Pesticides: Learning to Live Without Them

Rachel Carson raised the alarm over pesticide use with her prescient book Silent Spring almost 50 years ago. Although the worst of the toxins: DDT and PCB‘s, have been largely eliminated, world wide pesticide use has soared. Our current system of large scale monoculture is largely unsustainable without the use of these products and even the organic industry faces serious problems as it becomes industrialized, creating a massive carbon footprint by shipping vegetables thousands of miles to market. For most of us, the choices that can make a difference are going to happen at the local level.

Many municipalities are close to enacting outright bans on a large range of pesticides. There are other options to pesticides that are entirely safe, but with it needs to come a change in the consumer’s attitude. Pesticides are generally indiscriminate killers, and even when they are more specific, they are rarely used "as directed”; more often over-applied or used in an unsafe manner that blows away or runs into our watersheds. However, we like the visible results. In a world of infomercials, we are an immediate breed, looking for that dandelion or aphid to keel over before our eyes. Gardening without these chemicals is very different and requires much more knowledge and understanding of plant physiology, soil, and the interactions between plants and animals in nature. You can still achieve very good results without spraying and there won’t be any residual pesticides in the soil, on your lawn or in your vegetables.

The trade-off, and there is a trade-off, is changing your attitude about bugs, about chewed leaves, about minor plant damage that isn’t detrimental to the overall health of the plant, accepting that sometimes organic techniques are more labour intensive, and most importantly, not expecting to entirely eliminate the pest. First and foremost, healthy plants are most capable of defending themselves so you need to learn how to look after them and maintain their optimum health by providing the correct lighting conditions, the appropriate soil and fertilizer, and water in amounts that are best for the plant. One of the costs of the massive urbanization of the 20th century has become a detachment from the natural world. Most of us now lack the knowledge of these basic techniques and processes that were common knowledge to our forefathers who farmed or lived in rural settings and depended on the food they could grow for themselves. Here are a few things you can do this year in your garden that will cut down or eliminate pesticide use in your yard and help the environment:
-Learn how to compost: richer soil makes for healthy plants. The City of Campbell River offers composting courses regularly every summer.
-Learn about mulching. Mulching cuts down on weeding.
-Some plants, such as strawberries, thrive when grown through a sheet of black poly. Combined with drip irrigation under the poly and you have a very low maintenance garden that minimizes water usage and weeding.
-Learn about beneficial bugs and nematodes that prey on pests. For example, ladybugs love aphids. You can buy them at your garden centre.
-Cut back on watering by installing a timed irrigation system and install more drip irrigation that cuts down on wasted water. Watering several times a week deeply and thoroughly rather than every day results in better root systems and healthier plants.
-Rethink your lawn since it is mostly cosmetic. Can you make it smaller? Does it really have to be so green? Water less, be more accepting of moss, aerate regularly and apply a top dressing.
-Grow more vegetables for yourself at home.
-Encourage pesticide bans in your municipality.

Cleon and Charlotte Shankar are the owners of Willows Market