Archive for ‘Lawn Care’

May 13, 2015

Before you spray…

A Scott’s sales rep came to the door yesterday telling me he could spray to kill all of the dandelions and other weeds in our yard, fertilize the lawn and spray to get rid of all of the mosquitoes. I politely told him, “No thank you. I don’t mind them and am actually growing plants to attract insects and pollinators instead of kill them.” He then offered to use their organic line and estimated that it would be $56 to “take care of” our yard. Again, I smiled and said, “No, thank you. We’re not interested.” at which point he offered me his business card, told me he was also a realtor and offered to do a property value estimate if I’m ever interested.

We have no plans of moving.  Part of why we bought this house is because it’s just behind the nature center which has a lake. Mosquitoes, whether we like it or not, come with the territory.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate mosquitoes just as much as the next person, but the SPRAYS they use ARE NOT SELECTIVE. That means they don’t just kill mosquitoes, they also kill everything else including bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

I realize a lot of people don’t like insects, but we NEED these insects. Our food system relies on them. I don’t think most people know or understand the impact that spraying their yard for mosquitoes has on our food system.

Yes, I’m a gardener and every year I hope for an abundant harvest from my garden, but this isn’t about my garden. This is effecting food on a much larger scale. This is about the food on everyone’s table.

Our pollinators are disappearing at alarming rates and our food is going to follow. This isn’t something we can ignore or pretend isn’t happening. It’s not going to be okay or correct itself on its own.

This time of the year, when everything is in bloom, my yard is typically abuzz with bees and other insects feeding on the nectar and pollen from dandelions, creeping charlie, flowering crabs and dogwoods. This year I have seen a couple of wasps pass through and a handful of flies. That’s it.

It would be so easy to blow it off and try to reason our way out of why I don’t see them in my yard, but the truth of the matter is that I work to create a bee, butterfly and insect friendly yard and they are not here. My yard is a minute sample of the greater picture. Looking at my yard is like looking through a sample under a microscope. If the insects aren’t in my yard, that means they aren’t around.

Am I worried that the fruits and vegetables in my yard won’t get pollinated and will produce less fruit? Of course. But what really bothers me is that the fruits and vegetables on a greater scale aren’t getting pollinated,  which is a much larger problem.

All of this makes me so sad. They are making it so fast, cheap and easy to kill-off the insects that we think are a nuisance but fail to tell people that they are also killing off insects  that pollinate the plants that give us our food.

We have smoking policies in place to protect people who don’t smoke from breathing in second hand smoke.

Spraying our yards doesn’t work the same way. If we spray, we are not just impacting our yard and our neighbors, we are impacting life on the larger scale.

We need to stop pretending that what we do in our yard is our choice and that it doesn’t impact anyone else, because it does. It impacts EVERYONE else.

The next time you go to buy groceries, look at the produce section and imagine it empty or sparce with extremely expensive produce. Imagine coffee so expensive that it becomes a luxury. Do you hate spending so much money on groceries? It’s going to continue to get more and more expensive and we will have less and less available if we don’t change what we are doing.

We need to fix our system, fast. Some states are banning neonicotinoide pesticides. A couple of cities in the Twin Cities metro area have also banned them. But until they are fully non-existent we need to be our own advocates.

That’s not to mention the detrimental effects directly on people. Pesticides are also hormone – altering (endocrine disruptors) which alter the natural function of our bodies in many, many dangerous ways.

If our world were balanced, it should be ungodly expensive to spray both herbicides and pesticides because the effects are damaging on a global level. Damaging to our health, damaging to our food system, not to mention damaging to the soil, water and air we breathe.

It shouldn’t cost $59 to kill everything that lives in a 1/3 of an acre lot, it should cost at lot more than that because in reality, it does.

June 14, 2012

Front Lawn: Community Builder or Barrier?

The other day I was reading something, somewhere about lawns.¬† Ha! Do you like where this is going? ūüôā¬† Anyway, they mentioned that lawns, as much as we tend to them, aren’t very welcoming but instead are a barrier between us and our neighbors.¬† At first I completely disregarded this comment.¬† A barrier?!?¬† Come on!¬† Then after letting it sit for a while I started to think about it.¬† Hmm… Then I started making some observations and realized that I think they might be right.

As I’ve walked down the street and driven through neighborhoods I’ve been paying close attention to how people are using their lawns and what I found was that people don’t.¬† I’ve seen kids playing in them, whether it’s a game of catch or tag or simply sitting and chatting, but other than a select few, I rarely see adults in the lawn.¬† (Unless they’re mowing.)

I also started paying close attention to my own behavior and realized that I treat lawns like a glass wall.¬† If I’m walking down the block and see a neighbor out in their yard I’ll wave or say, “Hi”¬† but rarely will I walk across the lawn to talk to them.¬† I’ve found that I’ll even yell to them from the street (we don’t have public sidewalks in our neighborhood) before I’ll walk across their lawn.¬† And if I do think about walking over to them, before I step foot in the lawn I’ll search for a walkway, sidewalk or driveway to take instead.¬† And I’m not alone.¬† As I’ve been observing all of this, I realized that many other people are doing the same thing.¬† I’m lucky enough to live in a very friendly, close-knit neighborhood yet even in our neighborhood I’ve found almost all of the conversations on our block take place, not in our yards, but in the street.¬† And it’s not just in our neighborhood, I’ve seen it in other neighborhoods as well (except that in neighborhoods with public sidewalks the conversations take place on the sidewalk instead of the street).

Why do we do this?¬† Honestly I don’t know, but I don’t think these are conscious decisions. I do, however, think these are subconscious decisions.¬† For some reason lawns are not the welcoming green space we often refer to them as.¬† Instead, lawns have become almost untouchable, uninviting.

So that brings me to question why we have lawns.¬† I know I’ve told myself that its green space or play space or a space to relax, but what I’ve found is that I treat it more like a green moat, a space not to touch, not to cross, I look for a bridge to get me to the other side, ¬†especially if the lawn is manicured.¬† Stepping on a manicured lawn is like walking on freshly vacuumed carpet, I don’t want to be the first to leave a foot print.

So what is it?¬† What is it about lawns that have become so untouchable?¬† And how to we change that?¬† Or should we change that?¬† Maybe untouchable is fine, but in this age of community building, untouchable lawns don’t seem to build much community, do they?¬† Some say fences in front yards build barriers, but I’m starting to wonder if it actually has the opposite effect.¬† Maybe fences are friendly because they have a gate, an opening, a place we know we can go and should go.¬† Plus, fences build curiosity, kind of like a secret garden: we can’t see it all, so our mind naturally wonders, “What’s on the other side?”¬† With wide open lawns, on the other hand, we could enter anywhere, but we don’t.¬† Instead we hesitate.¬† I find myself wondering whether I should walk on the lawn.¬† “Maybe there’s a preferred route?¬† Maybe the homeowner doesn’t want me on their lawn.”

Ever since I’ve had this “untouchable lawn revelation” if you will, I’ve started thinking about ways to make lawns more appealing and have come to this conclusion: maybe less lawn is more friendly.¬† Maybe, if there were perimeter gardens or flowerbeds or shrubs close to the street, with an inviting opening, a virtual gate, or even a structure, the lawn would be more welcoming and less threatening.¬† I also think if the lawn had a more defined purpose such as a pathway between flower beds or inside a “room” such as a perimeter of plantings under Adirondack chairs it would feel more like a rug or carpet in a room; something to come in, take your shoes off and get comfy on. Or maybe it’s a play area, an obvious play area with defined borders, maybe then it would be more welcoming.

So as my own space continues to evolve I’ll be thinking about the purpose of my lawn.¬† With each space I create I will ask, “How will it be used?”¬† Because if I can answer that question, if I can give my lawn a purpose, and design the space around it, I think I’ll be more likely to use my lawn myself and hopefully the glass wall will come down and others will want to use it too.


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?