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Gardening Articles for week ending 23rd Sepetember 2017

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Written by Wally Richards.
HOW SAFE ARE NATURAL PRODUCTS?

I get very annoyed when pro-chemical people try to make out that safe to use natural alternatives are dangerous where they pretend their harmful poisons are not.
It is like pharmaceutical companies that though coercion of Governments try to ban natural remedies and vitamin supplements so that all forms of medications are only made and distributed by Big Pharma for profit.
I received an email this week from a reader that said:

I've been using Neem products for a couple of years now & I just read 'Garden Pest & Disease Control' by Bill Brett.
He states that Neem products should not be used on edible crops due to possible aflatoxin in the product. What's your take on this please?
Thanks Philippa

Interesting, this is not the first time Bill Brett has tried to make false claims about Neem oil and Neem Cake.
In fact I was told by one Garden Centre owner that he (Bill) had admitted to her spending hours on the Internet trying to find something bad to say about the natural Neem products.
Apparently at the time he was being paid by a NZ gardening supplier of chemical products to the home garden market to discrete Neem as it was affecting their sales of chemical poisons.
Next thing I heard that reps from that company were traveling around garden shops telling the owners that Neem was causing, cancer, miscarriages and all sorts of health problems.
A letter to the general manager of that company threatening legal action soon put a stop to the rubbish.
Anyway back to this claim of Bills about aflatoxin.
Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as maize (corn), peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts.
The main fungi that produce aflatoxins are Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, which are abundant in warm and humid regions of the world.
Thus I presume that Bill thinking that The Neem Tree has nuts and in a warm climate (India) that there could be a connection. Unfortunately for Bill the Neem Tree does not have nuts they have berries/seeds.
If he had not grabbed at this wild speculation he could have found the following from a study:

ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Inhibition of aflatoxin B1 production of Aspergillus flavus, isolated from soybean seeds by certain natural plant products:

Methods and Results: Soybean seed was treated with different natural products and fungicide captan and was inoculated with toxigenic strain of A. flavus and incubated for different periods.
The results showed that all the treatments were effective in controlling aflatoxin B1 production.
Captan, neem cake, spore suspension of Trichoderma harzianum, A. niger and combination of both reduced the level of aflatoxin B1 to a great extent.
Leaf powder of W. somnifera, H. suaveolens, which is the peel powder of Camellia sinensis (Tea Leaves), C. medica (a citrus member) and pongamia cake also controlled the aflatoxin B1 production.
Conclusions: All the natural product treatments applied were significantly effective in inhibiting aflatoxin B1 production on soybean seeds by A. flavus.
Significance and Impact of the Study: These natural plant products may successfully replace chemical fungicides and provide an alternative method to protect soybean and other agricultural commodities from aflatoxin.
If you are interested the full study is here:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1472-765X.2006.02011.x/pdf So instead of being dangerous to food crops the Neem protects against this fungus toxin.
On a previous time when Bill tried to bad mouth Neem; a reader did some research and sent me information from NZ Food Safety Web site which read:

Residues Information: Insecticide products containing Neem have been available in New Zealand for many years. Neem is derived from the oil of the Neem tree berries.
The action of the insecticide is primarily derived from the presence of azadirachtin in the oil, although other components of the oil may cause synergistic or insecticidal effects.
Dietary Risk Assessment: Neem has been determined to be of very low toxicity.
Extracts of Neem have been used historically in parts of Asia for skin and dental treatments for what has claimed to be over 2000 years. Parts of the Neem tree are consumed in certain Indian and Southeast Asian dishes.
Neem is used in human medicine for skin and acne treatment and for the control of scabies and head lice.
The active component azadirachtin has also been demonstrated to be of very low toxicity. Neem and azadirachtin do not represent a dietary intake risk from consumption of residues on treated food commodities.
Toxicological / Public Health Assessment: It has been determined that the use of Neem as an insecticide for use on all food producing plant species is very unlikely to pose any health risks from consumption of the harvested commodity. End.

If there was any truth in Bill's claims of health problems and birthing aspects then likely the population of India would be about the same as NZ as they have been using The Neem Tree as the village pharmacy for thousands of years.
Now here is some of the real benefits of Neem Cake/Granules/Powder:

Neem cake has an adequate quantity of NPK in organic form for plant growth.
Being a totally botanical product it contains 100% natural NPK content and other essential micro nutrients as N(Nitrogen 2.0% to 5.0%), P(Phosphorus 0.5% to 1.0%), K(Potassium 1.0% to 2.0%), Ca(Calcium 0.5% to 3.0%), Mg(Magnesium 0.3% to 1.0%), S(Sulphur 0.2% to 3.0%), Zn(Zinc 15 ppm to 60 ppm), Cu(Copper 4 ppm to 20 ppm), Fe (Iron 500 ppm to 1200 ppm), Mn (Manganese 20 ppm to 60 ppm).
It is rich in both sulphur compounds and bitter limonoids.
According to research calculations, Neem cake seems to make soil more fertile due to an ingredient that blocks soil bacteria from converting nitrogenous compounds into nitrogen gas.
It is a nitrification inhibitor and prolongs the availability of nitrogen to both short duration and long duration crops.
Neem seed cake also reduces alkalinity in soil, as it produces organic acids on decomposition.
Being totally natural, it is compatible with soil microbes and rhizosphere microflora and hence ensures fertility of the soil.
Neem cake improves the organic matter content of the soil, helping improve soil texture, water holding capacity, and soil aeration for better root development.
I dont know if there is other misinformation in the book 'Garden Pest & Disease Control' by Bill Brett but by the sound of it you would be better off spending your money elsewhere.
There is too much misinformation around from supposed 'Garden Experts' and chemical gardening products to put gardeners wrong in their endeavors already.