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Paper wasps's nest

Organic strategies for household pests

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It’s one thing to be organic outside in the garden, but all too easy to slip into conventional thinking inside the house. JUSTIN RUSSELL outlines some basic strategies for organic pest control around the home.

Just like a weed is a weed is a weed, a pest is a pest is a pest: Annoying, persistent, disruptive. In our gardens we’ve come up with lots of ingenious, and at times not so ingenious, ways of protecting our precious crops from whatever insect or animal is looking for a free lunch. But I always get a bit shocked by how many self proclaimed organic gardeners suddenly become chemical brandishing fiends inside the house.

I get shocked because I was once just as described. I used and endorsed organic principles outside. But indoors, we had our house treated with toxic chemicals once per year, sprayed insecticide with abandon, and basically nuked any creature that competed for a share of my living space. In short, I was a hypocrite. If you’re organic outside, you should also be organic inside.

A move to the country seven years ago was the perfect circuit breaker. Upon taking up residence, we ditched the annual fumigation. We keep the house clean and make sure there isn’t a food source available for pests to eat. We maintain good flyscreens on the windows and doors to exclude the pests (just like exclusion netting on my favourite fruit trees). Gaps in the walls or floor that provide entry points for rodents have been plugged with wire mesh. Blowflies from the next door cow paddocks that sneak in are summarily swatted, rather than sprayed. And when I do need to spray something I use pyrethrum instead of whatever on earth the big chemical companies put in a standard can of Mortein.

I even go so far as to let a natural pest/predator balance develop. Despite having a mild phobia of spiders, I allow some (the least toxic species – no redbacks or funnel webs, thankyou) to build webs and hunt down pests. I also leave wasps alone, for the most part. We don’t have a problem with those nasty yellow jackets, and nearly all my local species are non-aggressive.

A few summers ago some paper wasps built a nest directly above the back door, just a couple of feet above my head. My Dad would have lit them up with a flaming torch, but I let them be, and despite our comings and goings, the wasps never once got aggro – they too simply went about their business. I’ve seen other wasps killing and flying off with baby huntsman spiders. A small family of frogs lives in a pot plant just inside the front door, and make a nightly foray into the house in search of moths.

As a consequence of these actions, (or non-actions, as the case may be) our house has very few pest problems. We never get big black cockroaches. The occasional mouse finds a way through our defences, but they’re easily caught in humane traps, and relocated to provide food for mopoke owls. Ants inevitably creep in, but they’re not an issue. In fact, someone asked me the other day (in the bank, of all places) what I do about ants around the home. My reply: I do nothing. “Nothing!” came the response. That’s right, nothing.