WHY SHOULDN'T YOU KILL APHIDS OR OTHER BUGS?Gardening is plagued by a speciesist fallacy that I would summarize as a "Don't like it? Kill it" approach. This approach encourages a lack of empathy, values aesthetics over suffering and death, and ultimately contradicts why many of us garden to begin with. We garden because we actually like nature and how we treat it should reflect that. This blog post is intended to speak out against the typical gardening approach that values human pleasure over all else. If you found it, likely because you don't want to kill aphids or other bugs to remove them, hopefully you agree.
One of the first steps to wanting to remove aphids and other insects peacefully is turning them from objects into subjects. We should view them as if they were another person. At the very least, we should consider them to be similar to a cat or dog in what moral obligations we have towards them. This is a huge step up from seeing them as a pest or as no more worthy of our consideration than dirt. One way we can do that is by trying to understand aphids on their own terms.
UNDERSTANDING APHIDSAphids are fascinating animals. I will admit that their number of legs creeps me out a little, but theoretically they are just beautiful. There are roughly 4 400 species of aphids; only about 250 of these are considered "pests" by humans. They come in many colours and can be green, black, pink, or brown.
Some aphids are even "farmed" by ants where the ants will protect them from predators, bring their eggs into the nest over the winter, and stroke them for honeydew. The relationship seems alright, but just like us humans, the ants often take advantage of the aphids. If the aphid herds get too big the ants start to eat them. Finally, aphids can reproduce sexually and asexually.
In the Winter female aphids change from sexual to asexual reproduction and they make female aphid offspring by themselves. Hypothetically, female aphids could continue to carry on the species without males!
PLAN AHEADThe best way to make sure that you don't have to struggle with aphids or other insects is to plan ahead. You can always buy a plant for aphids to encourage them to eat that one instead of eating your precious lettuce. Aphids are attracted to the colour yellow so you could plant or buy potted yellow plants. Sunflowers are a great option if you have the room because they will also provide a food source for birds and squirrels that might be otherwise tempted to eat your other plants as well!
If you are growing plants indoors, start them from seed when possible. If you buy potted plants, keep them in a room without other plants for at least a month. They may have insects or insect eggs on them and it's best to isolate any insects so that they don't spread to all of your other plants. Only buy new potted plants when it is warm outside, in case you do happen to get insects.
If you are growing your plants outdoors, go for plant variety. If you do happen to get aphids, you'll find that they are only interested in some of your plants. If I had only grown lettuce this year, I would have been much more upset when I found some green aphids living on my lettuce plants. It wasn't that big a deal though because I was also growing basil, eggplant, parsley, chives, mint, strawberries and rhubarb that the aphids hadn't touched.
If your garden is outdoors, encourage nature to take care of the aphids on their own. Insects are only a problem when they have an unlimited food source and no predators. If you let nature do its own thing, predators will quickly notice that you have lots of aphids and take care of that for you. You can attract predators by buying plants that ladybugs are attracted to or by making a hidey hole for a frog. If you don't want to add additional plants or build specific habitats, one simple method is to just stop cutting your grass. As soon as I did this my backyard became a home to snakes, burrowing spiders, frogs, praying mantises, and a walking stick.
IF YOU ALREADY HAVE APHIDS OR OTHER INSECTSMost gardening websites encourage getting rid of aphids or other insects with alcohol or soapy water. This is extremely cruel and unnecessary. The aphids won't kill you or even your plants, but you will kill them by doing this. It's an overreaction.
If you have aphids inside your house, move any plants with aphids into a room by themselves. Whether the plants are outdoors or indoors, the first step should be to physically remove the aphids. Snip off any leaves that they are sitting on. If you caught it early enough, you'll lose less than 1/4 of the plant this way. You must take the whole leaf because you may not be able to see eggs that were laid. Put these leaves outside. If you haven't been cutting your grass, you'll have plenty of new food options for your aphids to choose from. You may have to do this for several days in a row, but in a week your plants should be aphid free. I have tried this method myself with no problems.
If you don't have yellow flowers, go buy some. Scroll back up and read plan ahead if you don't know why. You can use the yellow flowers as a transport system to attract aphids, then remove them outside.
Just wait. I had little aphids all over my lettuce and didn't know how to get them out because they were all stuck in between the curled leaves. After the next rainfall, they just vanished.
If, for some reason, you cannot get rid of your aphids, take a deep breath and slow down. Aphids are definitely frustrating, but we all know that it's not acceptable to kill something because it's in your way or frustrating. Sometimes you may lose a plant or two. Life goes on. It won't for them if you decide to take it personally and kill them.
FURTHER READINGIf you want more information about gardening peacefully, check out this post I wrote here.
If you are having problems with ants and would like to get rid of them without killing them, check out this post I wrote on my old blog here.
If you are having problems with ladybugs in your house, check out this post I wrote here.