Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Gardener as Ecologist

Whenever I give a garden lecture I look for opportunities to emphasize ecology. I view gardeners as environmental stewards. These two things must always go hand in hand in my opinion.

But many people take up the practice of gardening with only a local retailer as their ultimate source of knowledge, which is unwise, and possibly dangerous. Certainly, gardeners need things - hoses, fertilizer, bags of compost, a half dozen strong wooden stakes and so on - what we don't need is another spray for a problem that is not really a problem in the first place.

When you ask the clerk who is busy flooding the potted perennials with a fire hose, "Will this product kill the grubs in my lawn?" he will predictably blink a few times, glance at the bag in your cart and say "yep" and you will happily go to the register satisfied that you have made a wise choice in parting with 40 bucks.

The notion that there is a product for every perceived garden woe is one that I blame on both the corporations and the consumers.

First, the corporations are at fault for treating pest control like bad breath; something everyone should do something about. Second, the consumers are to blame for assuming that the college kid with the summer job at the nursery is studying entomology or has even bothered to read directions on the bag, which will clearly tell the consumer that the window of opportunity for treating grubs in the lawn has expired. Applying it now is simply a waste.

Over 12,000 pesticide products are currently registered for use in and around our homes. American households use an estimated 80 million pounds of pesticides and spend over nearly $2 billion annually for them. The largest portion of total U.S. home and garden pesticides used each year is with herbicides at approximately 70%, followed by insecticides and miticides, fungicides, and other pesticides.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey 1999 report on the quality of our nation’s waters, least one pesticide was found in almost every water and fish sample collected from streams and in more than one-half of shallow wells sampled in agricultural and urban areas.

Unknown quantities of pesticides are liberally applied by gardeners without regard to both potential short term and long term environmental consequences. Without sufficient data from scientific research it is impossible to know exactly how carefully and responsibly these products are being used.

It is my opinion that Americans need to better understand the environmental impacts of the pesticide products they purchase and apply to their lawns and gardens. Consumers have the rights and the power to do so, and therefore they should.

I do not advocate that all chemicals are bad, nor do I expect all gardeners to go exclusively organic. What I expect from gardeners is responsible practices, and good portion of this requires education.

A responsible gardener has taken the time to understand precisely when a pesticide may be helpful.

A responsible gardener knows that pests come and go and most will only do mild to moderate damage, resulting in little, if any, loss.

A responsible gardener understands that soil health and plant vigor play a large role in pest management.

A responsible gardener has at least a general understanding of pesticides - which pesticides are more, or less, persistent in soil and water; which are harmful to bees, pollinators and other beneficial insects; which are the most toxic to humans, animals, birds and aquatic organisms.

Most of all, a responsible gardener is one who considers
everything he or she does in the garden as having an impact somewhere else in the biosphere.

As environmentalist Rachel Carson once said, "Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species -- man -- acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world. "


1 comment:

Gardening in a Sandbox said...

Well said. I understand your frustration. Valerie