Summer in the Garden: Neem Oil
By: Jennifer, Arbico Organics
What are we busy doing pestwise this time of year out there in the garden? We are most busily fighting off the adult stages of many offensive pests, we are on high mosquito alert and while a few caterpillars might be O.K. in our sanctioned butterfly zone, most of them are doing far too much damage in the veggie patch. How do we fight them best? one of the deadliest weapons available to the organic gardener Neem Oil.
Neem Oil is a wonderful thing. It's extracted from the seeds of a tree with a name that chimes like sweet fairy bells in the ears of insect haters across the land, Azadirachta indica. But the coarser amongst us just call it the Indian Neem Tree. So over in India (and surrounding countries), folks harvest the fruit of this prolific and widespread tree, take off the green husks and sell the seeds in large quantities to even larger facilities where the oil is pressed and the remnants are sold as "neem cake" to use as organic fertilizer which goes straight back to the surrounding farmland. As a whole, it's a fabulous, renewable resource ready to replace all of our petrochemically derived pesticides for centuries into the future.
Of course this is all a big environmental hurray, but really now how does it work? Well, one of the main components of Neem Oil is the chemical azadirachtin (from the latin name for the tree itself) along with many other active compounds. I would tell you that it was a tetranortriterpenoid with a plethora of oxygen functionality, but then you might very well throw this article into the trash if you couldn't find me to smack directly with it. Instead I'll tell you that there are two main ways neem works. The first is that it serves as an anti-feedant, which is just what you want it to mean when you're looking at your beautiful tomato plants riddled with scalloped leaves. Simply spray it on and bugs stop eating! The main trick in this kind of an application is to get adequate coverage.
The second main thing neem does is it functions as a hormone disruptor in the insect's body. Hormones in insects function much like they do in humans-they surge, which causes bodily transformations that take them to the next life stage. But when neem is around, these surges are prevented, so a caterpillar stays a caterpillar (a non-hungry caterpillar) instead of being able to become a moth, lay more eggs, damage your garden forevermore, etc. etc. There's a weird German word they've invented to describe this phenomenon which I won't trouble you with and that's because I'm just so glad that no one has figured out how to make permanent human teenagers, I don't want to let out any ideas.
Neem functions in far too many ways to begin to finish up here, but suffice it to say that it kills small soft-bodied insects and mites directly, serves as a fungicide, kills plant parasitic nematodes but is compatible with beneficial nematodes (don't even get me started on that one-it's almost too amazing to believe), kills algae and mosses where you don't want them and is not harmful to bees, most higher insects (like all the parasitoids and other good bugs we like to keep around to keep the pests down) or earthworms!
OK, now I have you convinced that this is the most amazing stuff on earth and you want to buy some. Well if you thought that tetranortriterpenoid business was confusing, prepare to be truly dazzled. At ARBICO Organics we carry 13 different products derived from neem, all with different names, labels, concentrations, extractions, artwork and apparent function. This is because the EPA requires each specific use to be exactly labeled so that we know precisely how to use the products in the absolute safest way. So what may seem confusing at first is really quite a relief when you get the bottle and you know exactly what to do instead of having the neem oil facility in India ship a puzzling bottle of liquid direct to you. Neem is extraordinarily safe or we wouldn't sell it. It's the most sustainable product to have joined the Bug War for quite some time now, but it's been here all along.
See the list below for descriptions of several of our neem products or simply call; I’ll be happy to describe all the ones we didn’t have room for here! We can always figure out exactly which product will best suit your individual needs. Happy Neem-ing!
See Our Neem Oil Insecticides