As you may know, humans have not always been agricultural animals. Agrarian societies only began taking shape around 10,000 years ago, shortly before the first large scale human civilizations appeared. The most remarkable advances in agriculture were accomplished by the Greeks and Romans. Among these agricultural advances were more sophisticated methods of insect pest control within crops. Amazingly, modern agricultural professionals make use of some the same insect pest control methods that had been developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans thousands of years ago.


Ancient civilizations greatly feared insect pest destruction to crops. Not surprisingly, many of these early civilizations relied on gods and folk remedies to protect crops from insect pests. The ancient Greek writer, Xenophon, claimed that farmers during his time believed that crops could be protected from destructive insects by praying to the gods and asking for blessings. This seems pretty standard for an ancient civilization, but some methods of insect pest control were quite bizarre even for the Greeks. For example, ancient Greek farmers would hang a crayfish or a mare’s skull somewhere within their crops in order to repel destructive caterpillars.


Some years later, during the 1st century BC, the Roman scholar, Varro, was the first to discover a particular insect and weed killing substance that is still used today. This substance was named amurca, and it contained crushed olives and salt. Amurca was toxic to crop-destroying ants, and the chemical was used as a base ingredient for subsequent pest control chemicals.


Amurca was often boiled in copper pots, which created a chemical containing olives, salt and copper. Both salt and copper have proven effective as insect control remedies. Later on, Palladius mixed amurca with cucumber or lupins spiked with urine in order to kill caterpillars that destroyed cabbage crops. Mediterranean farmers prepared an insect pest-fighting chemical solution that contained hemlock, lupin and squill. This solution was used as a seed treatment, which would kill insect pests but not the humans who consumed the final plant. These insect control remedies were used for centuries until modern agricultural science ushered in a new wave of pest control methods.


Does the existence of insect pests prevent you from starting your own outdoor garden?