There is a great article in the Smithsonian Magazine about South Africa’s Vergenoegd Löw Wine Estate that deploys an army of Indian Runner ducks to eat snails, bugs, and other pests without chemicals. The vineyard is near the ocean and struggles with white dune snails that would decimate the grapes without the ducks. The duck manure also provides natural fertilizer. And to protect the ducks from mongoose and owls the vineyard has a gaggle of geese. Ducks and chickens are a tactic many of us can use to keep our yards healthy!
A friend had a puppy get Lyme disease in February in Long Island. Normally ticks would not be a problem until spring. Unfortunately with climate change tick season is longer, and if ticks are not killed off by a cold snap at some point, much more severe.
So what to do? As far as having someone come onto your property and spray chemicals, they are detrimental to people, and also to insects, amphibians, and aquatic organisms. The animals up the food chain will also be impacted by having diminished food source. Importantly, they have not been shown to be effective at decreasing Lyme disease.
Professional applicators most commonly use Bifenthrin. This is a synthetic permethrin, often billed as just like natural pyrethrin from chrysanthemum, but it isn’t. It is only available to professional applicators, has significant aquatic organism toxicity and is linked to disrupting thyroid hormone. Studies have shown that it decreases the tick population up to 60 percent, but does not decrease the incidence of Lyme disease.
Some applicators also suggest cedar oil or rosemary oil, but there is no proof they are effective. The white footed mouse is a major tick reservoir, so tick tubes are sometimes used. They have permethrin in them. The oily pesticide is put on cotton that the mice bring back to their dens. It is effective in decreasing the tick population on mice, but not on squirrels or chipmunks. It has not been shown to decrease the incidence of Lyme disease. It is a better solution than broadcast spraying, though.
Researchers are currently studying a bio insecticide to see if it is safe and effective. A strain of Metarhizium anisopliae, Met52, is manufactured by Novozyme. Early indications look promising.
And of course, avoid wandering through tall grasses where ticks can hide. Cover up and use a topical repellant if you do, and tick check carefully when you come back in. Take your clothes off when you come in and wash and dry them. Dry them being the most important part. Dry on high for one hour, that will kill them. They can actually survive the wash cycle.
In an article in the journal Biologic Conservation this month, authors say we are pushing ecosystems beyond recovery, causing insect extinctions.
The causes are
1. Habitat loss
2. Pollution – including synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. All are biocides.
4. Climate change
With each extinction we loose biomass, unique interactions, and irreplaceable services to humans, wildlife, and the ecosystem.
They say action is urgent! The Great Healthy Yard Project is a way to make life better for insects as well as people. Healthy bugs flourish without synthetic chemicals and with native plants to support them. So do we!
Very honored to be quoted in a great article by Rich Dolesh in the National Recreation and Park Association’s magazine “How will your park agency kill weeds when glyphosate is banned?”
Until recently most park agencies considered glyphosate safe and effective. Now it is getting a rep for being neither. Weeds are developing resistance and lawsuits are forcing disclosure of studies that show it has serious health consequences.
More than 50 U.S. cities and individual park systems now have banned or restricted the use of herbicides containing glyphosate. It is likely that many other cities and counties will enact new bans in the coming year.
Dolesh does a great job outlining the controversies surrounding glyphosate and 2,4-D. He also lays out natural alternatives for weed control. Some I wasn’t aware of are electrocuting weeds, laser pulses on roadside weeds, and organic hot foam.
(image is of the formal garden at John Jay Homestead State Historic Site)
Artificial turf is made up of polypropylene, polyethylene, or nylon “grass blades,” and tiny crumbs made from rubber tires. So on a hot day on these fields a child is inhaling off gassed fumes and tiny particles of plastic and tire, and absorbing substances through their skin. If they rub their hand to their mouth or their water bottle falls, or if they fall headlong onto the surface, they may even ingest a small amount.
Here are 10 reasons why this is a bad idea.
1.Long term exposure could lead to an increased risk for cancer.
There is a question about a cancer cluster in high school soccer goalies who have played on artificial turf. A Department of Health study did not bear this out.
But of 197 chemicals that are used in artificial turf fields their classifications are ominous. 45 are predicted to be carcinogenic, five are known carcinogens, 28 are presumed carcinogens and 12 are suspected carcinogens.
The five chemicals classified as known human carcinogens are benzene, benzidine, benzo(a) pyrene, trichloroethene and vinyl chloride. The worst exposure is from the rubber crumb, but do you want your kids inhaling plastic dust?
2. Some of coloring for the turf may contain heavy metals. Cadmium and chromium are among those found on fields. Long term exposure can lead to neuromuscular problems.
3. Some fields are treated with fire retardants or use PFAS to extrude the plastic. These are forever chemicals that build up in our bodies and in the environment.
4. Disinfectants are often used on artificial turf and that can lead to resistant bacteria. Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been a problem on a number of these fields. If a small scratch gets infected with MRSA the infection is very difficult to treat and dangerous.
5. Weeds can grow up through the crumbs on fields, so herbicides can be used. The most common is glyphosate which is linked to an increased incidence of non Hodgkins lymphoma and other serious health threats.
6. California suggested a moratorium on the installation of crumb rubber artificial turf until more studies have been done on the health effects of exposure.
7. Disposal cost every eight to ten years is a huge issue.
8. If your town has green house gas goals, this could be a stumbling block to meeting them. Plastic and rubber are petrochemicals and emit greenhouse gasses during production. Despite promises, many find that recycling at the end of the materials lifetime on the field is not feasible.
9. The fields can also get much, much hotter than natural turf. This is of increasing concern with climate change and hotter summers.
10. These chemicals can leach into both surface and ground water, the sources of our drinking water.
If your community is still going to install artificial turf research the different materials that can be used on the surface and pick the least toxic.
Consider a natural turf field as an alternative.
A really big deal! Would you believe that the EPA estimates that 34.7 million tons of solid waste is generated every year from American’s yards. This is 13.3 percent of all MSW (municipal solid waste).
50 percent of this is grass, 25 percent brush, and 25 percent leaves.
Of that 2.6 million tons is burned in a year, contributing to air pollution. This is just under 8 percent of all MSW that is burned annually. Eleven million tons wind up in land fills each year, contributing about 8 percent of the total land fill amount, and releasing methane as they break down.
So mulching leaves and grass clippings into your lawn and using mulched leaves on your garden beds or composting them makes a really big difference. What’s more, they provide nutrient, structural, and microbial benefits. And, it’s really easy!
It’s autumn, time for walking in the woods, playing outside, and romping in fall leaves. It is also a time we need to be particularly wary of ticks. Broadcast spraying for ticks is not the answer.
Broadcast spraying for ticks and mosquitoes exposes our families to chemicals that can cause long-term harm both directly and by contaminating our drinking water. Moreover, an ongoing study by the Center for Disease Control shows that spraying does not decrease the incidence of Lyme disease. Pesticides also kill the beneficial bugs and birds, some of our biggest allies in combating nuisance bugs, and actually makes the problem worse in the long run. Instead, try these natural methods that work surprisingly well.
• Clean up leaves that collect in piles, especially near stone walls. Mice love to hide under them, and mice bring ticks. Mulch or compost these leaves.
• Mulch the leaves on your lawn into the lawn. Ticks that hide under those leaves are protected from drying out. Mulching the leaves into your lawn also feeds your lawn naturally, for free.
• When possible avoid wandering through tall grasses where ticks can hide.
• If you walk in the woods or through tall grasses, then cover up. Tuck your pants into your socks and wear long sleeves and a hat. Wear light colored clothing to make it easier to see and remove ticks.
• If you will be in a high tick area use repellants in addition to covering up.
Herbal repellants include geraniol, an alcohol found in citronella, lemongrass, and rose oil. Herbal repellants need to be reapplied frequently, about every two hours.
Deet is more effective, but not recommended for young children. It only needs to be applied every five hours. But put it on clothing rather than skin.
Don’t use any repellants near the eyes, cuts, or mucous membranes. Take off clothes sprayed with repellant and wash to get any repellant off your skin when you come inside.
• When you come inside check yourself and your children and pets thoroughly for ticks. Catching any ticks early and removing them is important.
• When you have been in areas with ticks take your clothes off and throw then right into the washer and dryer. Dry them for at least an hour on high. Washing the ticks doesn’t kill them, but drying them out does.
Lyme disease can cause a rash, but sometimes there are just flu like symptoms following a bite. Early treatment is curative, and preventative therapy is occasionally recommended when a tick is removed, so speak with your doctor if you get a tick bite.
In the meantime researchers are studying whether use of a naturally occurring fungus found in forest soils that kills ticks could be used to protect properties, and homeowners and pets. A strain of Metarhizium anisopliae, Met52, is a bio insecticide manufactured by Novozyme, is being studied to see if it is safe and effective.
Fall leaves – beautiful, but in days gone by serious work to clear from your lawn. Now we know better. Fall leaves are not only a gift of beauty, but also a great way to return nutrients to our yards and gardens. Five things to do with fall leaves:
1. Mulch them into your lawn
They return nutrients to your lawn, and boost the lawn with good bacteria and fungi. They don’t cause thatch. Overfertilizing causes rapid, weak, growth that leads to thatch. A mulching mower makes this really easy. Our mower has blades that recirculate the leaves chopping them up so the lawn looks beautiful when it is mowed. No raking, no blowers.
2. Use leaf mulch to mulch your flower garden beds
This is free, and really easy because mulched leaves are so light weight. Keep the mulch layer light, if it is several inches deep the chipmunks will have a field day burying nuts in your garden. The leaf mulch keeps the soil between plants covered. That prevents erosion and protects good soil bacteria from frigid weather. Of course, the leaves also add nutrients and boost good bacteria. To mulch the leaves up into small enough pieces mow them into a pile and go back and forth over them in different directions several times. Leaf mulch is a different look than pine bark, but we have grown to like it better. The leaves get darker over the season. In the spring they will suppress weeds between your perennials and then disappear as your perrenials grow to cover them.
3. Use leaf mulch on your garlic bed and raised vegetable garden beds
This is the time of year to plant garlic. But you don’t want the soil in your garlic bed uncovered all winter. Protect it and feed your garlic with a good layer of leaf mulch. I plant onion starts now as well as in the spring so that I have onions from early spring straight through the summer. I mulch them in heavily in my fenced vegetable garden. Cover crops work well on resting raised beds, and so does leaf mulch, for all of the reasons mentioned above.
4. Compost extra mulched leaves
Where tree cover is heavy and the mulched leaves would really cover the grass and not let the sun in, use them in your compost pile. And no, you won’t find more ticks in your compost.
5. Heavy layers of mulched leaves can be used where you have weeded to suppress weeds
However, heavy layers of leaves are also an invitation to mice, and mice carry ticks. Leaf piles next to stone walls are particularly attractive to mice.
WHAT YOU DON’T WANT TO DO WITH FALL LEAVES:
1. Let them pile up in a wetland or wetland buffer
Leaves, and degrading leaves, can wash into streams and ponds where they add excess nutrients that cause over-abundant algae growth.
2. Leave them where they will wash into roads and catch basins
They clog up the catch basins and drains, and wash into the waterways adding phosphorous and nitrogen.
I was so fortunate to speak to Lake and Valley Garden Club members and community in Cooperstown NY. Among the many amazing projects to protect water quality in this community is the buffer strip the club designed and planted to capture and filter runoff from downtown Cooperstown before it gets into Lake Otsego. Really awesome!