Earth Day : The natural choice for your yard
As chill ocean winds blow us into May, they bring thoughts of vegetable gardens, flowerbeds, trees, and lush green lawns. Our yards are often our sanctuaries, places that nourish body and spirit. In dealing with these settings it seems only fitting that attention be paid to creating them in a way that helps the environment.
Fortunately, the array of earth-friendly products is plentiful. These are offered in wide varieties, but often cost more than their more toxic predecessors - all of which can add up to confusion for beginners.
Angie Loessberg, a consultant and sales person at SBS in Vineyard Haven for the past three years, helps direct customers to eco-friendly alternatives.
She admits that even though newer organic products can be quite effective and not much more in the way of cost, it's hard to break old habits.
Mark Martin, founder of Eco MV, a business that opens this month in Vineyard Haven, says,
"When people change their purchasing habits, corporations will follow. We are here with real information to walk people through their fears about environmental products. Where we'll see change is with people making informed decisions."
His inventory includes natural household products, biodegradable industrial supplies, and alternative energy concepts. Its broader goal, according to Mr. Martin, is to generate community participation by providing information, consultations, an extensive "green" library, as well as providing multi-media equipment without charge to anyone who wants to present an environmentally focused lecture or program.
Photo by Lynn Christoffers
Pesticides are the most toxic offenders. One effective alternative suggested by Ms. Loessberg is to leave the bugs to Mother Nature. Release predatory insects such as the praying mantis into your yard or garden. It eats almost any insect, especially caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles and even roaches. Another beneficial insect is the ladybug. Besides being considered lucky, these tiny spotted red bugs consume soft-bodied pests, like aphids, without disturbing the vegetation.
The tiny gnat-like parasitic wasp called the Trichoramma will attack over 200 pest species, including tomato horn worm, corn ear worm, fruit worms, cane borers and almost all moth and butterfly eggs that hatch into worm pests.
Beneficial bugs are available by mail; praying mantises and ladybugs can be ordered.
"What people often don't understand is that chemicals kill all bugs in your yard, including beneficial ones. You are left with a dead environment," says Ms. Loessberg.
"You can also install bat houses on your property. They can eat over 1,000 mosquitoes a night. Sometimes when I suggest this idea to customers, they react with a cringe: "Bats?" But they are great and can be very beneficial."
There are a variety of earth-friendly pesticide products available. Ms. Lossberg recommends Safer, an insecticidal soap that kills aphids, mites, mealy bugs, thrips and whiteflies, and can be used on flowers, trees, shrubs, ornamentals, or vegetables. She also recommends Neem by Green Light, which with its many uses is unique among pesticides. It acts as a broad spectrum repellent, growth regulator, and insect poison, and discourages insects by making plants taste bad to them. Even if stubborn critters still attack, it has properties that inhibit their molting and egg-laying abilities. It is also known to prevent plant diseases. It can be used on flowers, trees, ornamentals, veggies, and fruits.
Tanglefoot tree barrier is a substance you apply to material that is then wrapped about the foot of a tree. It creates a barrier that insects can't cross. It is inexpensive and effectively banishes ants, gypsy moths, cankerworms, weevils, and codling moths. Trees are safe and bug-free. For mosquito problems, there is Garlic Barrier insect repellant.
In the weeds
Weed control is one area where many, especially larger landscaping companies, shy away from the environmentally friendly approach, but there are many dependable alternative products available. Fabriscape Weed Barrier takes the preventative approach. As a professional quality landscaping fabric, it stops approximately 95 percent of weeds from growing. At the same time, it allows air, water, and fertilizer to pass through to plant roots. It is also affordable and very versatile as an underliner for patios, pavers, decorative stones, and the like.
There are also many eco-friendly herbicides available. Burn Out II is a simple combination of natural clove oil and acidic acid. Also, cottonseed meal or corn gluten meal, sold by the bag, work well. Both are powerful organic fertilizers with the added benefit of controlling pre-emergent weeds. Corn gluten meal, a safe, non-toxic fertilizer, is a powerful organic product containing 9 percent nitrogen that promotes a lush, healthy turf while blocking weeds.
For fertilization, many green options stand out. There are many different effective products out there to treat different types of growth. Cottonseed meal is a great alternative fertilizer, and as an added bonus, it takes the idea of environmentally friendly products a step further as it is essentially a recycled by-product made by leftovers from the cotton industry. It promotes long-lasting growth and supports beauty in turf grasses, ornamental plants, and vegetable gardens. It acidifies the soil, which makes it great for those acid-lovers like blueberry, gardenia, azalea, and rhododendron. Natural Lawn Fertilizer is a 100 percent organic, nutri-rich product that offers the most complete source of nutrients to promote longer lasting green and a stronger, more robust root system.
Abiding by several green garden techniques is one way to lessen your carbon footprint. Efforts will be rewarded when you slice up that first luscious tomato, knowing it is free of environmental toxins.
Gimili Glavin is a freelance writer living in Chilmark.