The Danger of Yard Chemicals and How to Live Without Them

I’m in the plumbing business, so water and its cleanliness and safety matter to me.  There is a saying in the plumbing industry that we protect the health and safety of the world.  Think about that for a minute. Plumbers install, maintain the pipes, waste water treatment plants, install the plumbing in your homes, buildings and hospitals.  Where would you be without a good plumber?  I don’t want to think about that!  Our world is mostly made up of water and nothing on this planet can live without it.  It is our most precious resource.  So protecting it is very important to me.  Americans drink bottled water, (see my blog on bottled water) we have water filtration systems in our homes because we want to drink, bath and cook in clean water, but what are we doing to the water that does not flow through our homes.  Not enough!

 

I’m a Green gardener which means I do not use any chemicals in my yard! I have a strong aversion to chemicals and my plants thrive.  I do use substances like vinegar, Epsom salts, baking soda, fish emulsion and I compost. My grass is beautiful, thick and green, my roses growing around the pool are full of blooms, my orchids are gorgeous and grow in the trees and I attempt to grow much of our food.  The majority of my yard is landscaped with native Florida plants.

So what is my point?  Do you know that 75 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides are used by Americans use each year to keep bugs off their lawns and flowers?  An herbicide is a substance that is toxic to plants and is used to destroy unwanted vegetation. A pesticide is a substance used for destroying insects or other organisms harmful to cultivated plants or to animals.

We use fertilizer on our yards which run off into our waterways.  When it rains or is watered by sprinklers, it is washed away and flows down drainage ditches to our lakes and streams and makes its way into our groundwater reservoirs and eventually our oceans. It causes algae blooms which can grow so large they make waterways impassable.  Then the algae die, sink to the bottom and decompose which removes the oxygen from the water and our fish and other aquatic species die.  These are called “dead zones” When it reaches our oceans it feeds the seaweed which then overgrows on the coral reefs and crowds out the corals. This destroys the habitats for many of our marine organisms.

Chemicals affect the aquatic food chain further by poisoning insects that live around water that then poison the fish and frogs which depend on them as a major food source. Then it affects humans when we eat these contaminated fish.  We are now ingesting the same chemicals we put on our yards to kill the weeds and bugs.  Study after study link pesticides and herbicides to many cancers, nervous system disorders and other illnesses and our children are more prone to these diseases. Slow-released fertilizers are mixed with ammonia, urea and formaldehyde or encased in polymers or sulfur.  Some of these are suspected endocrine disruptors. Other studies have linked herbicide exposure to cancers of the colon, lung, nose, prostrate and ovaries, as well as, to leukemia and multiple myeloma.  Those lawn care companies we see in our neighborhoods so frequently and agricultural workers have shown increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Lawn chemicals are unnecessary.  They contaminate surface and groundwater, threaten the health of our children and our pets that run through grass and lick their paws. It also threatens our wildlife. Birds, geese, raccoons and squirrels just to name a few are highly exposed to these chemicals. Beneficial organisms which live in the soil and actually kill pests, decrease the spread of disease and help plants absorb nutrients and water are reduced.  These organisms, such as the earthworm, improve air and water circulation, decompose thatch, deposit nutrients and help neutralize soil.  Fertilizers are a waste of money. They lack some of the macronutrients and organic matter needed.  They also have the potential to cause major damage throughout their lifecycle of production, storage and disposal.

So, if we know this, why are we so insistent on using these toxic chemicals?  If we want to be good stewards of our earth and protect our health what can we change?

Go organic of course!

Below are 18 easy lawn and garden fertilizers you can make with ingredients you can find around the house. However, horse feed may be the exception.  If you have chickens and/or rabbits like I do, their poop is a great addition to the compost pile.  A trip to the local box store for a bag of chemical fertilizer is wasted time and money when you can do these in the same amount of time or less in your own kitchen or backyard.

 

  1. Create a compost pile. You can find a lot of information on the web for this and what is and is not good in a compost pile.
  2. For a great weed killer pour 1 gallon of white vinegar into a bucket, add 1 cup salt, 1 Tablespoon dish liquid and spray the weeds in the morning. They may not die immediately but within a day or two.
  3. Lawn fertilizer. Weeds soak up nutrients from the soil just as much as grass. Add water to the top of the bucket and let sit for a day or two. Dilute your grass tea by mixing 1 cup of liquid grass into 10 cups of water. Apply to the base of plants.
  4. Aquarium Water. Fresh water, not salt water.
  5. Bananas also benefit many different plants.  When planting roses, bury a banana (or just the peel) in the hole alongside the rose.  As the rose grows, bury bananas or banana peels into the top layer of the soil.  This will provide the much-needed potassium that plants need for proper growth.
  6. Blackstrap molasses is an excellent source of many different nutrients that plants use.  This includes carbon, iron, sulfur, potash, calcium, manganese, potassium, copper, and magnesium.  What makes this an excellent type of fertilizer is that it feeds beneficial bacteria, which keep the soil and plants healthy.  To use blackstrap molasses as a fertilizer, mix it with another all-purpose fertilizer.  A good combination to use is one cup each of Epsom salts and alfalfa meal.  Dissolve this combination in four gallons of water and top it off with one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses.  Or simply mix blackstrap molasses in with compost tea.  Do this only after the compost tea has steeped.
  7. Coffee grounds contain about two percent nitrogen, about a third of a percent of phosphoric acid, and varying amounts of potash (generally less than one percent).  Coffee grounds are particularly useful on those plants that like things a bit more acidic such as blueberries, evergreens, azaleas, roses, camellias, avocados, and many fruit trees.  I recommend that you allow the coffee grounds to dry and then scatter them lightly, as mulch, around your plants.  Avoid scattering them thickly when they are wet, because clumps of coffee grounds have a tendency to get moldy
  8. Cooking water. Many different nutrients are released into the water that food is cooked in.  Water that is used to boil potatoes, vegetables, eggs, and even pasta can be used as a fertilizer.  Just remember to let the water cool before applying it to your soil.
  9. Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of the wet-milling process for corn.  It is used not only as an organic pre-emergent herbicide, but also as a fertilizer that is 10 percent nitrogen.  To use as a fertilizer, simply spread a thin layer of corn gluten meal and scratch it into the top inch of soil. Plant veggie starts inside the treated area for optimum nitrogen benefit, and do not worry about accidentally harming your plants.  Corn gluten meal only works as an herbicide before seeds germinate, not after, so it won’t hurt plants that have already sprouted.
  10. Egg shells contain about 1% nitrogen, about a half-percent phosphoric acid, and other trace elements that make them a practical fertilizer.  Calcium is an essential plant nutrient which plays a fundamental part in cell manufacture and growth.  Most roots must have some calcium at the growing tips to grow effectively.  Plant growth removes large quantities of calcium from the soil, and calcium must be replenished, so this is an ideal way to “recycle” your egg shells.  Simply crush them, powder them in an old coffee grinder, and sprinkle them around your garden soil.
  11. One tablespoon of Epsom salts can be combined with 1 gallon of water and put into a sprayer.  Apply once a month, directly to the foliage for a quick dose of magnesium and sulfur. Sprinkle ½ cup around the base of your roses several times a year, water it in well and you will have abundant rose blooms and green leaves.
  12. Wood Ashes from your fireplace can be sprinkled onto your soil to supply potassium and calcium carbonate.  Hard wood is best, and no charcoal or lighter fluid, please, as this can harm your plants.  Don’t use ash in areas where you are trying to maintain acid-loving plants – the ashes are alkaline and can increase alkalinity in the soil.
  13. Gelatin can be a great nitrogen source.  Dissolve one package of gelatin in 1 cup of hot water and then add 3 cups of cold water.  Pour directly on the soil around your plants once a month.  This is great for houseplants
  14. A weak solution of green tea can be used to water plants every four weeks.  Use one teabag to 2 gallons of water.
  15. Hair is a good source of nitrogen and it does double duty as a deer repellent.  A good source is not only your hairbrush but also the local barbershop or beauty salon.  Many of these establishments will save hair for your garden, if you ask them for it.  But do not limit yourself to only human hair.  Dog hair, horse hair, and cat hair work just as well.
  16. Horse feed. What makes horse feed irresistible to horses is also what makes it an excellent fertilizer.  The magic ingredient is molasses.  To use horse feed as a fertilizer is simple and easy.  It can be used as a soil amendment just by sprinkling it on top of the soil.  Alternatively, it can be dissolved in water alone or combined with another organic fertilizer, and applied as a soil drench.
  17. The old fashioned easy strike matches are a great source of magnesium.  To use this as a fertilizer, simply place the whole match in the hole with the plant, or soak the matches in water.  The magnesium will dissolve into the water and make application easier.
  18. Powdered milk is not only good for human consumption but also for plants.  This source of calcium needs to be mixed into the soil prior to planting.  Since the milk is in powder form, it is ready for use by your plants.

Happy Gardening!

For more information, there are many organic sites on the internet.  Your county extension office, State Agricultural and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Information Center are also great resources.

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