Tuesday, May 12, 2009

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Pesticides

Lawns. I just want to look at lawns. There's perhaps some good arguments for maintaining pesticide use in agriculture - and some good arguments against it. I'm unclear why golf courses rate so high as to often be exempt from pesticide by-laws, and why golfers are so unconcerned with what's on the turf where they spend their leisure hours. But surely, at the very least, we can agree we don't need pesticides on the grass around our homes.

We got a lot of die-back this year, well, I did anyway. But I overseeded with grass seed - Eco Lawn - and added some white clover into the mix.

In "Ecologically Sound Lawn Care," a formal study which is about as thrilling a read as the title suggests, the practice of adding clover to the lawn is encouraged because it's difficult to eradicate as a weed, is green year-round, fixes nitrogen, improves the soil, and was traditionally included in grass seed mixtures way back. If you intentionally add these plants-formerly-known-as-weeds to your lawn, the grass will be healthier.

There was a time when a lawn of pride was not a solid monoculture of identical green spears. Lawns are lovely and restful pieces of land in the garden in part because they add an area of artistic restraint - a place for your eye to rest as it travels through the flower beds and bushes. But the area doesn't have to be without gradations of tone. It can be many shades of green with some white bits here and there, and the overall effect of a smooth visual surface will not be lost.

There are some green plants that do ruin the look however. Dandelions are handy things for wine and salads, but they can completely over run the place. And plantain flowers will refuse to be cut by a push-mower, bobbing and weaving away from the blades, until the flat surface is marred by long stemmed "flowers." I take these out by hand then add a handful of seed in the empty spot. This is far too much work for some people to even consider. But if people are willing to pay for pesticide treatment, couldn't they just pay a local kid to pick weeds?

The article above also explains what pesticides can do to a lawn including killing off earthworms. Residential use alone significantly adds to the level of phosphorus in our rivers and lakes from the run-off which ends up depleting the oxygen needed by the fish. It contributes to soil compaction, acidification, and thatch. And that doesn't begin to examine the potential effects on birds, squirrels, cats, dogs, and people.

If it's definitely harmful to our waterways, and it may be harmful to us, why use it? Well, status anxiety. People might not admire our yards, and therefore us, if our lawns aren't up to an unrealistic and unhealthy ideal. Some people really won't. But there's a burgeoning group of people who will be wildly estatic if your lawn is lush and full and diverse. Maybe if we all ignore that former group, they'll give up and join us in our slightly-weedy, poison-free yards.

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