OK… so we’ve written about what Neem is and how it is used in permaculture, so let’s change our focus a bit by getting into more specifics about how Neem actually works and is good for the environment. Most people understand that the standard man-made chemicals used on crops have profound impacts on our health including birth defects, cancer and autism. Obviously, we (the world) need to employ organic, natural methods to avoid catastrophe.
Neem is sometimes referred to as the “pharmacy tree” because of the many benefits it has for both human and agricultural uses. Our farm team, often refers to Neem as the “secret sauce” of organic farming.
Neem has an incredibly intricate chemical structure. For instance, the seeds are comprised of about 200 biologically active compounds including azadirachtin and nimbolides as major components. Don’t worry, we’re not going to make your brain go numb with a treatise on how those compounds work, but we will discuss their importance.
There are four fundamental impacts that these Neem compounds have on an estimated 600 species of insects:
- Growth Regulation – Extracts from Neem prevent insects from growing to the point they can reproduce
- Anti-feedancy – This is just a fancy term for a compound that causes insects and other pests to stop feeding and eventually die from lack of nutrition
- Fungicidal – Fungus development is impaired at the cellular level by disrupting enzyme functions and metabolism
- Repellence – These compounds give off scents that are either unpleasant or irritating to insects
Yeah, but what about good insects like ants, butterflies and bees? Ahhh – this is the cool part about azadirachtin in particular, which is found only in Neem. Insects must feed on the Neem (leaves, roots, bark and berries) to be impacted, so there is no risk to pollinators and other beneficial insects. Neem isn’t a poison, like most agrichemical pesticides, but instead disrupts the normal cycles of harmful pests. Because Neem impacts the hormonal systems of individual pests, there is no concern of developing resistance in subsequent generations. Mother Nature knows what she’s doing!
In addition to Neem’s impact on insects, it also improves the soil by protecting our tree’s roots from disease, nematodes and soil-based pests. Neem also reduces soil alkalinity, provides a high concentration of antioxidants and increases the health of the soil by boosting airflow and the ability to retain water while also reducing the growth of bacteria. Aside from the pest controlling aspects of Neem, each tree has the amazing ability to impound over 12 tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year.
The Neem berries and leaves can be ground up and added to water to make an effective spray in the field, in the greenhouse and even be added to our SupPlant irrigation system. The bottom line is that using organic methods such as Neem to fight pests and add nutrients to the soil have these critical benefits:
- It’s Safer – Neem is biodegradable and leaves no harmful deposits in the ground or water
- It’s More Nutritious – Food grown organically has as much as 40% higher nutrient levels
- It’s Financially Efficient – Neem, and organic pesticides and fertilizers in general, are similar in price to the toxic chemicals used in traditional farming
- It’s Highly Effective –Pesticides based on Neem deliver numerous defensive layers against insects