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One of the biggest problems that organic gardeners face is how to keep animals out of the garden and keep insects from destroying their plants without using any harmful chemicals.
This problem isn’t really a new one at all, though, because before the term “organic” even existed, farmers and gardeners have been facing this same dilemma for centuries.
On a recent visit to Old Sturbridge Village, my favorite living history museum, I learned about one of the old-fashioned methods that gardeners in previous centuries used to help keep animals and insects from destroying their garden.
This method requires just one simple thing: onions! You can use them in two different ways, but with just a simple onion, you can have a really easy and frugal way to help keep your garden free of insects and animals naturally.
Method #1 for Small Animals
The first way to use onions is to plant onion seedlings around your garden, either by planting them around the perimeter, or by putting them near the plants you want to protect. If squirrels and chipmunks keep digging up your squash and pumpkin seeds, for example, you could plant onions near those seeds since squirrels and chipmunks don’t like the scent of onion.
I planted my onion seedlings about a foot apart. The idea is just to have them close enough together so that the scent will be a deterrent, but far enough apart so that you don’t have to buy a whole greenhouse worth of onion seedlings to get the job done.
NOTE: This method seems to work best for smaller animals like squirrels and chipmunks, but it doesn’t seem to work for rabbits, at least not in my experience anyways. I haven’t had any problems this year with squirrels and chipmunks in my garden, but I’ve had bunnies eating some of my bean plants, so the onion scent must not be much of a deterrent for them. I also couldn’t say whether this would work for woodchucks or deer since I haven’t had any around my yard at all this year, but I have my doubts that it would work for them.
- Easy and simple
- No maintenance needed (besides watering) – plant once and you’re done
- Non toxic – won’t harm animals or people
- You can harvest and eat the onions at the end of the season
- Works best for smaller animals like squirrels and chipmunks
- May require a lot of onion seedlings, depending on the size of your garden and which plants need the most protection
Method #2 for Insects
The way to use onions to keep insects away from your seedlings is to make an “onion tea.” To make it, you simply slice up an onion and put it in a watering can, then fill the watering can with water and put it out in the sun for a few hours to let the onion steep in the water.
Then, once it has steeped, water any plants that are having a problem with insects, making sure to get the leaves. This method won’t kill the insects, but it will drive them away because they don’t like the smell of the onion.
Since this method requires reapplication after rainstorms and since you have to water the plants by hand with the onion tea, it’s more practical if you have a few plants in your garden that are really having an insect problem. It might be a bit too time-consuming to use as a preventive measure for your entire garden (unless you’re a more dedicated gardener than I am!), but it’s a good method for dealing with insects without having to worry about putting something toxic in your garden.
- Simple and easy
- Non toxic
- Takes a little time to prepare (mostly waiting for it to “steep.”)
- Has to be re-applied after it rains or after watering
I think it’s really interesting to learn about the ways that people living in earlier centuries used simple things like onions to help protect the vegetables in their gardens. And I know that when it comes to food I’m going to be eating, I would much rather use something natural like onions in my garden than spray my plants with chemical pesticides!
Do you know of any other natural gardening tips? Let us know in the comments!
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