Garden sheds - pesticides of the past

by James Alexander-Sinclair

The other day I came across a very ancient shed with many of the original contents.

Padlock ghanging from a wallWhat's in your shed? If it's anything like mine it will contain some (or all) of the following: tools (some hanging from nails, some lying around on the floor), mowers, plant pots, deckchairs waiting for a sunny day, three bicycles with flat tyres, some cannas, bamboo canes, most of a fruit cage, various rodents, many spiders and assorted half-empty paint pots. Bit of a mess, really - especially when compared to Adam's shed.

What it doesn't contain is much in the way of chemicals. I'm not strictly organic as I do have glyphosate (for paths and serious weeds) and a miraculous weedkiller that kills nettles and thistles while leaving grass unscathed - but that's about it. I find pesticides pretty unnecessary as I have only two insect problems: woolly aphids on my pyracanthas, which are dealt with by a strong jet of water, and stripy mullein caterpillars on verbascum, which are easy to pick off.

I mention all this because I came across a very ancient shed the other day with many of the original contents. Most of them were just older versions of what we use today - small terracotta pots and wooden seed trays where we have plastic - but there were a couple of surprises. There was an (empty) bottle of liquid nicotine, which was declared illegal for garden use in the 1970s. Liquid nicotine is extremely dangerous to all living creatures and was used widely as an insecticide for many, many years. It was either mixed with water as a spray or else vaporised in lamps - in which case the gardener lit the lamp and got the hell out of the greenhouse as quickly as possible. Everything left in the place - aphids, lacewings, ladybirds and, probably, rats - was toast.

I also found a box of arsenate of lead. This is another ancient insecticide that you are unlikely to find on the shelves of your local garden centre. It was the chemical used in the first aerial crop dusting experiment in 1921, when it was used to control caterpillars on catalpa trees (crop dusting was dramatised in Hitchcock's North by Northwest, when Cary Grant was pursued by a menacing yellow aeroplane). In Britain, arsenate of lead was mostly used to control codling moths on fruit trees, although it was doubtless very tempting to any gardeners stricken with homicidal yearnings.

Chemicals like these were an accepted, everyday part of the gardener's arsenal.

It's interesting how quickly we've turned away from noxious chemicals and how quickly the organic way has been adopted by gardeners. I know that purists will say that being partly organic is as impossible as being half-pregnant but I always think that every little bit helps.

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Gardeners' World Web User 20/04/2008 at 17:00

I think being partly organic is better than nothing, it's becoming more popular in this age of recycle healthy eating and enviromental awearness society in which we find ourselves. I dont use chemicals because I don't think theres a need, if something I grow has a bad year I just think i'll try again next year. I lost my cucumber plant last year early as well as my corgette but my tomatoes, lettuce, spring onions and potato's were great all free from chemical use.

Gardeners' World Web User 27/04/2008 at 12:05

Interesting, Have just been given a herbal compost mixture from "Common sense compost making by the quick return method" M.E.Bruce First published 1946 by Faber and Faber Ltd. Also reprinted. Anyone wanting the recipe please let me know via the Blog Mo Bentley Lancashire

Gardeners' World Web User 06/07/2008 at 10:03

I have loads of cucumber flowers but they all just fall off. Why?

Gardeners' World Web User 04/07/2009 at 22:00

I have the same problem. lots of flowers then no growth. one cucumber has started to grow but is stunted

Gardeners' World Web User 21/07/2010 at 11:00

I purchased a BillyOh Tongue and Groove garden shed and its falling apart after 8 weeks. Customer service are not interested. Has anyone else had these problems ?

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