PRFCT Tips

Pollinator on a flower

June 19-25 is National Pollinator Week. Why all the buzz?

• Bees pollinate 75% of the fruit, nuts, and vegetables grown in the United States.

• Native bees are responsible for pollinating many plants endemic to the Americas, including tomatoes and eggplant.

• Over 4,000 species of bees are native to the United States. Honeybees are not—they were brought to the Americas by European settlers.

Is your yard pollinator friendly? Here’s how it can be:

• Do not apply broadcast sprays for mosquitos and ticks, especially synthetic products. Broadcast sprays kill all insects, not just pests. Even organic sprays can be toxic to bees and butterflies.

• If you plan on having an event or are especially concerned about ticks or mosquitos, apply a plant-based essential oil-based spray using a pressurized pump sprayer with a long arm that can get into small spaces. Only spray in early morning or evening when pollinators are less active.

• Plant native plants to support native insect populations. Many insects are dependent on specific plants for shelter and food (think monarchs and milkweed), and many native crops (think tomatoes and eggplants) are dependent on native insects for pollination.

• Plant host plants, not just flowers. Before you can have a garden full of butterflies, you need to provide a food source for their caterpillars. Keep in mind that these plants will get munched, but you might not even notice the damage.

• Pollinators get dehydrated, so provide a water source for your bees and butterflies. To prevent your bug bath from becoming a mosquito breeding ground, change the water frequently.

Photo credit: Indra Widi / EyeEm / Getty Images

Atrazine molecule

Atrazine is the second most widely used pesticide in the US (after glyphosate), with over 73 million pounds applied each year. A common agricultural pesticide, atrazine also is used on turf for broadleaf and grassy weed control. Because atrazine kills cool-season grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass, it is primarily used on lawns in warmer climates (ie. the Southeastern United States).

In humans, atrazine has been linked to:
• Endocrine disruption (what does this mean, anyway?)
• Cancer
• Birth defects and reproductive disorders
• Neurological effects
• Kidney and liver damage
• Eye and skin irritation

How are people exposed to atrazine? Not just direct contact with treated lawns, fields, and food. Atrazine is found in 94% of drinking water tested by the USDA, usually spiking in spring and summer months when it's most heavily applied. Even at extremely low levels, atrazine can interfere with human hormones, fetal development, and fertility. The European Union banned its use in 2004 over concerns that it is a groundwater contaminant.

What is endocrine disruption?

Your endocrine system is the set of glands and hormones they produce (such as estrogen, testosterone, and adrenaline) that help guide your development, growth, and reproduction. Some chemicals—known as endocrine disruptors—mimic your hormones, block hormone absorption, or otherwise alter the concentration of hormones in your body. Endocrine disrupting chemicals have been linked to ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, early puberty, infertility, and other reproductive disorders.

Sources: Beyond Pesticides and Pesticide Action Network

Photo credit: Lacuna Design / Getty Images

Entomopathogenic nematodes nematodes under microscope

Maybe you've seen beneficial nematodes for sale at your local organic gardening center. Or heard about nematodes attacking the roots of your neighbor's tomatoes. What's the difference? And what are nematodes, anyway?

Nematodes are round, threadlike organisms that eat organic material—from bad bugs and bacteria to plant roots—in your soil. Like the bacteria in our bodies, soil nematodes can be helpful or harmful, depending on the type and number present. A healthy balance of nematodes is key to the health of your soil's ecosystem.

Good nematodes:
• Break down soil nutrients so that plants can easily absorb them
• Eat pests like grubs, bad bugs, and fungus
• Harmed by synthetic fertilizers and pesticides

Bad nematodes:
• Eat plant roots

Want to make your soil friendly for beneficial nematodes? Make sure it is well-aerated; nematodes need plenty of space to move around. Kicking the chemical habit and adding compost to increase organic matter will help balance your soil's biology. When your soil biology is healthy, the less-desirable nematodes—and other pests—will be kept in check naturally.

Photo credit: D. Kucharski K. Kucharska / Shutterstock

Glyphosate molecule

What’s in that magic bottle of liquid sprayed on driveways and sidewalks to kill stubborn weeds? Mostly it’s glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and other weed killers that was deemed a “probable” human carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2015. Glyphosate also is used widely in agriculture, resulting in weed resistance, water contamination, soil degradation, and damage to marine wildlife. Over 826 million pounds of glyphosate are applied to crops and landscapes across the globe every year.

Some of the scary human health effects associated with glyphosate:

  • Non-Hodgkins lymphoma
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Endocrine (hormone) disruption
  • Reproductive effects
  • Eye and skin irritation

Also in these products, but not listed on the label: a host of “inert” ingredients that make the active ingredient easier to apply or better able to adhere to its target. These inerts can be as toxic as the active ingredients themselves and/or amplify the toxicity of individual ingredients when combined. For example, many glyphosate products contain polyethoxylated tallowamine (POEA), a surfactant that is considered more toxic to marine life than glyphosate. 

Source: Beyond Pesticides

Want to get rid of those pesky weeds naturally? Try our homemade herbicide recipe:

  • 1 gallon 20% vinegar
  • 1 cup orange oil

Mix vinegar and orange oil in a bucket. Mix thoroughly, and use a spray bottle to apply to all surfaces of plant. Reapply as necessary. Store any unused liquid in a clear, labeled glass container and store in a cool, dark space.

Note: Be sure to wear gloves and protective eyewear when applying your homemade herbicide. It can irritate your skin and eyes.

Photo credit: Lacuna Design / Getty Images

Lawn full of dandelions

Those dandelions in your lawn are little yellow flags letting you know that your soil is low in calcium and/or compacted. Start with a soil test and then amend as needed. Aerating and overseeding your lawn this fall will relieve compaction and promote healthy, thick turf, the best form of weed control. Keep your grass high (3.5-4") to shade out dandelion—and other weed—seeds.

If dandelions keep sprouting, the safest way to remove them is by hand. Water the area to loosen the soil and use a dandelion digger or flathead screwdriver to remove the plant’s long taproot. Pulling dandelions before they go to seed will help prevent them from spreading in your landscape.

Or...learn to love those little yellow flowers. They’re one of the few food sources available to pollinators in early spring. If bees and butterflies love them, why can’t we?

More Tips