Sow There! Searching for Dr. Bronner, June 26, 2020

Blackened aphids on portulaca, after being sprayed with soapy water. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
June 26, 2020 at 3:30 a.m.

Stuffed in a cupboard, or hidden in plain view? Somewhere in my house there is a brand new bottle of Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap. I saw it recently, but my memory is blurred by heat and the state of chaos that is my life in seclusion.

Weeks ago, I had plenty of time to venture under the kitchen sink to reorganize cleaning products. Who knew I had so many half bottles of dollar store cleaning solution, a jar of putty, plumbers tape, stainless steel polish and lemon oil?

I should look under my sink more often.

In early March, I shopped all over town for hand sanitizer. My group from the college was headed to Washington, D.C., and everyone knows airports are covered with communicable diseases. I couldn’t buy sanitizer at the store but found a recipe to mix rubbing alcohol and aloe vera, and funneled the goo into travel bottles.

I wish I had simply looked under my sink. When I recently reorganized, I found two mostly-full bottles of hand sanitizers parents had gifted to my Third Grade class in 2018.

I can only imagine what useful items I will find when I finally reorganize my shed.

As for the castile soap, I know it will reappear.

Castile soap (and other types of plant soap) is useful for killing soft-bodied insects like aphids, mealy bugs, whiteflies and spider mites. To do the deed, you need to get the bugs soaking wet with a diluted, soapy solution. This same trick doesn’t work on hard-bodied insects, like stink bugs, nor my new foe: the adult harlequin bugs.

Spraying a mass of aphids like a crazy fool is fairly rewarding. When you look back a few minutes later, the bugs are gray, and later may turn black. More importantly, they are dead. Yet, it is just as easy to take your fingers and squish the bugs when you see them.

Note, plant-based soap is different than heavy-duty detergents used for cleaning lasagna baking dishes. These soaps have strong degreasing agents, which can also strip natural oils and natural wax from the surface of your plants.

The writers of the Garden Myths website,, suggest buying a bottle of insecticidal soap, which contains potassium and a special kind of plant-friendly fatty acids.

Of course, this requires thinking ahead and placing the insecticidal soap in a location where you can find it easily. (Again, smashing those bugs with your bare hands has many advantages).

You can also just snip away the offending life forms. Many times I’ll look closely and notice 100,000 aphids in a plant-feeding mass, resting in a defenseless, sucking pose. Within seconds, I can remove the entire branch and stomp on the bugs while wearing plastic garden clogs. Another aphid-fighting technique includes spraying the bugs away with the hose nozzle set on “jet stream.”

If you choose the quick thrill of soapy water, Dr. Bronner’s is a brand that has natural oils, less likely to harm plants. The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides,, recommends a recipe of 1 tablespoon to two cups of water. You can add cayenne or cinnamon if straight soap isn’t enough fun. Remember, you need to get the critters wet, so the best time to spray is morning, so the liquid evaporates more slowly and will eat into those soft-bodied insects.

As for those hard-bodied insects, such as the harlequin bugs, the harsh chemicals of hard-core dish soap do just fine when I whisk the bugs into a bowl of soapy water, avoiding that damaging business of actually spraying soap on my plants.

In search of Dr. Bronner

As for the bottle of Dr. Bronner castile soap, I’m guessing it will turn up this winter. By then the aphids will be long gone. The folks at Dr. Bronner’s offer umpteen other ways the soap can be used,, including washing the dog, controlling ants and vegetable rinse, among others.

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