The human race is undergoing a transition—especially when it comes to gardening. This transition reflects a partnership with nature rather than domination.
We consider an environment to be “nature friendly” when … humans understand that nature is a full partner in the design and operation of [the] environment.
—Perelandra Garden Workbook
A new consciousness has emerged among gardeners, both professional and amateur. Sensitivity to the earth is being cultivated on many fronts. Many people are returning to the natural, to the simple, and to the basic. Gardeners are recognizing that their participation with nature and their connection with the earth is as much a part of the process of gardening as the enjoyment of the vegetables and/or the flowers they grow. Today, more and more homeowners are collecting rainwater, composting their kitchen garbage, and learning to work with nature to produce a portion of their own food. Perhaps more importantly, they are stepping away from the toxic pesticides and inorganic fertilizers that poison the earth, upset the ecosystem, and destroy food value. Even the purchase of flowers now includes organic options.
This post discusses the difficulties with toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and offers alternatives that will support the rebuilding of the soil and the balancing of the ecosystem.
Pesticides are poisons—intended to kill. They get into the human body and into the brain the same way they are designed to get into plants and insects. Because we are larger than insects, the effects appear to be harmless. But nothing could be further from the truth. The effects of pesticides are so insidious that they often go unnoticed until their effects creep up on the next generation.
Pesticides cause difficulties that were never considered possible. Only during the last decade have we begun to connect the dots and to discover the far-reaching consequences that pesticides are having on the human family. Pesticides are persistent. Like other synthetic chemicals, they do not break down easily. They quietly build up and slowly poison the environment and the human body.
Pesticides affect the growing fetus. Recent studies indicate that tiny amounts transferred from mother to unborn child cause birth defects—often the smaller the amount, the greater the effect. And worse, pesticides appear to affect children even before they are conceived—the result of genetic damage to the parents. In a study of over two hundred thousand live births in Minnesota between 1989 and 1992, pesticide applicators’ children had a higher percentage of birth defects. The same was true of children born in the agricultural region of the state where pesticides were routinely used.
Pesticides also affect childhood development. One of the most revealing studies was conducted in Sonora, Mexico, where preschool-aged children living in areas where agricultural pesticides were frequently applied were compared with children living in the foothills where pesticide use was avoided. Pesticide-exposed children demonstrated a decrease in stamina, eyehand coordination, memory, and in the ability to draw. Children from the foothills drew figures with features—typical of normal four- and five-year-old children. The children exposed to pesticides lacked the ability to draw with any detail.
A large proportion of all the pesticides used today are neurotoxic (toxic to the brain and nervous system). Recent experiments indicate that tiny doses of combinations of pesticides, equivalent to levels found in drinking water today, caused both aggression and learning problems in rats.Could this be an explanation for the growing amount of violent behavior in our schools and on the road? Could it explain attention deficit? Some scientists think the answer to both of these questions is yes. Pesticides also affect the thyroid gland, which controls the brain, sexual development, numerous hormones, and immune function. The effects of pesticides are so broad that we may never know the full extent of the damage they have caused.
Unfortunately, it is hard to tell what dangers lurk in most of the pesticides available for homeowners. Not all the ingredients are listed. Pesticide labels typically list the active ingredients but not the inert ingredients. Research has found that the inert ingredients—the ingredients that often comprise the bulk of the product—can also be toxic. In fact, some ingredients listed as active ingredients in one product may be present (but unlisted) in others when they are not the main poison. There is little market testing of pesticide products before they are sold for home use and before they are widely applied on lawns and gardens.
It is impossible for anyone to keep up with the increasing number of new chemicals sold in so many formulations and combinations and under such a bewildering array of brand names. Many pesticides have been banned in recent years, but three of the most common pesticides still in use by homeowners are listed below:
Pests function in a similar way to some microorganisms—their job is to get rid of the dead and dying to make way for healthier populations. In this regard, pests are nature’s way of maintaining balance. When we get rid of the pests, we get rid of one of nature’s balancing mechanisms, and we may open the door to other potential problems.
2,4-D is a weed killer found in most “Weed and Feed” products available in home and garden stores. It is commonly used for lawns and gardens but is also frequently applied on golf courses, playing fields, and parks. 2,4-D was the major ingredient in Agent Orange, the jungle defoliant used in the Vietnam War and later blamed for cancer and birth defects in Vietnamese people and in war veterans. Studies have linked 2,4-D to hormone disruption, breast and testicular cancers, learning disabilities, and birth defects. One study found that dogs whose owners regularly used 2,4-D on their lawns were twice as likely to get cancer.
Malathion is an organophosphate insecticide, a chemical family that functions by interfering with enzymes essential to nervous system function in insects and humans. Although it is one of the least poisonous of this family of pesticides, exposure to Malathion can cause respiratory distress, headache, dizziness, and nausea. It is used on all kinds of insects, from aphids to ants and mosquitoes. Malathion is also highly toxic to bees and other beneficial insects. This raises concerns about the long-term impact of its ubiquitous use. Malathion was used in Massachusetts and New York for aerial spraying of mosquitoes, after which hundreds of people reported nausea, headaches, and dizziness.
Pyrethrum is one of the earliest insecticides-prepared from dried flowers of several species of chrysanthemum and sold under various trade names. Since it is naturally derived, it is often sold as a safe pesticide. Although it does break down more rapidly than other pesticides, it is still a poison. Pyrethrum causes a quick paralysis of insects. Resmethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide. It is the active ingredient in a product called Scourge, which is commonly sprayed from trucks to control mosquitoes. The following Web site contains detailed information on all pesticides, including some that have been banned: http://extoxnet.orst.edu/pips/ghindex.html
Despite the fact that most people have pesticide residues in their bodies from the food they eat, families that use pesticides on lawns or in their gardens have even higher levels in their bodies. This applies not just to the pesticide applicator but to the whole family, because residues find their way indoors-on feet, pets, and on air currents. Studies with commonly used backyard pesticides demonstrate that indoor levels in house dust and air go up ten times after an outdoor application.Needless to say, it is time to phase out the use of toxic pesticides—in any form.
Today, there are numerous methods of managing pests in the garden without having to resort to poisons. As with any of the subjects n this website, knowing that there are alternatives is the doorway to a new paradigm. When it comes to pest management, one of the best resources is the Web sitehttp://www.stephentvedten.com/ with more than twenty-eight hundred safe and effective alternatives to pesticides. The wealth of information on this Web site, called Best Control II, may also be purchased on CD. Two of the cornerstones of Best Control II are enzymes and food-grade diatomaceous earth—both are natural and nontoxic when used as suggested. Neither carries restrictions by the EPA.
Enzymes are catalysts that speed the breakdown of organic substances. They are “digestors” classified by the specific components they break down. For example: proteases, or proteolytic enzymes, break down proteins; carbohydrases break down carbohydrates; and lipases break down fats (lipids).There are literally thousands of enzymes that function in biological systems. These same enzymes can be used to control pests in the garden.
Plants that digest their insect prey (e.g., Venus fly trap) do so with enzymes. Some spiders inject enzymes into their prey to predigest the contents of the insect’s body. Insects even use enzymes to molt. In this case, enzymes create a chemical “zipper” so insects can crawl from their old skin. When you spray protein-digesting enzymes (proteases) on insects, they literally dissolve—no toxic poison and no devastating side effects.
Enzyme formulations have improved over the years. In 2004, a patent was approved for the use of enzymes to control pests. Safe Solutions enzymes for gardens, lawns, orchards, and water (for algae) quickly and safely control virtually all insects, fungus, mildew, and mold (see sources).
CAUTION: Safe Solutions enzymes will kill all insects including beneficial insects, so use them with discretion!
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is another nontoxic pest control that works on insects of all species. DE physically controls insects through abrasive action, breaking down their outer skeleton (exoskeleton) so they die of dehydration. DE is composed of microscopic marine fossils called diatoms. Diatoms are tiny, single-celled plants that live in the sea by the billions, providing the foundation of the food chain for all marine life. As diatoms die, their exoskeletons drift to the bottom, building up large deposits of diatomaceous earth. Geologic changes have brought these ancient deposits to the surface, making them available for many purposes.
DE has long been used by farmers to protect their crops from insects. It is also commonly used as a food additive to eliminate intestinal parasites in livestock. Eating DE can have many health benefits for animals and humans alike, but it is important to consume food-grade DE—not all forms of diatomaceous earth are safe to use for organic gardening and agriculture. Some brands of DE advertised as insecticidal have pesticides such as pyrethrum. Safe Solutions offers a food-grade DE mined from uncontaminated freshwater deposits (see soures).
The use of anything to eradicate insects is a form of pesticide- even though it may not be a toxic chemical. If it “kills,” it is toxic to some life forms, and it is likely to upset nature’s balance.
CAUTION: Like enzymes, DE is a universal pest control method. It kills beneficial insects as well as those considered pests. When DE is used fororganic gardening, care should be taken not to apply DE to the flowers of the plant, in order to protect the bees that will be needed for pollination. Eliminating just the pests (difficult to do) may cause an imbalance with broader consequences.
The Perelandra method of gardening, developed by Machaelle Wright, takes into account the sacredness of all life and strives to maintain balance in the garden by respecting the elemental forces of nature. Where bugs are concerned, the Perelandra method advocates working with them directly—to have them find other areas to live. It may sound strange to the uninitiated, but the Perelandra gardening method has been proven over and over again to produce successful harvests. In fact, the Perelandra gardens in Virginia are some of the most productive in the world. Workbooks and many supporting materials are available at http://www.perelandra-ltd.com/.
Growing healthy plants is much the same as maintaining a healthy body. If the terrain is healthy, disease cannot infiltrate. Insect infestations are most often a symptom of stress caused by poor soil that lacks the elements to grow healthy, vibrant plants. Pest management begins with healthy soil—soil that provides the terrain for a healthy plant. Healthy soil is a living community, full of microorganisms, enzymes, and minerals. It requires nurturing just as plants do. Soil-building practices, like composting, and remineralizing will improve the abundance (and flavor) of the harvest and will significantly reduce the need for harmful pesticides.
Insect infestations occur when plant populations are weak or stressed. Truly healthy plants rarely attract the kind of bugs that we consider to be “pests.”
Commercial agriculture has adopted the practice of feeding the plant rather than feeding the soil. Here again, it is similar to how the body works. Supplements are fine when real food is lacking, but the body responds best to whole-food nutrition because whole foods contain the full spectrum of vitamins and co-factors necessary for optimal health. Feeding the soil is the best way to feed plants. Primary foods for the soil are organic matter and minerals. The organic matter actually carries minerals into the plant. Together, organic matter and minerals provide whole-food nutrition for a healthy garden.
Compost versus fertilizer
Compost (mostly organic matter) is the ultimate garden elixir. It is the supreme soil conditioner that will improve air and water availability as well as provide the microorganisms and enzymes that make nutrients available to plants. The organic matter in compost not only conditions soil but acts as a slow-release plant fertilizer. This slow release of nutrients has many advantages over inorganic fertilizers.
Organic matter contains billions of microorganisms that “fix” nitrogen, making it available for plant uptake on an as-needed basis. Trace minerals that are held in organic matter are also available as necessary. On the other hand, when excessive amounts of nutrients are available to plants from highly soluble inorganic fertilizers, plants tend to take up more than they need. This creates lush, watery growth that is more susceptible to attack by pests and diseases. Aphids, for example, are attracted to plants with high levels of nitrogen in their leaves. Nitrogen is also the most expensive part of an inorganic fertilizer. It requires huge amounts of energy to produce—taking a toll on the environment even before it is used.
Inorganic fertilizers have a salt base which causes imbalances in the pH of most soils. Another disadvantage to highly soluble inorganic fertilizers is that they are easily washed away from the garden—threatening the health of nearby ground and surface water. Excessive nitrates are a hazard to human health and create a burden for water treatment facilities. Chemical fertilizers also destroy the beneficial microorganisms in soil.
The number one alternative to inorganic fertilizer has always been manure. Combining manure with other plant materials makes wonderful compost (food) for your soil. A diet of compost will replenish and increase the life in your soil and keep your plants in the best of health. The following Web site provides helpful information on a variety of gardening subjects including how to create a compost pile: www.theorganicreport.com
In addition to organic matter, soil must supply a well-balanced mix of micronutrients or trace minerals. Plants need only tiny amounts of micronutrients; too much of any of them can be harmful. On the other hand, when trace minerals are missing, the health of the plant can become compromised—the same is true of the human body. Organic matter, with the help of microorganisms, binds these minerals into chemical complexes that keep them from washing away; they are available as needed.
It is the minerals that have become depleted from our soils. Much of the organic matter we return to the soil is already depleted of minerals. Remineralizing the soil with rock dust containing a variety of trace minerals will help to condition the soil and improve the health of plants as well as their “healthfullness” when consumed as food.
Many forms of rock dust are helpful when incorporated into the soil. Azomite is a rock formation containing a particularly balanced variety of minerals and trace minerals. It is one of the best ways to remineralize soils—with amazing results (see sources).
Of the millions of insects in the world, less than 2 percent are considered pests. Beneficial insects such as bees, ladybugs, fireflies, green lacewings, praying mantis, spiders, and ground beetles keep harmful insects in check. They also pollinate plants and decompose organic matter. The indiscriminate use of pesticides kills beneficial insects too. Electric bug zappers destroy many more beneficial insects than harmful ones.
Depending on the nature of your “pest” problems, the use of beneficial insects and natural predators in the garden may help keep pests under control. Growing plants alongside or along with your garden can provide a safe haven for beneficial insects. The following plants attract beneficial, predatory insects to help control pests such as aphids, mealy bugs, mites:
• Butterfly weed
• Wild carrot
You can also purchase beneficial and predatory insects for your garden. This Web site contains an abundance of information to get you started:http://www.bugladyconsulting.com/
And don’t forget the birds. Birds can also be very helpful for controlling insect pests in your garden. Trees, shrubs with berries, birdhouses, and water features all encourage birds to visit your yard. They may also eat your produce so pay attention and encourage those species that eat insects rather than those that will eat the fruits of your labors.
Grass is a beautiful and enjoyable part of any garden but it is also the cause of environmental concerns. Watering lawns accounts for an incredible 40 to 60 percent of residential water consumption during the summer months, making lawn maintenance not only a chore but also a drain on finances and water supplies.
In the past, large lawns were the rule in many areas. Now, replacing part of the lawn with a low-maintenance ground cover may be desirable. Trees and shrubs grow better when the soil over their roots is covered with a mulch or ground cover rather than lawn—grass competes for nutrients and water. Ground covers are especially useful for filling in areas where maneuvering a mower is difficult or where grass doesn’t thrive, such as under dense shade trees (see sources).
ONLINE GARDENING RESOURCES
The following online resources provide information that will help you to begin an organic garden or to make the transition away from the use of pesticides:
theorganicreport.com for organic garden suppliers
organicgardening.com for how-tos
gardensalive.com for organic fertilizers, soil-testing kits
planetnatural.com for rain barrels, biological pesticides thegreenguide.com/
doc.mhtml?i=95&s=seeds for sources of organic seeds
SOURCES (in the order they appear in the post):
Safe Solutions enzymes: http://www.safesolutionsinc.com/Enzyme_Cleaner_Pest_Control.htm
Diatomaceous earth food grade:
Natural soil minerals: