Start with a little chopped garlic. Add equal parts onion, hot pepper, horseradish and vinegar. Nope, you’re not whipping up a lovely Italian meal. We’re talking organic pesticides here.

It seems bugs and other pests don’t like it hot and spicy. So if you’re looking for natural alternatives to the synthetic killers on the market, try using non-toxic household substances already in your pantry.

Ingredients such as garlic, salt, peppers, baking soda, orange peels and cooking oils can be found in many homemade organic pesticide recipes. Herbs, seasonings and other food products also are contained in the commercial pesticides sold at home improvement stores.

Since the vast majority of garden pests are beneficial to plants, genuine organic pesticides — applied properly — can ward off harmful critters without damaging the environment.

Biggest Turn-offs

Bugs are attracted to most plants because of their fragrance. It makes sense, then, that they’d be turned off by foul-smelling garlic, tobacco, basil, sage, chives and rosemary.

Let’s consider garlic. Organic gardeners have long known garlic makes for an odorous and toxic repellent to pests. Planting edible garlic between rows of vegetables or roses will repel aphids and other insects, according to Go Organic Gardening, which offers advice and resources for organic gardening.

A number of recipes for garlic sprays combine mixed garlic or garlic powder with other products such as mineral or vegetable oils, onions, peppers, even dishwashing soap, another popular bug-zapper.

Garlic sprays work on aphids, cabbage loopers, June bugs, leafhoppers, squash bugs and whiteflies, reports Comfy Country Creations, a Canadian-based website offering gardening tips and homemade bug spray recipes.

The Sonora Environmental Research Institute Inc. in Tucson suggests citrus oil or cayenne pepper as pesticide alternatives.

Natural Pesticides

Among the natural pesticides on the market, Go Organic Gardening lists Orange Guard Home Pest Control Spray. The commercial product uses steam-distilled orange peel oil to kill cockroaches, ants, fleas, locusts and weevils.

The garden itself offers a host of pesticides.

The dried, powdered flowers of the pyrethrum daisy have become a popular insecticide ingredient. Not to be confused with pyrethroids, a new class of synthetic pesticides, pyrethrins are concentrated in the seeds of the flower head.

Pyrethrins are considered a contact insecticide; insects merely touching the substance are affected. The product only works on certain insects such as flies, gnats, mosquitoes, spider mites, leafhoppers, stink bugs and aphids. Mix the dried powder with water and a few drops of liquid soap and you can use it to protect other flowers, fruits and vegetables, Comfy Country Creations reports.

A commercial brand that uses pyrethrins is Safer Yard and Garden Insect Killer Spray, as cited by Go Organic Gardening.

Plant Extracts

When considering commercial insecticides, opt for those made from naturally-occurring plant extracts, as recommended by the Home Depot Garden Club.

As with all organic pesticides, research first whether the bugs you are trying to destroy are harmful or not; take note of the product’s intended use; test it on a single plant to determine its effect; and only spot-treat targeted plants and bugs. Also, recognize that many so-called organic pesticides may not be as effective as the synthetic variety, according to the Backyard Conservation Fact Sheet of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

The NRCS fact sheet lists beneficial insects, the bugs they control and natural pest management strategies. Simple solutions include spraying water from a hose to remove insects and applying a baking soda solution to control fungal diseases on roses.

For more information about choosing least-toxic pest control products and other pest management tips, consult the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC).

Organic pesticide products may also require larger doses, making it just as toxic as the commercial brand, and may kill off natural predators.

Of course, if it is toxic, you won’t want to use it in that Italian meal after all.