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.
• 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
• 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
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
- 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.
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Made the transition to organic, but still have some old landscape chemicals sitting in your basement? Helped Aunt Bertha clean out her garden shed this spring and discovered a few dusty bottles of Roundup?
You should dispose of any unused chemicals in your home to avoid accidental poisoning (pets and kids), but don’t just toss them in the trash. If dumped with the rest of your waste, they can leach into and pollute ground water.
Most sanitation and recycling departments host events for safe disposal of dangerous household items including pesticides, cleaning supplies, paint, medication, and electronics. Contact your local sanitation department to ask about the next event in your community. Your local department may also have a facility where you can drop off specific items anytime.
• For our neighbors in East Hampton, the East Hampton Recycling Center hosts disposal days on the third Saturday of May and the third Saturday of October.
• Southampton Town residents can dispose of pollutants at different locations in May, June, August, and October.
• New York City residents can stay up-to-date on upcoming Safe Disposal Events on the NYC Department of Sanitation website.
What is a 3-, 4-, or 5-step lawn program? A series of products labeled 1-3 (or 4 or 5) that are sold to be applied month-by-month throughout the growing season. They are all-in-one mixes designed to treat a range of typical lawn problems. They usually contain synthetic fertilizer combined with synthetic pesticides—various weedkillers, fungicides and insecticides, depending on the month. Some mixes also contain grass seed.
What’s the problem with multi-step programs? Not only are they packed full of the worst kinds of chemicals, but they are treating your lawn for problems you may not even have. Like going to the doctor and getting medication for every known health condition, just in case.
Multi-step programs offer short-term solutions with long-term consequences. The lawn may green up temporarily, but the fertilizer and chemicals will eventually pickle the soil. Excess nitrogen from the fertilizer can leach into nearby water bodies, contributing to algal blooms. And who wants to walk across a lawn covered with chemicals?
Photo credit: Wulf Voss / EyeEm / Getty Images
According to conventional wisdom, spring is the season to feed your landscape. But before you spread that big bag of fertilizer (slow-release organic, of course!), take the time to find out what your soil actually needs. Feeding too much encourages rapid growth, disease, and nutrient run off, while feeding too little deprives your soil ecosystem and plants of the nutrients they need for a healthy summer.
What can a soil test tell you?
- pH level —> How acidic or alkaline your soil is and whether you need to add lime or sulfur to adjust the pH.
- Nutrient levels —> How much nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and other minerals your soil contains and whether you need to amend.
- Organic matter —> How much organic matter your soil contains and whether you need to add compost.
The best times to test are: on new planting sites, before planting your annual vegetable or flower garden, and before seeding a large section of lawn. And no matter the project, always run a test before investing in fertilizer.
Is it best to go with the pros? DIY kits are cheaper and faster, but professional labs will give you more accurate and detailed reports. If you need help interpreting your professional soil test data, contact the lab before submitting your sample in order to request specific recommendations based on your results.
Professional labs in the New York area:
State University & Agricultural Experiment Station Labs
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Riverhead and Great River, NY
Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory
- Also check out the Cornell Waste Management Institute—Soil Quality and Testing page for more information on interpreting your test results.
Soil Foodweb New York
Port Jefferson Station, NY
Harrington’s Organic Land Care
Photo credit: Barry Bradshaw / EyeEm / Getty Images