Updated: Jul 16, 2021
Allow me to begin by saying this is not a simple solution to your current troubles. Rather, in order to control “pests” in a natural way, a healthy enviornment must be established first. Truth is, there is no such thing as a “pest” when it comes to the natural world. There is only imbalance in an ecosystem that leads to overpopulation of advantageous species.
In permaculture, we learn that increasing biodiversity in a local environment will inevitably culminate in an equilibrium in all wild flora, fauna, and microbes. While there are invasive species, most destructive insects can be mitigated using nontoxic methods and all poisons should be completely avoided.
Aphids are a farmer's worst nightmare. An infestation can wipe out an entire season's crop, simply a devastation to the monoculture farm (all one type of crop). When many of the same type of plant are close together, pests run wild because they expand their population exponentially to feed on the farmer supplied bottomless buffet. This can be mitigated quite easily by growing many different types of plants to separate all similar crops from each other. The bugs will no longer reproduce as rapidly because they do not see any advantage in doing so. Another similar method is to plant bait crops, plants that attract certain bugs to keep them off of the ones you care more about.
In a diverse and expansively populated ecosystem the "pests" are managed by a more extensive food chain. Aphids specifically are eaten by beetles and lady bugs, birds eat the beetles and so forth. Aphids are even farmed by ants for a steady supply of that sweet sweet honey dew, a sticky substance produced by the tiny bugs. The ants preyed on by all the creatures above them in the food chain as well. Every part of the food chain is important to keeping it sustainable. In a healthy and thriving biosphere, the term “pest” no longer holds any value. Even the lowly aphid has its necessary place.
How do we get to the point of having an unhealthy biosphere? Imbalance in an ecosystem begins small. For instance let’s say an area of soil loses its nutritional value, the microbes die or vacate the land because of heat, drought, or toxic substances. Eventually the multitude of plants will stop growing. Many plants that housed specific types of bug cease to exist in the area. The lizards that feed on them don't have have a chance to survive. The birds abandon the area and are no longer there eat the berries and seeds from wild or native plants. So no new planting happens naturally. The soil becomes barren, and desertification takes a stronghold. Then locusts, grasshoppers, ants, etc. become the dominant species and the land seems almost unredeemable.
In order to implement a change to the balance of a location that seems hopeless, action will need to be taken in small increments. It is not easy to restore balance to an environment that is irrefutably damaged. It is a long and slow process that may take years. As the ecosystem begins to be restored, some creatures may seem to populate out of hand. Not too worry! Their respectful predator is surely on the way in due time. Eventually the chord will be struck.
There are countless ways to start rebalancing an environment. Be sure to check out "What is Permaculture?", where there are many different method to begin your journey into cultivating biological kingdom symbiosis.
Always research natural ways to get rid of bugs before using any kind of pesticide! While I will refrain from a detailed list of managing invasive species and overpopulation of specific insects, I can give you a simple example. With aphids in particular, if you notice some clusters on a single plant, you can actually just spray them off with the hose periodically to keep them from becoming an infestation.
If you are having a problem with a specific overpopulation of an insect, always research natural ways to handle the problem. With proper permaculture methods, such as companion planting, liquid fertilizing and keeping livestock, you shouldn’t have any issues to begin with. If you do find yourself in a situation requiring immediate remedy, attempt at all costs to avoid pesticides!
The gardener that uses poison to rid their garden of any specific life, also poisons their soil, the decomposers and microscopic creatures, beneficial pollinators and flying insects. Anything that comes in contact with most commercial fertilizer is at risk of serious health problems. Even YOU.
Instead we must evolve our thinking and begin to appreciate every living thing for what it contributes to the natural world. Dandelion, clover, thistle, pillbug, ant, crow, gopher, and human alike. We especially need to understand our impact on the environment, because Nature themselves may often view as a pest.
Eventually, in your garden or farm, with a encouraged plethora of plant species, a mosaic of mammals, bunches of birds, you will begin to see the balance restored. Pests no longer exist, because the food chain becomes sustainable and symbiotic. That is when the magic of nature truly reveals itself!
Like, share, and subscribe to High Altitude Homestead for the clearest solutions to your natural problems.