Environmental Tip of the Week: Keeping Toxics out of your Yard

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So, you might have heard the old nursery rhyme:  Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow?

It goes on to say something about cockle shells and other weird plant names.  But that first line asks a pretty good question.  How does your garden grow?  Do you use home pesticides or chemical remedies to make those plants you’re so proud of grow so well, without weeds or insects attacking them?  Many people use pesticides, because they seem like the easiest, quickest fix.  They can be effective at killing insects at first, but because they don’t change the conditions that encourage pests, they never actually solve pest problems.  That’s why people who use them often have to do so repeatedly. 

Making the decision to keep toxic chemicals out of your yard is important, and can be just as easy, and more efficient, than using pesticides.  Pesticides are not only ineffective in the long run, but are dangerous to us.   Don’t take my word for it; listen to Caroline Cox, a nationally renowned health advocate who has spent over twenty years studying the science behind the public health impact of pesticide use.  They can contaminate the air, water, and soil in your yard.  Your kids play in that grass, your pets roll around in that dirt.  You might even be growing herbs or vegetables for your family to eat.  You don’t want chemicals in any of that stuff. 

Contrary to what many people think, it’s not hard or time consuming to tend your garden the natural way.   Solving a pest problem means changing the conditions that allow a pest to thrive.  Strive to keep your soil healthy and make use of natural measures.  Here are a few tips for a non-toxic garden.

1.  Compost:  Use all-natural compost or even start your own compost in the backyard.  You can mix yard wastes such as grass clippings, leaves, and even weeds together to make natural compost.  It provides plants with nutrients and smothers those pesky insects.  If you are a Bay Area resident, you can even take a Bay-Friendly Gardening Workshop to learn about chemical-free gardening.

2.  Kitchen Scraps:  Use a compost of your kitchen scraps, such as vegetable and other compostable waste, instead of allowing it to be shipped off to a landfill.  This kind of compost enriches garden fertility and soil by giving plants nutrients.  It also helps aerate the soil and improves water retention.

3.  Companion Planting:  This method makes use of plants that have natural substances in their roots, flowers, and leaves that can naturally repel insects.  Using these specific plants as a border for your garden or dotted between plants can help with integrated pest control.  For more info. and a list of useful companion plants, click here.

4.  Get Informed:  Learn to recognize which insects are beneficial and which are harmful to your plants.  Control pests by learning preventative pruning methods and using pesticide alternatives, like horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps that do not leave toxic residues.  Our Water- Our World and PANNA have helpful factsheets on specific pests and how to deal with them, as well as guides for where to buy safer alternatives to pesticides.

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Ali manages the website and coordinates the online communications of CEH. She works with the communications and development staff to create messaging strategies and public education content for CEH’s supporters and online audience. A Bay Area native, Ali attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where she received a B.A. in Sociology and Cultural Studies. This allowed her to live abroad in Argentina, where she studied Latin American history and learned valuable Spanish language skills. Ali is thrilled to be part of an organization that advocates for healthy communities so effectively.