War on Aphids

Several weeks ago, we noticed that there were a lot of ants crawling along the windowsill above our container garden. We weren’t sure whether to be worried; after all, it’s not like they were in the kitchen. But there sure was a steady stream of them.

A while after we noticed the ants, we noticed the aphids. We had a serious (and seriously gross) aphid infestation of our basil plants. According to my Internet research, pesticides were generally a bad idea for aphid infestations because they also kill beneficial insects in addition to the aphids. The recommendation was to knock them off with a strong spray of water, which is impractical for an indoor container garden.

Instead, I decided to pick them off with tape (first Post-it notes then electrical tape). Every few days, Hide and I would wage war, bringing a pot under intense scrutiny and ripping off length after length of tape. It was tiresome, especially since the aphids always came back, undaunted by the deaths of their brethren (technically sistren since pretty much all aphids are females at this time of year). Depending on the particular species of aphid, they may mature in one week and lay eggs every few days. It’s just impossible to keep up with them. And meanwhile, they had already migrated to the arugula plants, and we were ripping up basil leaves each time we fought the aphid war. Our basil were looking sadder and sadder — due more to us than to the aphids.

Tomato leaf spray

Pow pow kill them aphids!

Clearly, the manual method of removing aphids was no longer practical. I went back to the Internet and found an ‘organic’ insecticide formula: tomato leaf spray. Tomato plants apparently contain compounds which are toxic to aphids but not beneficial insects. So we bought a spray bottle, pruned a sucker, stuck it in water, whizzed with the immersion blender, forced it through the AeroPress, filled the spray bottle, and sprayed like there was no tomorrow. I was too impatient to steep overnight, which is why we went through the rigmarole with immersion blender and AeroPress.

Hide was a bit exasperated with me when he found out that the same compounds which are toxic to aphids also cause ‘gastric discomfort’ in humans. He gave me grumpy looks while he washed his AeroPress thoroughly.

I don’t know if the tomato leaf spray is effective. I’ve used it liberally for a couple of days, and I’m making another batch following the suggested ‘steeping overnight’ approach. I’ll report back in a few weeks.

We also decided to deal with the ant problem. Apparently, ants ‘farm’ aphids, but I didn’t see any easy solutions for keeping the ants away from the aphids. When the ants started crawling over me and not just the plants, I had no trouble seeing an easy solution. We bought a can of ant spray and blasted the little buggers until they were dead.

The tips of our tomato plant leaves started turning brown

Brown leaf tip on tomato plant

The ant spray was pretty potent (kills on contact), and I was worried for the health of our plants (and us, when we eat the plants). Our tomato plant leaf tips started browning, and I guess it might be due to the ant spray. We cleaned it up, hopefully arresting the deterioration.

The ants came back once, but I think the spray will easily keep them under control. If only the aphids would die so easily!

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