Today, people are more aware than ever of the dangers posed by the use of man-made chemical pesticides. The poisons kill more than just the insects that are targeted. They kill bees and other beneficial insects. They run off into rivers and lakes, contaminating the water tables that we drink from and killing fish. They are absorbed by fruits and vegetables, making it impossible to wash them away prior to eating them. More and more home gardeners are turning to natural alternatives, just as many people are choosing organic foods in the markets. Neem oil is one of the natural alternatives.
It should be mentioned that food at the store that is labeled as organic doesn’t mean that no chemical pesticides have been used. Labeling can be quite deceptive. There is simply stricter control over what can be used and how much can be used. Neem oil, on the other hand, is not man-made.
Source of Neem
Neem oil comes from the seeds of the neem tree, which is native to India. People are often surprised to learn that some of the substances in neem oil are used in such products as toothpaste, soap and cosmetics. Although this may shock many people, the point is that in the quantities normally used, neem is non-toxic to birds, wildlife, bees and people. Naturally, care should be taken when handling neem oil, since it is usually purchased in a concentrated form.
One of the things that make neem so good is that it not only repels and kills many insect pests, it also breaks down quickly. Unlike man-made chemical pesticides, it doesn’t linger in the environment.
Neem is a repellent that has an aroma that is rather like the mixture of sulfur and garlic. It also kills insects that eat foliage that has been sprayed with the oil by both preventing them from eating as much of the plants and wrecking havoc with the insect’s reproductive cycle. While it is known that the substance in neem that is most responsible for this action is azadirachtin, precisely how it works isn’t known. Azadirachtin is a skin irritant, though, so exposure to the skin should be limited as much as possible, when applying it.
The name, Azadirachtin, comes from the botanical name of the tree; Azadirachta indica and the genus name actually means “noble tree”. Interestingly, neem is used by herbalists for several maladies, including diabetes, tuberculosis, fever, upset stomach and arthritis.
What Neem is Used For in the Garden
The insects that are killed by neem are primarily those that feed on the sprayed foliage. This means that the biggest pests are the ones that are affected, such as aphids, grasshoppers, spider mites, leaf hoppers, and caterpillars. The action is usually not noticed immediately, as one would expect from chemical pesticides. However, it is much safer to use and quite effective. There is also an exception. When sprayed on aphids, whiteflies, thrips or spider mites, the effects are often nearly immediate, because neem suffocates them.
Neem does break down rapidly once it is mixed with water or when it reaches the soil. This means that once a gardener mixes some up, it should be used immediately, for the best results.
If you have insect pests and don’t want to resort to chemicals that can linger for years and which are as poisonous to you, your pets and to wildlife as they are to the harmful insects, neem would be the pesticide to use. It is one of nature’s answers to destructive garden insects. You can use neem and still have honestly organically grown food.