I have, at various times, held different agricultural pest control licenses in California, including a Private Applicator Certificate, Qualified Applicator License, and Pest Control Business License. I do all my own pest control on my little homestead, for both my home and farm. This article focuses on how to provide the most protection against arthropod pests for your home on a modest budget and in a way you can keep up after TEOTWAWKI. Before going into detail, let’s talk safety, gear and sourcing of materials.
Whenever dealing with pesticides, you must take safety seriously. In this article, I will recommend products that are relatively safe, but that does not mean they are innocuous. You should always wear personal protective equipment and know what you are doing. I don’t have the space here for a full lesson, but would encourage you to purchase the University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources Publications 3383 and 3324 and keep them on your bookshelf. It’s geared toward agriculture, but many of the principles apply to home applications, too. And of course read labels fully and in detail.
You also need a way to properly apply bulk chemicals. On a small scale, you can use a hand-pump applicator, either handheld or a backpack. You will make your life much easier if, instead, you get a motorized backpack sprayer. I have a strong preference for the Stihl brand and I also keep smaller, handheld mechanical options around. You should also get a small hand dust applicator (less than $10).
Do not buy your materials at the hardware store if you can help it. Do whatever you need to register with an agricultural chemical distributor and go in and make all your purchases at once. Many products can be bought in bulk, without any license, from ePestControl.com or DIYPestControl.com. You should be able to save a lot of cash this way and will then have enough materials on hand to see you through a long period.
Please do your own research on any pests that concern you. Learn to properly identify potential pests and learn about their life cycles, so you can maximize the efficiency of your control methods. This article can only touch on the basics and point you in the right direction. With no further ado, here are the basics of keeping a home free of bugs.
Exclusion and Sanitation
Try to exclude pests from your home. One of your first lines of defense is keeping the pests out. Make sure you stockpile wood filler, caulk, weather-stripping, steel wool, screening material, and similar products to fill cracks, gaps and block pathways into your home or places for pests to hide. Most of these products are inexpensive and will also help you keep your home well-insulated.
Keep your home clean of food sources and water, using totes, jars, Tupperware and organizers and cleaning products and equipment. In addition to exclusion, sanitation should come before any application of chemicals. If you keep your home clean of food and moisture – deal with plumbing leaks – then pests have much less reason to come in. Also, keeping outdoor lights turned off will attract fewer insects and the spiders that eat them. You can also use Tupperware to place bedframe legs and other furniture legs in, to keep bugs out.
I just want to re-emphasize the importance of sanitation and exclusion. Make your home a hard target. Keep wood dry, so it’s a harder target for wood-destroying pests. Keep branches away from your roof, so pests can’t get in. Keep landscaping away from your walls to reduce habitat. The list goes on and on, but always think in terms of how to reduce habitat, minimize pathways into the home and eliminate sources of food and water.
Controlling Specific Arthropod Pests
Ant infestations can be controlled in a variety of ways, but I would stick to the most effective: lures with boron-based poison. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, you must deal with ants invading your home immediately and aggressively or they could become a forever problem. Ant bait generally consists of sugar water, possibly other lures and some form of boron. Boron is not dangerous to warm-blooded animals but kills ants. The workers will bring the food back to the queen and thereby exterminate their own colony.
You can buy or make small trays to leave the poison out for the ants. You can make your own mixture to save money: do your research online and see what works for the ants in your area. You can also buy bottles of premade stuff: Green Way is a good brand. It runs about $60 per gallon, but this gallon should last you years or even decades for in-home control.
You may also need to kill ants outside the house. Fire ants can be a serious danger to small children and aphid problems are often best controlled by killing off the ants that protect them. The KM Ant Pro bait station is great for this, but it is a bit pricey, at about $40 for a single station. I’ve had little success with homemade traps in an outdoor setting. The KM Ant Pro is also great at conserving the boron-sugar solution, by limiting its consumption to ants.
You can control ants with pyrethrid pesticides but a much less toxic alternative, if you need it, is diatomaceous earth (DE), which can be applied as a perimeter to keep ants out. I find both to be a waste of money, if you can set up bait stations and keep your home clean and well-sealed. On the other hand, DE can help with other bugs, too, so it can be worth keeping some on hand.
Stinging social insects include bees and wasps and can be deadly. First off, learn which of these are truly enemies. Typically, only yellow jackets are problem. Paper wasps can also be problematic, but tend to stay away from human dwellings. You should generally leave all other wasps alone, as they control other pests, especially spiders.
Wear thick, protective clothing when battling wasps and consider getting a beekeeper’s head covering. Cans of wasp spray work very well, as they spray far away and work really well. They contain various pyrethrid chemicals. These chemicals are toxic and costly, making them a bad solution at scale (you can buy pyrethrids in bulk to put into your backpack sprayer.) Still, buying a case of generic wasp spray from Amazon is a sound investment.
In addition, you should mix your own spray and aggressively target yellow jackets and their nests when they are first trying to nest. You can make an effective spray out of inexpensively purchased peppermint oil and Dawn soap (or stylet-style horticultural oil). A spray bottle or larger hand sprayer works fine for targeting single wasps and small, new nests. A motorized backpack sprayer can be used to deal with larger nests and those in hard-to-reach places. For situations that don’t warrant the backpack sprayer but seem dangerous to go after with just a spray bottle, use the canned sprays, as the pyrethrids incapacitate the wasps upon contact.
All that being said, I do keep a bottle of bulk pyrethrid chemicals on hand. For one, it is a good nuclear option for many arthropod pest issues. Second, ground hornet nests are difficult and dangerous to work with. Using bulk insecticide in my Stihl backpack sprayer makes it much easier and safer.
Make note of where wasps tend to nest and block these and similar spots. Holes in fenceposts, gaps in exterior home trim, cracks in barn doors and other such crevices are often targeted by hornets. When the nesting season begins, try to inspect any nesting locations you’ve found and search out any new ones.
You should also use wasp traps. Buy some commercial wasp traps, as they work well, but bait them yourself with bits of cooked meat and fruit juice, instead of stockpiling commercial lures. Learn about wasp diets and seasonality. You want to attract them with the right baits at the right times.
Cockroaches are treated mainly with baits. Keep some on hand, but don’t waste your money on too many. The fact is, if you can’t control cockroaches through sanitation and exclusion, no pesticide will keep them under control for long.
Termites can be controlled through a variety of methods. Because they can destroy your home, invest in termite protection. If you have a foundation, you’ll need to buy an injector and chemicals to go with it. If you have a crawlspace, a backpack sprayer with pyrethrids (like cypermethrin) can be used to protect the wood under your home.
Regularly inspect vulnerable wood for termites so you can get them early and keep wood in good condition. You should also use termite monitoring stations around the perimeter of any buildings you want to protect. These are basically plastic cages with wood in them that you open and check regularly. If you see termites, then you insert a container of wood impregnated with an insect growth regulator called Shatter. Shatter is expensive, but effective and safe for mammals. The termites will bring the poisoned wood back to their queen and eliminate their own colony, though it may take 2-3 weeks to fully work. Catching the termites when they first show up outside your house will limit how much Shatter you need to use to save your home. I’ve kept my barn safe from high termite pressure for years this way. You can increase efficacy by first soaking the bait wood in Gatorade to soften and sweeten it.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)