and get less yield regardless is that they are trying to grow things that are challenging at best in their climatic zone. I know all about this via my experience growing grapes. It has been incredibly challenging to grow a lot of varieties that are supposed to do ok here. Those that are in the wine industry in North Carolina that are growing the classic varieties of wine grapes that are familiar to you by name face incredible challenges. They have to spray a lot of chemicals very often to keep pests at bay and fungus from their fruit.
As a home gardener or homesteader trying to grow food for your family, it is critical that you devote your space to crops that are both high yielding and known to grow well in your area. Search online for your county extension service website or look online for local gardening info. There are also many Facebook groups and garden clubs that you can reach out to.
Check your USDA Zone for some basic guidance but be aware of micro climates.
A lot of people have seen the colorful maps produced by the USDA showing what zone you are in based on average low and high temperatures. While these are great general guidelines, you may find that your area performs half a climate zone differently than your neighbors just down the road. This is really common in the mountains of North Carolina where I live.
If you look closer at a USDA map, you will notice that zones are often broken up into A or B. So you might be in Zone 6 overall but technically you are in Zone 6B. The direction your land faces is also a factor. So if your average temps barely put you in Zone 7 perhaps you should stick to crops that thrive best in Zone 6 or consider what you need to do to protect crops in the event of colder than average temperatures. One method of course is just to plant some things a little later than they usually are planted so that you are past the danger of frost.
Be careful about mixing some pesticides and herbicides or not allowing certain amounts of time between spraying one or the other.
Some sprays interact with each other. Always read the instructions on bottles for warnings about what sprays you shouldn’t mix or if you should wait a given amount of time before using another spray. Not heeding these warnings can lead to the death of your plants in some cases or at least severe burning and lesions.
Do you have any tips for controlling insects and fungi in the garden? What methods do you find are most effective?