The Poisoner

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

There he is again, my neighbor. The one I call “The Poisoner” and he is living up to his name. It is a sight that invades my vision 4 or 5 times a year; a big guy with a large canister spraying poison like a madman all over his yard.

Sometimes it’s the weeds in the lawn, other times it’s the poor green growth that dares to show itself between the cracks in the sidewalk. On a few occasions when he really gets going , he sprays the entire parameter of his house.  He wears no mask, no gloves, just him and the Roundup.

When he is finished, nothing is left alive. Except his poor lawn which is a sickly palish green despite the many hours he spends on it. He is a warrior of sorts; it is him against nature. I think he’s fighting an expensive and time-consuming battle that we all pay for in the end.

Whenever I see him with his spray can, I try not to become angry. It used to make my blood boil; to watch him spray his poison like there’s no tomorrow while I’m digging up dandelions by hand.  As the years have passed and my work has gotten easier due to the many organic gardening techniques I have learned and implemented, his work has not diminished…it has seemed to only increase.

Credit: SBI
YES, this is my actual yard. Credit: SBI

While I enjoy a healthy green lawn with a myriad of various flowers surrounding; a yard that is truly bursting with life. He lives in a dead zone.  It must be frustrating to him. He must notice during the summer while he waters his lawn every single day, I water mine once a week yet mine is still green and his has brown patches.

I suppose I could let him in on my “secrets” but they aren’t really secret. I learned about these techniques from books I found at our local library which is literally just steps from our houses.  I suppose I am shy and I hate to admit that although I have talked to his wife, I haven’t spent much time conversing with him. He seems to me somewhat hostile and the glares he gives me may just be in my imagination. Frankly, I am hesitant to go over there and point out to him that what he’s doing is all wrong. People don’t like that. So call me chicken but whenever he gets to spraying his poison, I just get out of his way.

I thought in my naivety that he might learn from mine and other neighbor’s examples on how one can have a lovely yard without the use of such harmful chemicals but alas he has not.

I know he isn’t the only one who resorts to such methods. In the United States alone 80 million pounds of chemical pesticides were used on residential lawns last year. A staggering number to say the least.

Toxins from pesticides can remain in the body and build up in the liver. Even at what is considered “safe” levels, a person’s reactions can be mild to severe. High levels of exposure can be fatal. Some people are seemingly unaffected or mildly affected, while others become severely ill from similar levels of exposure. Some possible reactions include: Fatigue, Skin Irritations, Nausea, Vomiting, Breathing Problems, Brain Disorders, Blood Disorders, Liver & Kidney Damage, Reproductive Damage and (gasp) Cancer.

Whether or not a person uses these chemicals themselves these toxins find their way to us by seeping into the groundwater and entering the environment where they damage and kill precious wildlife, toxic indeed!

According to the Environmental Protection Agency

Contaminated groundwater can affect the quality of drinking and other types of water supplies when it reaches the surface. Contaminated groundwater can affect the health of animals and humans when they drink or bathe in water contaminated by the groundwater or when they eat organisms that have themselves been affected by groundwater contamination.”

groundwaterjpg-c18e5dce766d777c

Here are some interesting Statistics about Pesticide contamination from The US Fish and Wildlife Service

  • In recent studies of major rivers and streams, one or more pesticides were detected more than 90% of the time in water, in more than 80% of fish sampled, and in 33% of major aquifers (Gilliom, Robert).
  • Pesticides are one of the 15 leading causes of impairment for streams included on States’ Clean Water Act section 303(d) lists of impaired waters.
  • Pesticides have also been identified as a potential cause of amphibian declines and deformities.
  • Pesticides are one of the potential causes pollinator species’ declines and declines of other beneficial insects.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I can’t see how some would think a substance that kills something would NOT be harmful. I know it is a lot of work keeping a lush weed-free lawn. Many people would say it is not worth the trouble and definitely not worth the resources. I have read about people getting rid of their lawn entirely and planting a vegetable garden. I can see the merit of that. Perhaps I may try that in the future….who knows? But today this is not what I am attempting to address.

So besides digging up the lawn entirely which I am truly tempted to do…how does one have a beautiful lawn without resorting to chemicals?

dandelions-
Credit: Public Domain

W E E D S

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I do admit that if one wants to go totally organic, which I will be getting to in the next paragraph, one will probably have to put up with a few weeds which aren’t so bad in reality. Many weed seeds provide food for birds. Weeds are a normal part of most lawns. When there are some types of weeds in the lawn such as white clover and bird’s foot trefoil, these weeds provide a source of nutrients for the soil and later for the grass itself. A good first step is identifying what weeds you do have and determining if they are annuals, perennials or biennial.   This helps you find out the correct method for controlling them. You can find some great information at WWW.msuturfweeds.net.

Annual weeds will generate from seeds and will grow to produce flowers that in turn produce more seeds. Remove them before the seed heads form and you will cut their life short. Biennials have a two-year life span, as with annuals. The trick is to get to them before they go to seed. Remove the seed head. This will do much to reduce the amount of weeds in your lawn overall.

Perennials are different. These weeds also spread by seed but they have nasty runners that spread under the soil. These runners produce rhizomes which are stems that grow horizontally underground and unbeknownst to you will survive the winter. These must be totally dug out of the lawn, when you do this some may come back. But don’t despair.

Weeds indicate the conditions of the soil. Certain weeds indicate certain problems and if you work to amend the soil this may help. For instance, if you have a problem with dandelions this could indicate that your lawn has an overabundance of nitrogen and on the other hand if you have too much clover in your lawn this could indicate not enough nitrogen. Nature is always in a delicate balance and problems occur when that balance is out of whack.

Monocultures are not natural and lawns aren’t really natural. They are just another symptom of the man over nature thing; something we humans have a problem with. I don’t want to sound like a broken record but the health and wellbeing of the natural world relies on a delicate balance and when that balance is thrown off problems will and do occur.

Credit: Public Domain
Credit: Public Domain

W A T E R

“Water is the driving force of all nature.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Water is essential to all life and a healthy lawn does need it especially in the summer. So how does one keep a green and lush lawn during those hot summer days?

Timing is important, Water your lawn during the early morning hours; the best time is between midnight and 9 am. This is giving the water a chance to enter the soil before it is exported by the hot summer sun. Watering in the evening causes the moisture to remain for too long in which there is a danger of fungus developing.

In general the optimal amount of water that a healthy lawn needs is only one inch per week. Of course some lawns have different needs. Some have more shade than others and it depends on climate as well. Be sure to leave your lawn a little on the long side as the longer blades help provide shade and aids in retaining moisture in the soil underneath. In addition, if you mow your lawn frequently it taxes the grass and it must work harder to regrow the top portion.

Of course you may if you choose to have your lawn go dormant in the summer; letting it turn brown. It may not look very good but dormancy is nature’s way of dealing with drought and your lawn will bounce back in no time once the rains return.

The subject of organics and pesticides is vast.  I am only covering a small part of this broad and expansive topic. Organic gardening relies heavily on soil health and the organisms living in the soil. This also depends on the elements present in the soil and how we can give back those nutrients which green growth thrives on. In future articles I will be covering that very important subject, but for now I will impart just one little tidbit on the matter…

Please try to be natural in the care of your yard and garden. Natural is not perfection. Nature is wild and random. It is what we came from and it is what is meant to be. We humans must stop trying to change this world too much. Mother Nature is turning on us, the very beings she created because we are destroying her.

The problem is huge and at times overwhelming but together step by step, we can save this planet!

Strawberryindigo.

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“The Earth we abuse and the living things we kill, will in the end, take their revenge; for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future.”

~Marla Mannes

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OUR LOVELY HOME
OUR LOVELY HOME

References and Suggested Reading

“Organic Lawn Care” By Sandy Baker © 2011

Environmental Statistics (statisticbrain.com)

Pesticides and Wildlife (fws.gov)

Herbicide poison and groundwater supply (mercola.com)

Just How do Pesticides Contaminate our Marine Life (examiner.com)

The Effects of pesticides (globalhealingcenter.com)

It’s not just bees: Popular pesticides are killing birds, too (mnn.com)

Pesticides & Your Pregnancy – Birth Defects, Pregnancy Complications, & Miscarriage (everydayfamily.com)

27 Reasons Why You should Consume Food Grown Using Organic Farming Methods (agricbusiness.com)

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Save The Bees

Cute little fuzzy buzzy bees darting from flower to flower, devoted to their task. I am an avid bee watcher. They are fascinating creatures to observe, so active and alive.

I wasn’t always like this. For most of my life I never paid much attention to bees, only enough to get out of their way.  As a child I saw them as mysterious and dangerous. Now as an adult knowing their precarious position my heart soars every time I see one.

I no longer take these essential little dynamos for granted.  We owe much to bees and this goes far beyond honey.  It is the by-product of their “busyness” pollinating roughly three-fifths of the food plants in the United States that keeps us in groceries, so to speak.

One full third of our diet depends on bee pollination.

We can thank our helpers; the bees for many of our favorite foods including: strawberries, apples, apricots, blueberries, kiwi, almonds, coconuts, pomegranates, cherries, okra, onions, sunflowers, tangerines, oranges, hazelnuts, soybeans, cauliflower, avocado, cucumber and watermelon just to name a few.(See complete list)

The Disappearing Act

By now many of us have heard of the bees disappearing. Scientists, the media and people in the know have been all abuzz about this phenomena they named Colony Collapse Disorder. (CCD) It seemingly came out of nowhere and since its abrupt appearance in 2005, it has been affecting millions and millions of bees all over the world.  It is characterised by the disappearance of worker bees that leave behind a queen, a few attendants, and maybe a few drones. Basically abandoned, the infected are left to wither and die with a hive full of honey.

There have been many different theories floating around as to the cause of Colony Collapse and there has been much finger pointing.  Many of the fingers point to our reliance on the pesticides and chemical fertilizers essential to our large commercial food production and the increasing use of Genetically Modified crops.

There has been evidence to support tracheal mites and varroa mites, known threats to bees. Some have proposed Nosema; a fungus as the cause, while others suggest it may be a virus such as Israeli acute paralysis.

Some are even blaming the commercial bee industry itself. Saying that the stress the hives undergo during frequent moves on trucks – typical of the way large commercial farms operate are helping to cause CCD. It should be said that smaller bee operations and hobbyists have reported less occurrence of this devastating disorder, this is probably due to the genetic diversity that smaller hives tend to have.

I personally think it’s a combination of many different factors and it’s a sign of modern civilization’s thirst for utter dominance over nature. Our total disharmony with our wild roots is catching up to us. Our disregard is showing and the signs are everywhere, not just in bees. We are being given a rather stern warning that we should heed.

An inspirational Sunflower

Save the Bees

And how do we save the bees? I’m no scientist. I am just a backyard gardener with a yen for the planet. Yes, I care but what can I really do personally? What can we all do?

The best action you can take to benefit honey bees is to not use pesticides and if you must use pesticides try not to use them at mid-day when honey bees are most likely to be out foraging for nectar. Try to use natural fertilizers instead of chemical ones.

Plant a large number of native nectar producing plants particularly in the colors pink, purple, and blue. Some plants to consider are red clover, alfalfa, foxglove, bee balm, and joe-pye weed. ( See complete list of plants)

And put in a good word for our friend the bee. They get bad press. At the very least people just don’t care about bees. Some people hate bees and others are afraid and justifiably so, in some cases. (See Africanized bees) 

But for the most part most of us will never encounter any killer bees. Just the garden variety, the cute fuzzy buzzy bees busy with helping transform our world into a garden; one flower at a time. Leave them to their important task.  They mean no harm to you and will only use their stinger in self-defense.  They are gentle creatures. If you encounter a hive in a natural area, leave it alone. We are meant to coexist with bees and we can as long as we learn to respect them for what they are and what they do.

We must change our attitudes about bees if they are to survive. The facts remain that while the number of bee keepers have been decreasing, the number of companies specializing in the removal of unwanted hives is on the rise.

Love them, hate them or fear them… we need them.

As the world population swells over the coming decades demand for food will surely increase.  We will need not only the bees to help feed us but we will need to rethink our role on the planet. We’ll have to realise that we need to foster a cooperation with nature as well as our neighbors.  We’re all in this together. You, me, the bees… the whole world.  By saving the bees, we are in essence saving ourselves.

English: Honeybee (Apis mellifera) landing on ...
English: Honeybee (Apis mellifera) landing on a milk thistle flower (Silybum marianum). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks for listening,

Strawberryindigo.

 

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References and Suggested Reading

The Honey Trail by Grace Pundyk. © 2008

A Short History of the Honey Bee by E. Readicker-Hendersen. © 2009

USDA website; page on CCD