Entomologist John Jackson: “Bugs and Weeds Away–the Natural Way”

On May 29, John Jackson (BA in biology, MA in zoology, PhD in entomology) spoke on having a weed-free sidewalk and neutralizing mosquito breeding spots without using harmful chemicals. His talk at Iron Works Church in West Chester was sponsored by Don’t Spray Me! / Sierra Club and the South West Association of Neighbors (SWAN).

Here are some highlights of his talk and the subsequent discussion (with some resorting of topics):

1) Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are the best-known insects in the world, because of their role in spreading diseases, especially malaria, yellow fever, and dengue. But the ways chemical tools have been overused against them are not in the interest of either people or wildlife. Chemicals may be needed to prevent massive epidemics, especially in the tropics, but when overused become ineffective because insects develop resistance.

There are lots of biting flies beyond mosquitoes. Here, the predominantly evening-biting Culex mosquitoes can carry West Nile Virus but day-biting Aedes (including Asian Tiger, which has been in the US only since 1985) almost never do. People should not view all insects (of which most don’t bite) as enemies.

Culex, the “house mosquito,” overwinters as adults in sheds, porches, tree hollows, and other sheltered areas. The adult mosquitoes we see in May have overwintered; they may have not yet had time to reproduce. Culex mosquitoes love urban environments, where they lay eggs in water where larvae feed on bacteria and organic matter.

West Nile Virus, which came to the US in 1999, depends on birds as a reservoir (unlike Zika, whose reservoir is people, making it easier to contain, as recently in Miami). Some birds, which in the past were often dying of WNV, appear now to be developing immunity. Fortunately, WNV is not transmitted through mosquito eggs, only from a bitten bird to another bitten bird or human. Known human WNV cases have been rare in PA.

Effective non-chemical defenses include tight-fitting screens, fans on ceilings or porches, repellents (notably lemon eucalyptus oil, picaridin, or citronella oil), various odoriferous granules spread in gardens or lawns.

Fogging with pesticides is a bad idea, because it kills many species, including mosquito predators like spiders; drift cannot be controlled; and it kills only adult mosquitoes, whereas many more larvae are just waiting to hatch every day and take over the air space.

The absolutely most important thing is to eliminate standing water, including where we might not think of it: in plastic bottles, the folds of tarps, in the fixed bottoms under some potted plants, even vases in cemeteries.

From mosquito egg to adult probably takes 10-15 days when weather is hot and damp, but 25-30 days with temperatures in the 70’s.

The bacteria-based larvcide Bti is very effective at killing mosquito larvae. The biscuits and granules have slower release than liquid and powder form. The hormonal Methoprene is also not toxic and prevents the metamorphosis to adult.

One of the worst sampling stations is in SE West Chester; it is not clear if that is related to Goose Creek. Trash in suburban streams creates mosquito habitat. And water can stand in old storm sewer lines like the Borough’s.

2) Weeds

Some undesired plants, like dandelions and poison ivy, are best dug up. Weeds are tough, but weakening them by cutting off the leaves a few times makes them more vulnerable to other treatments.

Old-school boiling water works really well; be careful, wear boots and goggles! Ditto butane flame torches. Or: a weak acid breaks down cell walls; vinegar works, but changes the soil chemistry.

He prefers to use 1 cup of borax (another kind of salt) in 1 gallon of warm water to kill weeds. The borax concentration can be doubled if needed. It also, for better or worse, it also kills ants, moss, lichen, and liverwort. Two applications a summer usually suffice, preferably in hot dry weather, since rain washes the borax away.

Regular table salt also kills plants; witness the die-off this past winter along roads and alleys in the Borough, which uses salt and brine to melt snow and ice. Municipalities tend to use twice as much salt as 20 years ago, even though less harmful substances are available. As a result, streams have increased chloride levels; he measured half the salt content of seawater in one stream.


excess salt, edge of alley, West Chester, 12/20/17

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DSM’s secret weed-killing formula

by Jim Hudgings

Here is the sidewalk spray recipe used by the Sierra Club Youth Corps program in summer 2017, as a good alternative to toxic herbicides:

1 gallon distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup table salt
1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap

I pour a small amount of vinegar from the jug into my sprayer in order to make room in the jug for salt, then pour the salt into the jug of vinegar and shake it vigorously to dissolve the salt so that it won’t clog my sprayer nozzle. Pour the salted vinegar into the sprayer and add the liquid dish soap. Briefly swirl the sprayer to mix in the soap, but not enough to generate suds. Spray it on the sidewalk, ideally in the morning of a very sunny day.

When finished, I spray plain water for a few seconds to clean the wand and nozzle in order to avoid re-crystallized salt from clogging the nozzle.

Mass Roundup spraying along West Chester Railroad tracks

This was posted in Nextdoor 5/7/18:

Spraying by West Chester RR

If you live along the WCRR ! On 4/23/18 at 9:30 AM an Ehrlich Pest Control truck was driving on the WCRR tracks from West Chester to Glen Mills spraying the ‘herbicide’ Round UP!!! This cloud of poison drifted out away from the tracks about 50 feet settling on anything within this range, including my dogs which I quickly brought inside. If you read about Round Up in the news, then you should be concerned about its effects on the environment. Please contact the WCRR and your local officials and voice your concern over its use in this manner. I had called the WCRR and asked what they were spraying, a representative left me a message stating that they were using Round Up to kill weeds along the tracks.

Bob Fox, Green Brier

Tell the Environmental Protection Agency: Ban Roundup Now

Petition from Environmental Action

Since their peak in the mid-90s, monarch populations have decreased by 90 percent, in part due to the widespread use of Roundup and other toxic pesticides. Tell the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban Roundup, so we can save this incredible insect before it’s too late.

The monarch butterfly is an iconic species that migrates through the heart of the United States each year. Unfortunately, the number of monarchs has decreased by 90 percent since their peak in the mid-90s.

Pollution-driven climate change is part of the problem. But we’re also allowing the destruction of milkweed — the monarchs’ main habitat and food source — through the rapid acceleration in use of Monsanto’s toxic Roundup and Roundup Ready crops.

Please stand with the millions of wildlife enthusiasts across the country in protecting this iconic species by banning Roundup.

Missouri Organic Family Farm Faces Ruin After Herbicide Drift

by Ken Roseboro, EcoWatch, 2/4/18

Herbicide drift has been a major problem last year damaging millions of acres of crops in the U.S.

An organic farmer in Missouri has seen firsthand how destructive herbicide drift can be as it destroys his crops and threatens his livelihood and farm.

Mike Brabo and his wife Carol own Vesterbrook Farm in Clarksville, Missouri, about an hour north of St. Louis near the Mississippi River. The farm has been in Carol’s family for nearly a century. The couple and their two children have worked the farm since 2008 after Mike survived thyroid cancer.

At that time Mike gained an appreciation for organic foods but found it difficult to afford them. “It’s expensive to buy organic fruits and vegetables at Whole Foods,” he said.

Mike and Carol decided to grow their own. It wasn’t difficult to convert the farm to organic since no chemicals had been used on the land….

read more at EcoWatch