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Organic Gardening Catastrophe

I arrived home from work on a Tuesday afternoon about a week or so ago, stepped from my car and smelled the unmistakable smell of chemicals.

Sure enough, I looked down and there were white pellets all over my driveway (which is an unforgivable sin in my book anyway–pesticide applicators should know better than to leave that crap on hard surfaces, especially in close proximity to water bodies–but this is only the beginning of the horrors!)

I looked at my house, and sure enough, there was the hang tag indicating that my property had been treated with pesticides.

As all of you know, I am a long-time organic gardener. My property has been organic for 23 years. It is certified as a backyard habitat by both the state and the National Wildlife Federation. I don’t “do” pesticides, even of the organic type, except under extreme circumstances (pine sawfly larva is about the only thing I can think of that I spray for, and that’s about once a year with insecticidal soap!)

So I immediately went in and called the offending company, which is at least a regional company (and not the large one you are thinking of–for once TruGreen is off the hook. This one is based in New Hampshire). They had the local supervisor call me.

I was less cordial with him than I had been with the regional customer service rep (because after all, the person in New Hampshire bore no responsibility for this whatsoever). But the local person? He ought to know what his workers are doing!

So I simply explained that I was at a loss to understand how the worker could mistake my house for my neighbor’s. Here were some of the reasons why:

  • I have a dog, who probably barked at him; she doesn’t.
  • I have a larger lot, with 2 groves of trees on it; she doesn’t
  • I have lots of ornamental gardens, including a vegetable garden and pond; she doesn’t
  • She has a patio, a deck and a gazebo; I don’t
  • Further, my property is marked in 4 separate places with my house number

Clearly the worker hadn’t had enough caffeine–or had too much of some other banned substance–that morning.

But the damage is done. My yard is poisoned, I can’t walk my dog in my own yard, and I don’t dare eat my vegetables for fear that they have been contaminated.

And the Spoiler’s reaction when I told him about all this? He was worried about his grass, which is not supposed to be fertilized at all, least of all with a pellet fertilizer. So now he’s worried that that will die!

The best part of all? There was no yellow “This Property Has been Treated” sign placed on our property which is a violation of Federal law. Mind you, I don’t want to advertise that this horrid mistake has been made. But I want, at least, to alert other dog walkers like me to keep their pets away!

What A Difference A Year Makes!

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See these mushrooms? They’re all over in my lawn. They’re all over in everyone’s lawns!

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Here are some more. You know what this means. It means it’s been raining. And this is a wonderful thing. For the last two and a half years, it wasn’t raining–or snowing much–or even sleeting or hailing.

For the last 2 1/2 years, our lawns were like tinder, our trees lost their leaves, our gardens dried out, I lost many, many established perennials and shrubs, our evergreens died, or got diseased so that we had to remove them–it’s been a really tough time here in the Northeast and it’s not over yet.

And while we haven’t had a plague of locusts, we have had a plague of gypsy moths that threaten to kill many of our large deciduous trees.

You may think that I am harping on the drought and its after effects. But many, many folks come to New England for the fall foliage. And in many places. our landscape is going to be forever changed by these years of drought.

The backdrop of evergreens that set off our blazing fall colors is slowly being killed by disease caused by drought.

The oaks and maples that cause those beautiful colors are being ravaged by the gypsy moths. Fall tourism may never be the same in places, particularly in parts of Massachusetts. It will remain to be seen.

Have any of you heard about any of this in the news? I doubt it.

And I doubt my neighbors have heard–or seen–that it’s raining. On days when it’s raining–even on days when we get an inch or more of rain–they run their lawn sprinklers. One neighbor runs his twice a day, and the second time is at 1:30 in the afternoon! Talk about a colossal waste of water!

But that’s why I put the pictures of the mushrooms up. You know that I don’t irrigate my lawn so you can tell how much rain we’ve had just by the presence of mushrooms all over my yard.

Some of my neighbors have larger mushrooms than I do but somehow it didn’t seem wise to go around photographing them, particularly while I am walking the dog. That could just lead to catastrophe, in more ways than one. So you’ll have to take my word that the mushrooms are larger on other properties (which I guess is something like the grass being greener….)

In any event, with all these mushrooms around, it seems to me that some of these irrigation systems could be given a rest. You know, encourage the grass to develop deep roots for the next drought. But why be forward thinking, I guess?

Patented Plants–Take 2

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I have talked before,  less so here, but definitely at garden club lectures quite a bit,  about patented plants.

I caution that the clubs need to know about the parentage of their plants before they propagate them for sale at their  plant sales. And I always get push back from someone who says something like “but we’re really a nonprofit,” or ” this can’t mean that I can’t divide this plant and give it to my friend,  right?”

Hello, folks, read my latest enclosure slip that I received with 2 roses last week.

These plants aren’t even patented yet–the patents are pending. And what does it say, right there, literally,  in black and white? “patent pending,” and “cannot be propagated.”

Could the growers be any clearer?

Wordless Wednesday–Accidental Pollinator Habitats

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There’s a lot of talk these days about “post-wild” planting. And while I haven’t read that particular book, I have read Larry Weaner’s books and been to a couple of his talks on habitat plantings and succession plantings. From what I can glean from interviews with the “post-wild” author, he has made habitat and succession planting just a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be! But maybe I need to read his book–perhaps I do him a disservice.

Take a look here. These are two native plants that have sprung up under my star magnolia. The Spoiler keeps wanting to “pull out the weeds.” I keep telling him that he’d better not, on pain of death (besides, good luck getting out the goldenrod. Its roots are incredibly deep!)

The taller, darker one on the end with the lance shaped leaves is goldenrod. The one in the foreground is a shorter lived succession plant called either white snakeroot, or boneset, depending on which common name you prefer. It actually migrated here from the edge of our woodlands. There is still a little bit there, but it obviously prefers this sunnier spot. Both of these are pollinator magnets, as I will show you later this summer.

What’s left in the woods? White wood aster, also a pollinator magnet.

And what was under this tree? Nothing. We keep limbing it up to let the plants grow in.

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Here’s another “accidental” habitat that most people never see because they use 4-step programs and those programs kill clover. Clover is prime habitat for butterflies and bees. I am always amazed when I see folks walking barefoot on their lawns. I wouldn’t dare–and not because I’ve poisoned it with pesticides either!  I don’t want to accidentally step on all my precious bees!

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Finally, don’t over look habitat in the most unlikely places. This is an overly broad crack between the slates on my walk. Yes, there are too many weeds here that I need to address. But there’s lovely moss, a fern and some violets. Those get to stay.

If nature is doing your “planting” for you, why fight it?

 

Pollinators and Pesticides Don’t Mix

I am sure that you don’t want to hear the story about why I became an organic gardener again. I re-hashed it just in the last two weeks.

So here’s a different story that I haven’t told in quite some time. Retail gardening was an eye-opener for me, particularly as an organic gardener. The idea that not only was I there to sell an arsenal of toxic products and to advise the consumers on how to use them was difficult, but worse yet, in the box store where I worked, half the customers were absolutely convinced that they knew far better than I did how to use the products and refused to take my suggestions.

This was extremely upsetting because I had customers coming in and saying things like that they were going to put down their crabgrass preventer in February because the bag said it could be applied then (mind you, it’s a national product, so the February recommendation is for the southern regions of the country!). Some of them even said that they were going to apply it over the snow! Sigh.

I don’t have enough time or patience to explain why that is a bad idea other to say that none of the product is going to reach your grass. It’s just going to wash away, into the streets and storm drains and contribute to pollution in our waterways. So for those of you that do that, you are wasting money and polluting our waters. Please re-think.

The other issue with this foolhardy way of using so-called “Step 1” programs is that the preventer in these bags is good for 4 months of crabgrass prevention. Now, crabgrass germinates at soil temperatures of 50 degrees or so (not under the snow!) So if you put the preventer down in mid-February, let’s count forward. Your preventer will be all used up by mid-June–just about the time crabgrass really gets going in my region.

But this is not a post about crabgrass. It’s a post about the many crazy things that folks do to harm our pollinators, our waterways and even ourselves.

Back when I was at that same box store, I had a lovely woman come to me and say that she wasn’t getting any zucchini on her plants. She had flowers on the plants, but the flowers were just falling off and not forming squashes.

So I asked her if she saw any bees in her yard. She had to think long and hard and finally said, no, that she didn’t. So I told her that her squashes weren’t getting pollinated so they couldn’t form the zucchini.

She wanted to know why, so I asked her about pesticide use. Normally, I knew better than to voluntarily bring this up. At first she said no, but then she said that yes, they did use the 4 step program on their lawns. They used a grub killer on the lawn. She also used a foundation spray that claimed to work for long periods of time to keep insects out. And she might even have used something in the garden–I don’t recall now–like a weed killing product.  But even if not, that’s still a pretty intensive pesticide load on the property and it was clearly taking a toll on the bees–there were none.

So you tell me whether pesticides and pollinators mix based on that story. Or, you can learn the hard way and try it on your own. But, quite frankly, I’d prefer that you didn’t. Our pollinators are too imperiled for that!

Stop Right There! Is It Safe to Clean Up Your Garden Yet?

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You’re going to hear a lot about pollinators from me and all the other Garden Writers (yes, I use capital letters because we’re all members of GWA, formerly Garden Writers of America) in the next few months.

For years we’ve been hearing about particular individual pollinators like bats, who were in decline from white nose fungus, or monarch butterflies who were declining because of loss of habitat and perhaps pesticide use and of course the honeybee and colony collapse disorder.

But have we ever stopped to consider that we might be the cause of some of the problem? It’s a dreadful thought, and not one that any of us want to think about I’m sure.

I know that I like to think that I do my part for pollinators. I plant native plants whenever possible. And I am the organic gardener that I am specifically because of butterflies–or the lack that I found when I moved to my current property in 1994. As soon as I convinced the Spoiler we had to stop using pesticides, the butterflies came back (now, if only I could convince the rest of the neighborhood!)

But I recently read this fascinating piece from the Xerces Society about leaving spring clean up in the garden until later in the season to allow the ground nesting native bees to seek shelter on cooler nights and to permit the overwintering butterflies to hatch out.

Whoa! That’s huge! Why does no one ever talk  about this?

I know we’re just starting to publicize leaving leaf litter and twigs, etc in the garden in the fall for just these same reasons–shelter and cover for beneficial insects and native bees.

You’ll be seeing a lot more from me–this month and in June, during Pollinator Week–about this topic.

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The realization that for my climate I still need to be leaving the stems of my perennials standing a wee bit longer was amazing. I’ve been thinking about cutting them back for weeks and only time and wet weather prohibited me (thank goodness it’s raining again!)

If you live somewhere warmer, file this under “to be remembered.” The Xerces Society post has a great chart about how to know it’s safe to do spring clean-up by simple things like whether you have done your first spring mowing or whether the apple and cherry trees in your neighborhood have finished blooming.

Considering that’s a big fat “NO!” for me right now, I guess I and my neighbors will need to look at a messy yard a little bit longer–at least on my property!

How Did the Garden Gift Givers Do?

In the days leading up to Christmas and Hanukkah, I heard and read a lot of different stories about “the best gifts for gardeners.” I may have shared a few on Twitter myself.

But I probably shared very few because for the most part very few of them actually appealed to me!  Call me jaded–or perhaps it’s just that after 20-plus years of gardening in the same location, I have what I need–but lots of suggestions for gloves, pruners, twine and things like that I just didn’t find the least bit appealing.

For one thing, I have very tiny hands–so tiny that I will occasionally buy child-sized gloves. Anyone who buys me gloves is going to have to know me pretty well to get that correct.

And that will go for pruners as well. First of all, after all these years, I have literally dozens lying around the garage–and house. I have them in just about every room (with all those house plants, they come in handy!) But I don’t like just any pruner and when I am outside pruning most things a particular pair of Felcos™ is my go to pruner of choice. I don’t want–or need–anything else.

I did get a gardening book for Christmas but I have so many that it’s one I specifically asked for. Again, unless you know your gardener well–or unless it’s one of the very latest offerings from a publisher, how do you know the gardener hasn’t read it? I adore books as gifts and think winter is the perfect time to catch up on new reads and new gardening techniques. But I wouldn’t just spring a book on an unsuspecting gardener unless I were somehow sure he or she hadn’t read it.

The one suggestion that I heard a few times that I thought was good was a garden gift certificate. Yes, it’s unimaginative–one step above cash–but at least you know your gardening friend will truly be able to put it to good use for plants, tools or books that he or she really wants. Nothing wrong with that.

So if you haven’t finished your gifting yet–and some of you haven’t, with Hanukkah and Kwanzaa just beginning–maybe these thoughts will help you with the gardeners in your life.