‘Pest’ Control and being a good neighbour

2 Apr

Sometimes life throws a moral dilemma at you. I generally base my moral framework around my Christian faith. The bible provides great guidance on a variety of life’s issues, and God gives us a conscience to work out the specifics. Most of the time I’m comfortable with that.

But when you struggle with something a bit left-field?

Our street has formed a very strong sense of community over many years. The majority of residents are elderly, and have known each other since their children were little. Every year we have a street Christmas party and people in general just look out for each other.

As part of this community spirit, once a year everyone joins in to have their houses inspected for termites and sprayed for pests. The feeling is that if we keep the termites away from all the houses, then everyone as a whole will be less susceptible. Because everyone’s house is sprayed at once, the price is also really low. There are a few ‘abstainers’ on the street, but these people are viewed as spoiling things for everyone else.

Hence my problem.

I’ve gone to a reasonable amount of effort to grow my food as close to organic principles as possible. You will see the occasional application of tomato dust in moments of weakness, but I’m certainly not out there blanket-spraying with Confidor. My view on the ‘pest’ issue is that it is better to inspect for termites, but only use chemicals when there is evidence of activity. I don’t see spiders for example as a particular problem – I’d rather that they were there to eat my fruit flies.

Last year I asked them not to spray inside my house. I didn’t want my family exposed to sprays for cockroaches, ants etc. I just don’t see them as a problem. I did however let them dust inside the roof, but I’m unsure of how bad this really is.

This morning when they arrived (it had slipped my mind that they were coming today) I spent an hour or so carting all my potted edibles from the back deck to the front yard and stripping the side veggie bed of everything I could salvage. I lifted all the carrots , trimmed the parsley, picked the beans then pulled the lot out and fed it to the chooks. This left the beds empty.

So they came and they sprayed the outside of the house with Bifenthrin and dusted the roof with Coopex Permethrin. They avoided the chicken coop, but sprayed around the back fenceline where the raspberry canes and the banana tree are.

I really don’t feel good about it. I would prefer that my kids and family were not exposed to an unnecessary chemical. To make matters worse the delivery man from the organic fruit and veg company arrived while they were spraying and acted like my house was Chernobyl. I really should have called him in advance to let him know to leave the delivery at the letterbox. That wasn’t very considerate of me.

But for some reason I feel far worse about potentially being a bad neighbour.

What would you have done?

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23 Responses to “‘Pest’ Control and being a good neighbour”

  1. Barbara Good April 2, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    Oh that really is a tough one L. I would do just about anything for a close knit street to live in so I get the need to keep them on side so to speak. But I too would be VERY uncomfortable about having my place sprayed for so-called pests with harsh chemicals. I wouldn’t want to expose my kids or pets to those and I certainly wouldn’t want them near my vegies or garden beds where vegies will be planted at a later date.

    Do you think any of the other neighbours have the same concerns? Perhaps you could explain your reservations (though elderly people in my experience are less worried about this kind of thing) and perhaps you could just have your place inspected, but only sprayed if there really is a significant pest problem.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney April 2, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

      I was a bit bamboozled last year because we had only just moved in. I didn’t want to start the relationship badly when ‘everyone else was doing it’ so to speak. This year I should have been better prepared, but I wasn’t really. I still felt pressured to conform. Maybe by next year I’ll have more confidence in my rapport within the community and become a ‘conscientious objector’.

      My very basic research suggests that the particular chemical they used is used on conventionally-grown raspberry crops, so considering the raspberries don’t crop again until next summer, maybe it will be OK.

  2. Kate April 2, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    I just explain that we are organic growers and don’t use sprays of any kind and people just seem to think that that is quite acceptable.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney April 2, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

      I think the perception is different in an urban area though Kate, particularly with the elderly. I would really hope that people would understand in your situation!

      People seem to be more understanding about my concerns exposing the children than with my vegetables. I think next year I’ll do things differently. Maybe give things a bit of advance thought to start with!

  3. Anouska April 2, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    When we had a building inspection done on our new house the inspector, who is very experienced (he writes the building codes and standards) did the termite inspection as well. He thinks that spraying makes no difference whatsover and that its effect in keeping termites away is completely unproven. He told us the best form of prevention is physical barrierrs like ant caps and maybe using bait boxes to stop termites. If you just have your property regularly inspected and there are no termites present then I’m sure it’ll be fine without spraying. The inspector also said he has reservations about spraying, because every time some new treatment comes out it’s perfectly safe for human and then years later its found to be harmful. Apparently chooks do a good job of eating termites and keeping them at bay too!

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney April 2, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

      That’s very interesting Anouska. I think my opinion is being swayed further with every comment. Why do I let myself be so easily led???

  4. k April 2, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Hi L,

    First time poster, long time reader. This is a particularly unique situation, given the demographic of your neighbourhood. Can I ask why you would buy next to a bunch of oldies? Is it a case that you’re waiting for them to drop off the perch so you can inherit their old gardening tools. That’s probably best left for another topic.

    I can hear them now as you try to explain you’re aversion to chemicals…’I’ve been around this spray since before you were born and there’s nothing wrong with me’. Probably saying this sentence through an emphysema like cough.

    I too recently had an encounter with one of these old type folk (I like to call them caravaners) with a recent termite problem i had. I’ll refer to him as Beith for this forum. When I mentioned my problem he said he could get me some ‘good ol termi killer that the farmers used to use’.

    Lets hope your apple doesn’t fall too far from this tree.

    On the other hand, my wife, who also puts herself on this eco pedestal (she makes the cleaner use white vinegar as floor cleaner instead of the usual chemical type floor products) has no hesitation in ‘nuking’ cockroaches around the house. I only mention this because if she was ever to visit your eco-friendly house I would check her bag, because there is a high likelihood she would be packing a roach bomb to let off in your bedroom while you cooked an organic dinner for a family get together.

    I outline these two circumstances because you have to take every situation on it’s own merit. Perhaps next time you could have just an inspection without a treatment or maybe just treat under the house and in the roof and leave the exterior to thrive under the law of natural selection. (Our tomato plants didn’t do too well under this regime).

    Or then again if you really don’t like confrontation, you could always move to a neighbourhood with a younger demographic such as the Hills. It might be easier.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney April 2, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

      You are hilarious 🙂 And you should tell your wife that your cleaner’s chemical-type floor products are ‘da bomb – she should totally ask them to use them – if they clean my floor, you know they must be good ;P

  5. Robyn April 2, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think refusing to have your house sprayed has anything to do with being a ‘bad neighbour’. Quite frankly, I’m happy to have neighbours who say ‘hello’ and don’t play doof doof music… But then, I’m not so worried about having my house sprayed either!

    I was actually a bit worried the first time they sprayed our house because Susie was a crawler at the time, so they actually didn’t spray inside, just dusted with some stuff that is apparently kid safe and every time they come, they let me know that they didn’t go anywhere near my veggie plants or the worm farm, even though they say the stuff won’t hurt. They do tell me not to eat anything out of the garden for 2 days though just to be sure. We’ve had way too many nasty spiders, one possibly a funnel web, that I want the outside sprayed so it’s safer for the kids. Can’t you just have the pest control people come to your house, but only allow them to spray for certain things? The neighbours don’t need to know… Given that some of your neighbours aren’t too thrilled with you even growing veggies in the front yard, any objections to their pest control is going to make them unhappy, so if you want to refuse it, you’re going to have to live with neighbours being annoyed about it!

    And for the record, I’d never let neighbours dictate to me what I should do with my own home. We’d only go along with their pest contol thing if it suited us. We’ve already got a mental list of streets we’ll never live in because we don’t want to have to do the Christmas lights thing! 😛

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney April 2, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

      You know my neighbourhood though – I’m not imagining the judgement – It is real!

  6. Liz April 2, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    Once again I feel like I live in some sort of alternate universe – its like the beef stroganov thing all over again. Are you seriously telling me that people have their houses sprayed with crap ‘just in case’ they may get termites???? I find this very odd behaviour indeed. Perhaps termites are more common in Sydney….Having said that I have never bought a can of flyspray so perhaps I’m not the best person to be responding here but I think you know what you need to do. And that is: tell your neighbours they are wasting their money on something that serves no purpose at all other than killing a few harmless insects (and probably more than a few beneficial ones) and that next year the money should be spent on a street party instead. Dancing not spraying I say!

    • Robyn April 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

      That too… We only get termite inspections via strata. I only get the pest guys to deal with our spiders, which we do have and the cockroaches, which were at plague proportions when we moved in. I don’t let them do anything else, even though they keep wanting to do free rat poison etc (although given what the rats did to my tomatoes, maybe I should let them!)

      People do seem to be paranoid about termites though… I have met quite a few people who are seriously worried about termites totally destroying their house etc…

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney April 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm #

      People around here are of a completely different mindset Liz – termites are very active in Sydney and getting your house sprayed is viewed as completely normal. When I mentioned it at work people started comparing the prices of their annual spray regimes, and I overheard one of my colleagues a couple of months ago talking to the pest controllers on the phone, requesting that they use “the same stuff as last year” because “it killed all the stink bugs on his lemon tree”. No wonder the cancer rates are so high – people are more afraid of spiders and termites than they are of untested chemicals.

      For the record I don’t buy flyspray either – the stuff really freaks me out.

      I’m starting to feel really stupid for agreeing to this (again). Next year – I’ll be stronger!

      • Liz April 3, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

        I wouldn’t feel stupid, nice and slightly easily lead maybe…in all seriousness I’m not sure what I’d do in this situation as I’m adverse to both wasting money, harsh chemicals and upsetting neighbours – but probably not in that order…. Incidently I have termites in my garden but I’ve done absolutely nothing about it – I do check around the house and it seems to be OK – but I would be interested to know if there is a nice alternative to spraying….just in case my walls start to look a bit saw dusty…

  7. Sustainably Modern April 2, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    We decided to get quotes on getting our house sprayed for termites and every single contractor told us that you only spray if there is some evidence of termites. That confused me bc we got the house treated when we were building. Well I did some research on the web and the web agreed. So I am not sure why your contractors are spraying. You could do your own research and if you come to the same conclusion as my contractors, share that with your neighbors….because – if true – you guys are wasting money.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney April 2, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

      Sounds quite likely. When the people doing the advising are the same people doing the spraying you have to wonder about the impartiality of the advice!

      The thing that worries me though is just how active termites are in our city. It’s not common, but I hear of cases where buildings have been irreparably damaged in really short periods of time. Never from a first-hand source though, so maybe it’s the above-mentioned sprayers who spread these rumours.

      My sister and brother in law (who may-or-may-not-have also commented on this post) had quite a scare recently, which was enough to worry me.

  8. Daphne April 3, 2012 at 1:31 am #

    Wow they don’t spray for termites here where we live. They use chemical barriers and sometimes bait traps in the yard. Houses here will get termites if there is no barrier. I was under the impression that spraying didn’t really do much for termites. Our current house is new so has no barrier. I’m wondering what I’ll do about the edible plants around the foundation once a barrier has to go in. Until then it is inspections.

    Personally I wouldn’t spray and not just for my garden either (though I would tell my neighbors that I wouldn’t for that reason too – and try to make it up with treats of fresh veggies during the year). . I have really bad asthma. As a kid I was subjected to an awful lot of chemicals and have huge risk factors for lung cancer. Thank goodness I never took up smoking. I once sprayed my dog with flee killer following their directions. I was sick for three weeks. I’m sensitive to a lot of chemicals, so avoid them like the plague. Heck I wear a mask when I fertilize my garden to keep the dust out of my lungs. No way would I spray my yard.

  9. Dave April 3, 2012 at 2:33 am #

    We found termites here at our house last year. We had a chemical barrier put down around the foundation of our house, injected into the soil. I wouldn’t do preventative spraying here for anything, really.

  10. foodnstuff April 4, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    I wouldn’t spray and I wouldn’t let neighbours dictate to me about something so important just because they happen to be ignorant of the consequences. I have regular inspections done and if and when they actually find termites then I’ll look at the options.

  11. Sas April 8, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    I know this is an older post now, but thought I’d offer my 2c worth.
    As you know, we’re in Sydney too, but out our end, people don’t routinely spray. I’ve never heard of it. The most cautious people may use bait traps, but usually only if they’ve encountered termites before. All that said, I only know 2 people who’ve ever had termites. Both were cases of a neglected property, and in both cases it didn’t spread to the neighbours.

    When we had our rural property in QLD, I had inspections done and wanted to pre-emptively treat. The pest controller had some really good info about how they travel, how they infest a property, etc. and talked us out of treating. He also said sprays don’t get to them where they live inside the walls.

    re: the pest control company, if you can’t convince your neighbours they’re being conned, (the movement probably started because one influential neighbour was paranoid), maybe next year you can ask the pest control company to spray fertiliser around your yard for you? 😉

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney April 10, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

      I’ve decided. Next year I’m not spraying the outside of the house. I think I’ll get them to dust the roof and inspect for termites, but I feel terrible about the whole thing.

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