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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?

Stop Throwing Out Pollutants

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.

Bare feet walking on lawn

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

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