Archive for May, 2012

May 15, 2012

Do your plants look like you?

As I sit down tonight, hundreds of thoughts swirl through my head.

What am I forgetting?  What’s left to be done?  What have I started?  Did I water?  Did you see the wind today?  Oh, no!  I forgot to water.  Those poor little things are going to die!  When am I going to get back over to school?  The chemicals.  How do we deal with the chemicals?  When is the soil coming?  What’s the bigger picture?  Measure in the morning, design mid-day, consult, baseball game.  I think I have time to measure!  Wait, finish plan, then measure, then design? Not sure I’ll have time…

Life has been crazy lately.  While I’m doing things I love, I’m burning the candle at both ends so to speak.  Yesterday my body tried to give me a wake-up call, it knocked me down for a while.  Sore throat, worn down.  I’m doing better today than yesterday, but honestly ignoring the leftover warnings.  I just have to get through this week and then I can take a breath.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Life is funny that way, at least for me.  When it rains, it pours and I hate to say “no”.  I want to make it all work, especially in areas that I’m passionate about.  But when it comes to living mindfully, I know that what I’m doing is flat-out flying in the face of mindful living.  How on earth can I take in each moment when I’m going mach 10 and my mind is racing 100 miles ahead of my body?  And when my body is waving red flags like an accident in a NASCAR race I ignore them.  I’m really a fool.  For what am I going to do if I maintain this speed?  Crash.  Hard.

But here I am.  Trying to make it all work, trying to make it all happen, trying to make sure I follow through on my word because if my word means nothing, then what does that say about me?

Please tell me you’ve been there.  That you’ve had your days or your weeks, where things keep piling, and you keep pushing, thinking the end is near, then pile on more until the pile gets deeper.  You whittle away until finally you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Tell me I’m not alone.

So what does all of this have to do with gardening or sustainable living?  I thought you’d never ask.  Like people, plants have needs.  We both need ample amounts of water.  We need sunlight (heard of Vitamin D?) so do they.  We need firm ground, so do they.  We need air, so do they.  (Thankfully we exchange our air with each other.)

Our bodies wave flags when something is wrong.  So do plants.  We get tired, get headaches, get run down and finally get sick.  They get run down, wilt and finally get sick.  But if we’re paying attention to ourselves and our plants, we can stop it before it gets that bad.  Plant leaves get dull, cup toward the sky (to catch water), then if we continue to ignore them, they wilt.  Wilt in a plant is called stress.  Funny, we have that word about us too, don’t we?  When we get stressed our skin gets dull, eyes look dull or red, we feel run down… and wilt.

But what’s the long-term effect of stress?  In plants, repeated stress equals death.  Thankfully plants are a little more dramatic than we are.  When we have repeated, long-term stress, we get sick.  Our bodies go into survival mode.  Remember, we started as hunters and gathers except the difference is that the stress then really was life or death.  Now?  It’s “just stress”.  Or is it?  Stress is linked to many problems today including obesity and long-term illness and I guess, if we don’t take care of ourselves and continue that pattern… yes, perhaps even death.

Loving this post, right?  Okay, I’m not meaning to take a sour turn or to bring anyone down, quite the opposite, in fact.  What I’m suggesting is that if you get home, like I did today, and find your plants looking limp, wilted and thirsty, grab a mirror.  How are you doing?  How are you feeling?  Limp?  Wilted?  Thirsty?  Often times the care we give our plants reflects the care we give ourselves.  Too busy to take care of your plants?  Chances are you’re too busy to take care of yourself.  So the next time your plants need water, grab a glass for yourself.  If your plants are getting leggy because they need more light give it to them, then get outside, go for a walk.  Do they just look sickly?  Give them food.  Good food.  Compost.  And while you’re at it, grab yourself an apple, bring it outside and take a break to care for both of you.  Before long you’ll have yourself and your plants looking fabulous!


May 6, 2012

Would you like weed killer with that?

I’ve been very disturbed lately, trying to process how we came to value a perfect lawn over people.

The other day, as I walked with my son to school, we passed house upon house with little signs posted in their yards saying “chemical treatment – keep children and pets off until: such and such date” or “pesticide application: keep off until dry”.  I’m sure you’ve seen them.  We’ve all seen them.  We’ve become accustomed to them.

But have you ever stopped to wonder why they post those signs?  Why just children and pets, is it safe for adults?  Why a three days?  Why is everything okay once its dry?  Is it really?  It is okay?  Can we really put chemicals on our lawns that kill plants and insects but have no effect on us after just a few hours or a few days?  Or are we simply ignoring the possibility that it might have an effect?

Let’s think about this.  We grow grass, we feed it with chemicals to make it green, we layer on more chemicals to kill anything that isn’t grass, then we layer on even more chemicals to kill off any insects, beneficial or otherwise, who might be living in the soil because we don’t want them to ruin the grass that we worked so hard to get perfect and green.  But for what purpose?  Can we walk in it?  Can we play in it with our children?  Ca we let our pets go out and sniff the ground?  Can we do all of those things without the little voices in the back of our heads saying “Are you sure that’s safe?”?

Now I realize some people, a lot of people, might not like to think about this.  In fact, I’m guessing they stopped at the subject line and didn’t read any further, or they started reading but stopped at the second sentence.  But if you’ve read up to this point then I ask that you bear with me and read through to the end.

There are times in our lives when we learn things that we don’t necessarily want to hear.  We hear things that put us on the defensive and make us not want to listen any further.  We, as human beings, have a conscience, and we don’t like to admit when we may have made a mistake or been a part of a greater problem.  My goal is not to put anyone on the defensive, but to just get us all to stop and think and maybe, change our behaviour.

If you use chemicals in your yard or garden I’d ask you to honestly ask yourself one question: Why do you do it?

Why do you use chemicals?  Why chemical fertilizer?  Why insecticides?  Why pesticides?  Why herbicides?  Is it because it’s how you were taught and you don’t know how to do it differently?  Is it because you think it will take too much time or too much work to not use chemicals?  Is it because you’re worried about what the neighbors will think if you have weeds in your yard? (After all  you’ve heard how they talk about the other neighbors, you don’t want that to be you.)  Is it because you can’t stand the sight of weeds because in the back of your mind there is a stigma with weeds and laziness?  Do you just think of weeds as interruption of the span of green and are therefore ugly?  Do you truly believe that the chemicals won’t harm anyone?  Or do you just not want to be bothered?

Let me ask another question.  If you knew today that you, your child or your pet would end up with Cancer in a few years, would you still do it?  Would you still expose yourself, your family and your pets to lawn chemicals?  Would you still value your lawn the same way you do today?

I don’t.  And here’s why: A few years ago I lost my dog to Cancer and I’ve lost far too many people in my life to Cancer, unexplainable Cancer.  And while I don’t have a background in science or chemistry or medicine, I can tell you my theory.  We are surrounded by chemicals in every facet of our lives.  Our food contains chemicals, our homes contain chemicals, our air is full of chemicals, we put chemicals on our skin in the form of lotions, sunscreens, make-up, deoderant and anti-perspirants.  We have chemicals in our toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, soap, laundry soap, fabric softener and house cleansers.  There isn’t an area in our lives that isn’t exposed to chemicals.  So why can’t scientists figure out what causes Cancer?  My guess is because everything causes Cancer.  Can I control everything?  No, I can’t.  I’m sure I’m exposed to Cancer causing chemicals far more than I’m aware of and I can’t control that.  But what I can do is eliminate the chemicals from the areas in my life that I can control and hopefully, that will be enough me and my family to live a long and healthy life.

My parents weren’t “hippies” or “tree-huggers”, in fact we used products daily growing up that contained all sorts of chemicals, mostly because it’s what we knew.  As I’ve grown and life has taken me on many paths, including working for an Organic Certification Agency over 20 years ago, I became increasingly aware to the dangers of chemicals and just how long they stay with us.  Did you realize that if you wanted to start an organic farm (or garden) today, but you were using chemicals on it yesterday, that your crops wouldn’t be considered “organic” for at least three years?  Why?  Because it’s not just the chemicals that get applied to the current crop that makes something organic.  It takes three years for the chemicals to break-down in the soil enough that they don’t show up in toxic amounts in our food.  Three years.

So transfer this to our lawns.  When we use chemicals, we are typically on a schedule, we keep adding them to our lawn multiple times a year.  We add more, and more to get the best results.  And there it sits.  It sits in the soil that grows our grass, the soil that grows our flowers and our food for years to come.  But we continue to tell ourselves that it’s okay.   We post signs, telling people when we’ve put chemicals on our lawns.  And after a couple of days its safe, right?  When our dogs put their nose right on the ground and sniff, it’s okay.  When our kids sit in the grass, pull up the blades and put them in their mouth to make the blade of grass whistle, that’s okay too.  When we walk barefoot or have a picnic in the front lawn or when we eat veggies out of our garden that shares the soil with our lawn, it’s safe, right?  Or is it?

My thought is this.  If the guy spraying our lawn is supposed to wear boots, gloves and a mask to apply it (which they are supposed to do to limit exposure) and make sure not to spray on a windy day, or the warning on the bag or bottle of chemicals that we’re applying on our lawns or gardens says not to ingest and to call poison control or a doctor if it is ingested, then why would we trust that after just a couple of hours that it’s “safe” for us to be on, that it’s “safe” to eat, that it’s “safe” at all?

We do many things in our lives out of habit.  Change can seem difficult at first, but I urge you to question what you’re doing, what you’re using and if you don’t have a clear conscience, then look for alternatives.

If you have been using chemicals and you’ve thought about eliminating them from your yard but you don’t love dandelions and aren’t friends with creeping charlie or plantain or what have you, don’t sweat it.  There are alternatives.   There are more and more organic lawn care companies that will do the work for you if that’s what you’re accustomed to.  Or, if you want to convert it yourself I would recommend the book The Organic Lawn Care Manual by Paul Tukey.

Please, if you’re in the area, do not use my lawn as an example of what organic lawn care looks like!  My yard, particularly the front, is definitely not picture perfect.  Other than mowing, aerating and watering, our lawn has not truly been cared for in the past few years.  In fact, the current dandelion population makes me cringe.  However, when I weigh the dandelions against the health and well-being of my family and pets, they don’t seem quite as bad.

Think of it this way, if you were to go into your local coffee shop but instead of asking if you would like cream they asked “Would you like weed killer with that?” what would you answer?  Or, if you sat down at the dinner table and asked someone to pass the salt and pepper, but upon receiving it you realize its filled with weed n’ feed, would you use it on your dinner?  If your response is “no” then I ask you to seriously consider whether you think it’s truly “safe” to put these same chemicals on your lawn and in your garden.  If, in the back of your mind you have doubt, even the slightest bit, I urge you to change.  For you.  For your family.  For your pets.  And for those to come after us.

Afterall, is your lawn really that important?


May 1, 2012

What happened to U through Z?

A, B, C, D… sing with me… E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P… Q, S, R…  T.  What?!?

Okay, we all know the alphabet doesn’t stop at T.  So what happened to U through Z? Perhaps you wonder why I lost my momentum? Maybe you don’t wonder at all.  But I’m gonna tell ya anyway.

Spring sprung in Minnesota.

For those of you who live in a warm climate you might be saying to yourself “So what?!”, but for those of us who live in the arctic tundra (although this year really didn’t count as arctic or tundra) we go into our caves (a.k.a. houses) in about October and hibernate for about six or seven months.  We peer out of our windows all winter long waiting for a sign from above telling us that it’s safe to come out.  Those signs come in the form of melting snow, buds, blossoms and birds migrating North.  Once the robins appear, we think we’re safe.  We cautiously poke our heads out of our doorways, clinching our teeth as we await one last cold blast from the North.  When the frigid wind doesn’t come, we slowly move forward, easing ourselves through the doorway, looking left and right for other signs of life.  All the while leaving one foot in the door so it doesn’t shut behind us “just in case” that last Alberta Clipper quickly whips around the corner and smacks us in the face.  However, the foot trick doesn’t always work.  That arctic blast usually causes a ricochet effect starting with our face, then rapidly moving through our bodies, snapping every, single, muscle into rigidity a Colonel would be proud of.  Unfortunately, that includes the foot, which then releases the door, allowing it to slam shut and latch behind us leaving us stranded, outside, unprepared for the hypothermic chill that is about to set in over our bodies in record time.

But we didn’t get that this year.  In fact, we didn’t even have snow to watch melt.  Instead, we just peered out the windows and waited.  We waited until about a month ago, when spring came early.  Actually, winter went right into summer, and then Mother Nature came to her senses and we went back to “normal”.  Anyway, about two weeks ago, when everyone poked their heads out of their caves they were greeted with mildness.  Actually, we were greeted with mild weather most of the winter, which is probably what caused the distrust we were having for spring.  We kept waiting for that one last nasty blast of cold, but we never got it.  Anyway, as you looked down Minnesota streets the past couple of weeks, you could see a series of heads poking out, surprised to see other heads poking out.  Then full bodies emerged.  Followed by even more bodies.  Before you knew it, people were everywhere.

Then it happened… mowers fired up, people started cleaning out gardens and planting, and then… the phone started ringing.  And I started running!  Not in the running for my health sense, but as in running to keep up sense.  And I love it.  However, spring and running, tend to leave me little time to blog, at least not much during the daylight hours.  In the spring I become more of a vampire blogger and so it will remain until, well, we all get blasted by that first arctic chill of the fall.

So what happened to the rest of the alphabet?  It’s simple really.  Spring sprung, life got busy, I got busy and although I tried my darndest, I couldn’t cram any more hours into the day, so my A-Z April Challenge ended with T.  Am I proud?  Nope.  Am I a titch frustrated with myself?  Yep.  In fact I’m really bothered by the fact that my alphabet went from A to T, and that I even managed to transpose a couple of letters in the middle due to an oversight in realizing one of them never went “live”, but because I have a couple of fun posts in the works to wrap it all up, I will complete the alphabet.  Later.

That’s right, the end of the alphabet is coming.  When you least expect it.  When you’re all nestled safely in your beds, all of a sudden there will be a U, then a V, followed by W, X, Y and finally Z.  So when you’re resting, rest well, but keep one eye open for the vampire blogger because you never know when she might strike.