Fox Valley: 920-730-3253
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24 Oct 2011
Backyard Organics Land Care Services

Balancing Healthy Lawn with Healthy Lifestyles

This month’s question:

A concerned individual recently contacted me with this issue. “My dog lays in our yard all the time. Do I really want to expose her to this [chemical weed treatment]?”

I was definitely comfortable offering this individual an emphatic “No.” We shouldn’t expose our family to any chemicals if we can avoid them. But the journey to organics is different for everyone both in pace and outcome.

My journey started with inquiry. I’ve always relied on unbiased research when making a decision; land and lawn care are no different. The evidence is significant as Nathan Diegelman clarifies in his article “Poison In the Grass: The Hazards and Consequences of Lawn Pesticides.”

• “Congress found that 90 percent of the pesticides on the market lack even minimal required safety screening. Of the 34 most used lawn pesticides, 33 have not been fully tested for human health hazards. If any tests are done, they are performed by the chemical manufacturers, not the EPA.”

• According to the EPA, 95 percent of the pesticides used on residential lawns are possible or probable carcinogens.

• National Cancer Institute reported children develop leukemia six times more often when pesticides are used around their homes.

• The American Journal of Epidemiology found that more children with brain tumors and other cancers had been exposed to insecticides than children without.

• National Cancer Society and other medical researchers have discovered a definite link between fatal non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL) and exposure to triazine herbicides (like Atrazine), phenoxyacetic herbicides (2,4-D), organophosphate insecticides (Diazinon), fungicides, and fumigants; all of which have uses as lawn chemicals. This may be an important contributing factor to the 50 percent rise in NHL over the past 10 years in the American population.

• Studies of farmers who once used these pesticides found alarmingly high numbers of NHL, especially in those who didn’t wear protective clothing.

• This latest finding also proves the theory that most danger from pesticides comes through dermal absorption, not ingestion.

• University of Iowa study of golf course superintendents found abnormally high rates of death due to cancer of the brain, large intestine, and prostate. Other experts are beginning to link golfers, and non-golfers who live near fairways, with these same problems.

On a personal note, my dog, Gruzin, recently passed away from cancer. Was his passing due in part to my traditional chemical lawn care used before moving to the organic way? There is no way to tell for sure, but I will certainly do everything I can to prevent this from happening again. The factual and anecdotal research is enough for me, but I respect any individual’s right to choose.

There is a reason why the chemical fertilizer industry has to post yards with warning after treatments; there is a reason why parts of the East and West coasts have banned synthetic fertilizers; there is a reason why the President appointed a panel to research the link between cancer and fertilizers, and there is a reason why our guts are telling us “these chemicals can’t be good.” Trust your gut.

The evidence seems to be mounting against the chemical fertilizer industry. Many respond to the research and their instincts by going completely organic. Home owners want a weed free lawn, and most of our customers prefer to achieve this the organic way, with organic soil amendments and compost teas. Treating weeds organically does require patience, however, which is why some customers will choose one or two synthetic weed treatments if their unwanted plants have gotten out of control and the lawn perhaps requires a “rescue.” We step in then with an organic application, a follow up which lessens the effects of the chemicals they put on the soil. This approach offers customers a reasonable compromise on the road to a more sustainable and healthy future.

Ultimately, we are committed to assisting our customers in their move toward organics and respect each person’s journey.

If you have a question regarding organic land care, feel free to email or call us. Your question might end up in next month’s Q&A article.

To read Nathans Diegelman’s article in its entirety, refer to this link: http://www.cqs.com/elawn.htm
The Presidents cancer panel’s 240-page report may be viewed in a PDF at: http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/pcp08-09rpt/ PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf
The President’s Cancer Panel web site is: http://pcp.cancer.gov.

19 Oct 2011
weed control

Controlling Weeds Organically

Traditional lawn care since the late 1940’s has feasted on a one-size-fits-all approach to weed control that paints every plant with the same broad stroke. However, the EPA estimates that only 2 percent of the active ingredients in synthetic weed killers, called herbicides, ever reach the target plant. The other 98 percent goes into the soil, the ground water, and the atmosphere. Organic land care specialists believe that the best tool against weeds is a healthy grass plant, which can only happen with healthy soils, and that takes time, especially on yards that have an abundance of weeds.

Weeds are telling you something about your yard. Each weed seed is genetically programmed to replace specific deficiencies in the soil. For example, if your lawn is missing nitrogen, nature will often send in clover or one of its cousins in the legume family of plants, which can trap and process nitrogen from the atmosphere. If your lawn conversely, has too much nitrogen, nature will likely give you an abundance of dandelions. Again, our approach to eliminate weeds is to improve your soil through an appropriate balance of biology and nutrients and improving soil texture and structure. This takes time if your soil is out of balance. The organic approach is not a quick fix, it’s a healthy and safe alternative approach (to chemicals) which benefits our family and our environment. Now, having said that, here are some tools to get rid of weeds without chemicals:

* Total eradication using nonselective sprays or solarizing techniques

* Spot weeding with nonselective sprays, flaming or mechanical tools

* Pre-emergent weed control in spring and fall

* Soil modification that gets to the root of the problem

* Overseeding with new grass seed to crowd out weeds

* Mowing at an appropriate height and bagging only occasionally (first cut of the year, right after dandelions go to seed, right before winter)

If all else fails, use a synthetic herbicide that targets the weeds that are taking over your lawn, and then start fresh with an organic approach to achieving a healthy soil.

18 Oct 2011
nurturing healthy soils

Is Foliar Feeding (Compost Teas and Compost Extracts) Only Watering My Turf and Plants?

Here are some interesting facts that will answer that question.

A research project conducted at Michigan State University, using radioactive tagged nutrients, proved that foliar feeding can be 8 to 10 times more effective than soil feeding. Foliar feeding stimulates an increase in chlorophyll production, cellular activity and respiration. It also triggers a plant response that increases water and nutrient uptake from the soil. The Research headed by Dr. H.B. Tukey at MSU in the 1950’s comparing the efficiency of plant use of foliar-fed nutrients versus soil-applied nutrients near roots, found foliar feeding provided about 95% efficiency of use compared to about 10% of use from soil applications (MSU).

Further, according to Iowa State University research; “Because plants can absorb nutrients through their leaves, spraying fertilizer nutrients on the plants can prevent nutrient depletion; keep leaves more active in carrying on photosynthesis.”

How Foliar Feeding Works

1-Direct and Efficient Nutrient Uptake
Small amounts of nutrients at high utilization uptake into the plant without soil interference.

2-Stimulation of Rhizosphere
The application of foliar nutrients stimulates the plant to release plant exudates, which then stimulates the organisms in the rhizosphere, who then interact with the plant.

3-Colonization of beneficial organisms on leaf surfaces, into the plant, and onto the soil
Sets of organisms on the plant leaf can independently fix nitrogen from the air, colonize the leaves for the competitive exclusion of disease organisms plus fix nitrogen on the plant surface.

In summary, Foliar feeding can be the most efficient method of feeding a plant since MSU research shows that 95% of a fertilizer solution can be found in the root hairs within 60 minutes with good conditions! Clay and compacted soils bind up available nutrients causing soil feeding to be less affective and foliar feeding bypasses the soil and feeds the plant directly.

13 Oct 2011
Composed Tea

What Can I Do to Prepare My Yard for the Winter?

A number of our clients have asked this question, so much so, that it was worthy of an article.

As temperatures begin to lower here in Wisconsin so does the growth rate of much of our outside plant life, including turf. According to Paul Tukey, founding editor of People, Places and Plants magazine, executive producer of an HGTV show of the same name and the author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual, “the most important factor to remember is to mow the grass low, to about 2 inches.” Longer grass is a safe haven for mice, or voles, which will hide in the lawn and leave telltale trails of damage in the spring.” Taller grass is also a feeding ground for snow mold.

Tukey also suggests an application of compost tea just before winter to help maximize the number of microbes in the soil heading into the cold season. Backyard organics provides this treatment in the fall application, typically applied in mid to late September.

Most experts agree that turf in our part of the country requires three season maintenance programs to have a healthy lawn. For maximum payoff next spring, prepare your lawn for winter in early fall. Here are some additional suggestions:

Avoid heavy snow build up in any one particular area

Plow snow 1 to 2” above your turf

Avoid sodium based ice melters, which are not only harmful to your lawn but also your pets. Use calcium chloride instead.

Clear debris. A clear lawn allows sunlight, water, and nutrients to reach the soil and limits the amount of mold potential. A clean lawn also is a good start to avoiding mice, moles, and voles from moving in.

De-thatch. Thatch (layers of dead grass) creates a natural barrier for water and nutrients to reach your soil. (Backyard Organics provides a product in the early fall application that turns thatch into organic matter, thus enriching your soil and eliminating the labor of removing it.

Aerate. This allows water and nutrients to reach the roots and nourish the grass while reversing soil compaction.

Water. 1 to 2” per week just before the first big freeze should suffice

Sharpen your tools. This eliminates the “tearing” of grass which could make it susceptible to diseases.
Avoid heavy traffic in any particular area which can cause winter kill.

Go easy on the pruning. Pruning promotes growth and we don’t want plants growing just before the dormant season. Cut away dead wood, however, to avoid insect habitation.

Cover that plot. To prep your garden for winter, plant a nitrogen-rich cover crop such as clover that you can simply turn under come spring, or keep the weeds at bay with a burlap cover, suggests Elaine Anderson, program coordinator for the Washington State University/King County Extension Master Gardener Program.

Transplant.
Now is a great time to transplant your trees, plants, and shrubs.

Mulch. Pull mulch away from trunks in an effort to avoid moles, voles and mice from feeding on them.

So, don’t hibernate just yet. Now may be the best time to take care of your yard for 2012.