Homemade Pest Repellent Spray and Salsa Dancing

I wish my yard were buzzing with wasps.* Yes, wasps. Some species are predatory and feed on harmful garden insects. Others are parasitic, laying their eggs on aphids, caterpillars and other bugs. When the larvae hatch, they destroy their host–hopefully a cabbage moth caterpillar or an aphid! I haven’t seen any wasps in my garden yet (many parasitic wasp species are quite small) but unfortunately, I have spotted aphids, cabbage moths, flea beetles, and asparagus beetles. I try to keep calm when I see huge chunks missing from my broccoli transplants, or notice how pock-marked and scabby my arugula seedlings are getting. I remind myself everything’s gotta eat; I try to respect the delicate balance of the food chain; and admit some plants will simply get sacrificed, but many will pull through… blah, blah, blah…

And then I concoct a pesticide.


herbal tea base (in the jar), repellent spray (in the spray bottle), vegetable oil, dish soap

This spray will suffocate bugs upon contact, but I use it mostly to keep them from landing on plants in the first place.


I’m not sure who’s eating my broccoli? Slugs? I know the cabbage worms aren’t out yet…


Arugula seedlings attacked by flea beetles. This is my THIRD planting–they decimated the other two. Small brassicas (like arugula) are esp. susceptible to flea beetle. Once the plants get bigger the beetles are less likely to affect the plant.

Now then, let’s get on to business… Here’s my recipe for Homemade Pest Repellent Spray

  • 8-10 cups water
  • combination lovage, oregano, thyme (This is what I use because I have an abundance of it in my garden. I think rosemary and sage would also work.)
  • 3 tablespoons, or more, of freshly minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 1 drop dish soap
  • Submerge as many herbs as you can in the water (to make it as strong as possible). Bring tea to a boil, add fresh minced garlic, cover pot and remove from heat. Let steep for 24 to 48 hours. Strain solids from the tea and add oil and dish soap. Pour into spray bottle and spray all over broccoli leaves and stems, taking care to cover the undersides of leaves (if you want to keep moths from laying their eggs there).  Reapply after rain.






cutting up lovage, thyme, and oregano for the tea

homemade spray with broccoli

homemade spray with broccoli

*** These asterisks make segues so much easier***

My parents offered to take our girls last weekend, so I thought Stan and I might tackle the garage and get it cleaned out. Maybe even plant beans or turn our compost pile. Stan had different plans. At 5:30, Friday afternoon, he called to ask if I’d paid the Mastercard bill. When I said yes, he told me not to plan anything for the weekend. The next morning we were on the dance floor at a salsa workshop in Saskatoon. I found out he’d registered us for a full day at an International Salsa Congress–including workshops, a show, and social.

Can you see us? We're the couple on your right.

Can you see us? We’re the couple on your right.

While studying the schedule posted outside the ballroom, I wondered aloud if we should start at the intermediate level. Maybe we’d be bored in the beginner’s class? Stan didn’t think so. After we found a spot at the very back of the room, a man standing on the stage said something about getting loosened up, in a thick Spanish accent. The music started and electrified the sea of hips around us. For the next two hours, I kept checking in on Stan with my eyes (our instructors insisted we change partners every few minutes). From across the room I tried telepathy: I promise I will go down every single aisle of Princess Auto with you after this.

In the middle of the second workshop, we reached a tipping point. Cross-body leads we could barely handle, but not lifts. While the instructor explained, “The lady wraps her leg around the man’s thigh and then he picks her up and spins her like this…” we were quietly picking up our water bottles and heading towards the exit. In twenty minutes we were stroking shiny canoes in an outdoor adventure store. Thirty minutes later, we bought one.** The owner happened to notice our matching registration bracelets while he helped us secure the canoe to our car rack.

“What have you two escaped from?” he asked

Stan grunted, while pulling the ratchet straps, and I answered the question.

“An International Salsa Congress. You know… dancing…”

It seemed so out of context in that parking lot, and with our lives, in general. I wear rubber boots; not stilettos. Stan turns wrenches; not lycra-clad strangers. But that’s what I love about him–he’s adventurous enough to paddle the backcountry and show up at a Salsa Congress!

Oops, I made a mistake labeling the last picture. Those are just some world cup champions who tried to teach us. Here we are, looking slightly apprehensive before our first workshop.


Have a great weekend, whether you’re a dancer, gardener, or neither!

Waiting for wasps,


*Beneficial wasps are attracted to tiny, nectar-rich flowers like chamomile, sweet alyssum, lovage, and thyme.  Certain species are also available for purchase (to control pests) but I’m hoping they find my little plot on their own.

**This sounds a lot quicker than the process really was. Stan has been researching canoes for months? years? as we’ve outgrown our cedar-strip one. I guess it took a Salsa workshop to push him over the edge.

Busking and broccoli beds

“Girls, you have to play the same song.”

I am coming out to take a picture of their busk-stop, and I realize each are plowing through a different tune. I think they eventually worked out a system. They must have, because they made twenty-two dollars by the end of the afternoon.


Susanna and Belén at their busk stop and orange juice stand

In other news, my compost is ready! The disgusting corner in the back of my yard paid it’s dues this weekend.

Finished compost

Finished compost–well mostly finsihed…I don’t get too uptight about the odd stick, egg shell, or even piece of fabric, that makes it through.DSCN5436_

I read this book (about a city journalist turned CSA farmer) last summer and I loved it. Especially this part:

Of all the confounding things I encountered that first year, the heat of decomposition–its intensity and duration–was the most surprising, the one that made me want to slap my knee and say, Who knew? That heat comes from the action of hordes of organisms, some so tiny billions can live in a tablespoon of soil. They are in there, eating and multiplying and dying, feeding on and releasing the energy that larger organisms–the plants and the animals–stored up in their time, energy that came, originally, from the sun. I think it’s worth it, for wonder’s sake, to stick your hand in a compost pile in the winter and be burned by a series of suns that last set the summer before.

I love that last line. Maybe I’ve even quoted it here before, but it’s worth reading again.

* * * *

Do any of you have parts of your garden that seem hopeless? Hard, clay soil that forms giant lizard scales and produces only spindly thistles? I do. Last summer I gave the worst bed in my garden a rest: I planted it thick with hairy vetch, let the vetch grow until flowering stage, then hacked it down. After, I covered the whole bed–chopped vetch and all–with wet newspapers, grass clippings and a bale of straw. This weekend I dug deep holes in the straw and filled them with fresh compost. I plan to transplant broccoli into the compost nests this week. Here’s hoping that dead hairy vetch, decomposed root systems, heavy mulch and handfuls of compost work magic.

Making compost nests for the broccoli

Making compost nests for the broccoli


Me, dealing with the straw. Compost bins in the background–they look less ridiculous without all the snow don’t they?

Waiting for the broccoli plants... I will update on those later in summer. I promise. Even if the cabbage moths are horrific.

Waiting for the broccoli plants… I will update on those later in summer. I promise. Even if the cabbage moths are horrific.

And finally, a few pictures updating our fall seeding experiment.

Belén's red lettuce, seeded in October.

Belén’s red lettuce (and one parsnip in the foreground) seeded in October.

...and of course, garlic

…and of course, garlic

Chamomile seedlings. The hardiest plant I've ever grown. (Besides Borage--but borage is so uncouth. You'll know what I mean if you've grown it.)

Chamomile seedlings. The hardiest plant I’ve ever grown. (Besides Borage–but borage is so uncouth. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve grown it.)

The snap peas are starting to surface, as well as some other unidentified seedlings. I keep scratching around in the dirt, muttering to myself, trying to figure out what it was that we planted in those spots speckled with green. (Note to self: make better maps next year.) Belén just continues jumping on the trampoline, and between bounces, shouts, “Why does it matter mom? Whatever is growing will grow.”

Yes. That’s right. What will grow, will grow, pues.*

What are you all trying in your plots, or pots, this spring?


*Pues. One of those handy Spanish words that should be adopted into the English language. It doesn’t really have a direct translation, but it’s something like “of course” or “well then”. I heard Belén use it, correctly, once and realized she probably thinks it is English.