Is neem oil safe to use on edible crops?

desman

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Hi SSM peeps, looking for views/experiences with using neem oil for pest control on crops for human consumption. As spring approaches my subtropical backyard so does an armada of pests. This winter I have spent more time preparing for pest control than things like bed and soil prep after a horrid pest season last year. Today a package of organic pest control products arrived to add to my arsenal, one being neem oil. I’ve never used it before. I read the instructions and it says not to use on crops for human consumption. Which I gasped at! I thought it was common to use on veggies and fruit trees. A quick google reveals there’s many people using it on veggies…..but Im
reluctant to always believe the internet at first glance 🤔.

I’ve read a few other posts on here where people say it might be toxic and some countries have banned it (not sure if that’s true). I’m interested to hear others experiences. I want to use it to control pests that eat my greens plus as an added weapon against QLD fruit fly (in addition to a suite of other things) on chillis, tomatoes, and control the infestations of citrus leaf miner and leaf curl in my area. I will use the product according to instructions (not over dose). We have small kids though, and we all eat the produce…I won’t use it if it is not safe.

Doesn’t it just wash off when you wash the harvest? How many others are using it on food-consumption crops?

I know people will make some comments on the points below so thought I would address some of these upfront:
- I will def will “bee” careful with it. Not interested in harming my native bees or the birds of blue banded bees I’ve made homes for over the years. So I won’t spray flowers etc.
- garlic and chilli simply doesn’t work. It’s a myth in my view. There’s an interesting video experiment by a vlogger who goes by the name of The Weedy Garden if any one is interested in the proof that garlic and chilli doesn’t work.
- I’ve tried lots of other organic methods. Some are useless. Some I will keep using…there’s no organic silver bullet. I want to add neem oil to the arsenal as I’ve heard it is effective.
 

JoshW

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This is the product we bought in preparation for the warmer season - Eco Oil - which has no withholding period (can spray and eat same day). We had green stink bugs hit our tomatoes hard towards the end of last season. These arent on the label but plenty of articles documenting effectiveness. During research i found Neem oil isn't approved for edibles in Australia, even though it's been tried and tested elsewhere. Here's a more recent article on the matter. I will happily use the neem if the eco oil isn't up to scratch - this isn't a ad for either
 

HelenCate

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I've been using it for a few years. Works great on a range of things that chomp plants. Not so effective on large hoppers though, sadly.*It is an oil, so avoid using when it's too warm or you will sauté your plants. Learned that the hard way a few years back, luckily the brussels sprouts I used it on survived.
 

Mandy Onderwater

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I personally use Eco Neem and I love it. Nothing else has worked for the swarms of grasshoppers I always get, but this does the trick.
One thing to note it that it does not repel pests per se, but they die after consuming it. This means they will eat your plants for a while and it sometimes doesn't look like it works because of that. Regardless, populations always seemed to dwingle down rapidly after a short while of using it.
I've not found it quite as effective as I would have liked on aphids personally, but that might be because I only started spraying after I noticed them.

Regarding Neem on food... I believe this one is safe for consumtion, though I would still not recommend spraying your plants and harvesting them immediately or the next day after. I prefer to wait at least another day and to wash my fruit/veg after picking them.
The label also says it does not harm beneficial insects (including bees) but I still wouldn't risk it and avoid the flowers. Another important thing to note... do NOT spray during the hotter hours of the day; it will burn your plants. I prefer spraying in the afternoon after the sun has gone down personally.
 

AndrewB

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It doesn't mix well with water in my experience, so won't wash off & from the smell, I doubt it would enhance the flavor.

Some studies have suggested it's not good for young children to ingest, though there doesn't seem to be a lot of research on humans, so take that with a grain of salt.

The Material Safety Data Sheets (google neem msds) for various neem oil products vary quite a bit, some say it is not dangerous, there a lot of "not knowns" listed as well. Toxicity in rats is 5 grams per kg of body weight, so in theory, if humans react similarly, you would need to drink a whole lot of it to die, however, it is much more toxic to fish & invertibrates.

Personally, we don't use it on food crops, as there are alternatives that are definately ok, so why risk it on a maybe.

I've used Eco oil like Josh in the past, but prefer netting & trap crops as well as providing habitat for natural predators. We had a terrible season for cabbage moth & grasshoppers until the paper wasps arrived & decimated them. Made it a little awkward to harvest things if we didn't pick first thing in the morning, as there was a constant patrol flying above the greens just waiting for something to catch, but at least there was something there to harvest.
 

desman

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This is the product we bought in preparation for the warmer season - Eco Oil - which has no withholding period (can spray and eat same day). We had green stink bugs hit our tomatoes hard towards the end of last season. These arent on the label but plenty of articles documenting effectiveness. During research i found Neem oil isn't approved for edibles in Australia, even though it's been tried and tested elsewhere. Here's a more recent article on the matter. I will happily use the neem if the eco oil isn't up to scratch - this isn't a ad for either
Thanks @JoshW, that is great info and links. I will defiantly try the eco oil now. That was a good article. Appreciate the reply
 

desman

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I've been using it for a few years. Works great on a range of things that chomp plants. Not so effective on large hoppers though, sadly.*It is an oil, so avoid using when it's too warm or you will sauté your plants. Learned that the hard way a few years back, luckily the brussels sprouts I used it on survived.
Great tip thanks you HelenCate
 

desman

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I personally use Eco Neem and I love it. Nothing else has worked for the swarms of grasshoppers I always get, but this does the trick.
One thing to note it that it does not repel pests per se, but they die after consuming it. This means they will eat your plants for a while and it sometimes doesn't look like it works because of that. Regardless, populations always seemed to dwingle down rapidly after a short while of using it.
I've not found it quite as effective as I would have liked on aphids personally, but that might be because I only started spraying after I noticed them.

Regarding Neem on food... I believe this one is safe for consumtion, though I would still not recommend spraying your plants and harvesting them immediately or the next day after. I prefer to wait at least another day and to wash my fruit/veg after picking them.
The label also says it does not harm beneficial insects (including bees) but I still wouldn't risk it and avoid the flowers. Another important thing to note... do NOT spray during the hotter hours of the day; it will burn your plants. I prefer spraying in the afternoon after the sun has gone down personally.
Thanks great insights there. We get plagues of grasshoppers as well. And since eco oil is same day harvest it sounds like I can spray and still feed any grasshoppers the kids catch to the chooks
 

desman

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It doesn't mix well with water in my experience, so won't wash off & from the smell, I doubt it would enhance the flavor.

Some studies have suggested it's not good for young children to ingest, though there doesn't seem to be a lot of research on humans, so take that with a grain of salt.

The Material Safety Data Sheets (google neem msds) for various neem oil products vary quite a bit, some say it is not dangerous, there a lot of "not knowns" listed as well. Toxicity in rats is 5 grams per kg of body weight, so in theory, if humans react similarly, you would need to drink a whole lot of it to die, however, it is much more toxic to fish & invertibrates.

Personally, we don't use it on food crops, as there are alternatives that are definately ok, so why risk it on a maybe.

I've used Eco oil like Josh in the past, but prefer netting & trap crops as well as providing habitat for natural predators. We had a terrible season for cabbage moth & grasshoppers until the paper wasps arrived & decimated them. Made it a little awkward to harvest things if we didn't pick first thing in the morning, as there was a constant patrol flying above the greens just waiting for something to catch, but at least there was something there to harvest.
Thanks AndrewB. I think you all have convinced me to use eco oil. I can keep neem as a back up. Netting is ok…but I find small moths still get through even the smallest butterfly netting. Plus the kids and possums rip netting often, more often the kids 😂. White Fruit fly proof netting is effective….I must confess my aversion to too much netting though is that it’s simply really ugly. It’s a bit of a fantasy to think we can have these open, pretty veggie patches in subtropics like others do in the cooler zones without netting I guess. I didn’t know about the paper wasps preying on cabbage moth though. I usually get rid of these from the yard as they can be aggressive like you say and the kids love to play around the veggie patches. When the kids are a bit older I might encourage them back.
I’m also toying with installing a pond to attract some other beneficial insects like dragon flies….once the kids are old enough for it not to be a drowning hazard 👍
 

AndrewB

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Thanks AndrewB. I think you all have convinced me to use eco oil. I can keep neem as a back up. Netting is ok…but I find small moths still get through even the smallest butterfly netting. Plus the kids and possums rip netting often, more often the kids 😂. White Fruit fly proof netting is effective….I must confess my aversion to too much netting though is that it’s simply really ugly. It’s a bit of a fantasy to think we can have these open, pretty veggie patches in subtropics like others do in the cooler zones without netting I guess. I didn’t know about the paper wasps preying on cabbage moth though. I usually get rid of these from the yard as they can be aggressive like you say and the kids love to play around the veggie patches. When the kids are a bit older I might encourage them back.
I’m also toying with installing a pond to attract some other beneficial insects like dragon flies….once the kids are old enough for it not to be a drowning hazard 👍

Yarrow & Fennel are great for attracting beneficial insects when they flower, lots of ladybugs & hoverflies around them. They are perennial, so you only need to plant once.

Nasturtiums grow faster than they can be eaten once they get established, so are a good trap crop. Upland Cress is even better, it is high in saponins & toxic to caterpillars that eat it. but its a brassica, so they love to lay eggs on it.

I know what you mean about the netting spoiling the view, but it can look nice. We use 25mm irrigation tube & a steel peg either side to make these mini tunnels. I don't seem to have a close up picture, but they look nice when it's all pulled tight. I don't have possums to deal with here luckily!
 

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HelenCate

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@desman Slightly off topic, since you were asking about Neem, but also on topic because of the pest issue...check out Sero-X. Australian product. Organic. Not an oil, so great for the warmer months.
 
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