The Components of the Soil Food Web:
The building blocks of healthy soil are inorganic and organic matter inhabited by bacteria, fungi, arthropods (bugs), protozoa, and sometimes mammals (like moles, voles, and field mice), reptiles, and amphibians.
Inorganic matter: Sand, clay, rocks, silt, and loam; each with different effects on the soil. For instance, soils high in sand drain quickly and require frequent watering, while soils high in clay retain much more water and require frequent aeration.
Organic matter: The “fuel” of the soil food web, made up of inactive organic material (humus) and active organic material (tree leaves, blades of grass, wood, and decomposing organisms, etc.) Soil high in organic matter is typically a deep, rich black color.
Beneficial Organisms: Bacteria, fungi, and arthropods in soil break down organic matter into essential nutrients plants need to live.
Soils high in organic matter encourage rapid microbe growth, which fuels your lawn and creates a naturally resilient, low maintenance, PRFCT landscape.
The Chemical Problem:
A highly functioning, productive soil food web is naturally resistant to pests and disease. There is always something (insects, etc.) present to “consume” organic matter, and such insects naturally attract the predators that keep their population in check. Fungal diseases are also controlled in this manner.
Lawn care chemicals throw off this soil balance. Toxic pesticides applied to “fix” an insect problem also kill insect predators. Without predators, new pest insects move into the soil and multiply rapidly. Soil can no longer defend itself, necessitating constant pesticide applications.
Harsh synthetic fertilizers act too quickly in the soil, burning valuable root systems and introducing more nitrogen than beneficial bacteria and fungi can use, provoking emergence of pest diseases. Over-fertilization leads to eutrophication of waterways, as excess nutrients run off the lawn into surface and groundwater.
Where to Find Help:
Contact your local cooperative extension. They can test soil health and determine what is needed to improve it. Possible treatments include application of lime to soil that is too acidic, or aeration to activate microbial activity in compacted clay soil. They can also clarify what type of turf you have, and recommend the best time for fertilization.
Only fertilize when necessary, using slow-release fertilization.
Cool season lawns are best fertilized in fall, warm season grasses in spring.
New lawns benefit from topdressing of rich organic compost.
Condition existing soil with amendments high in organic and microbe matter.
The application of broadcast tick sprays has become increasingly popular as the populations of ticks infected with dangerous diseases (Lyme, Babesiosis, Erlichiosis) continue to rise. The Perfect Earth Project is concerned that most consumers are not fully educated on the best methods to protect themselves. Tick sprays, even the “organic” ones, are indiscriminate killers of insects, which includes valuable pollinators and butterflies. The chemical based sprays, containing permethrin and/or bifenthrin are extremely toxic to fish as well as insects. Broadcast sprays may not be all that effective. They cannot guarantee the eradication of ticks. They hang out under leaves and can avoid the spray and persist in a yard. Repeated spraying does not necessarily do more, but it certainly introduces more toxins into your yard. These toxins, much like the ticks themselves, carry serious human health hazards, along with negative environmental effects.
Ticks transmit disease when they have been attached for a fairly long time and are preparing to release their grip. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 hours or more before the bacteria can be transmitted. If a tick has just attached there is a very small chance of infection. If an attached tick is removed, you can take it to your doctor for testing.
For help in identifying ticks, please see below: http://www.tickencounter.org/tick_identification
The two prevalent hosts for ticks are white-footed (field) mice and deer. Excluding these hosts from your yard by using controls such deer fencing and brush removal can considerably help to reduce the populations of infected ticks.
Treatments targeted specifically for these hosts use toxic chemicals and expose the hosts to possible side effects, but the methods of application reduce the exposure to humans and beneficial insects, birds and fish. Non toxic pesticides such as natural oils do not have sufficient longevity for these uses. The tick populations are noticeably reduced but are not eliminated. Both systems are fairly expensive.
Host Specific Treatments using chemicals:
1. Mice: Damminix tubes work by presenting permethrin-saturated cotton balls to foraging mice. The mice then use this cotton in nest building. The permethrin comes in contact with their hides, killing any ticks present on the mice. While these treatments still make use of permethrin, it is used in a highly localized setting, reducing exposure to human and wildlife compared to broadcast treatments.
2. 4-Poster Deer Treatment devices work by baiting deer with corn to the device. The deer must rub their necks on a permethrin-infused roller to get at the corn, and the ticks present on the deer are then exposed to the pesticide. Similar to tick tubes, the 4-Poster makes use of permethrin, but once again in highly localized setting. Control rates of up to 90% tick reduction have been reported on real-world studies of the 4-Poster on Long Island, New York (2). Recommended for large areas.
Personal/Pet Repellents: The best way to reduce exposure to ticks when transiting heavily infested areas may be treating yourself to repel ticks. Tick repellents are made out of both conventional pesticides and natural products.
1. The most common insect repellent used in the USA, DEET, has human health risks ranging from mild skin irritation to severe neurological impairment (3). DEET is of particular concern for use on small children, where frequent long-term use has lead to seizures.
2. Synthetic pyrethroids (such as permethrin), are used to treat clothing on people transiting high tick density areas. Possible exposure to these chemicals may increase your risk for reproductive system and immune system effects, in addition to skin sensitivity. Caution must be used to ensure the product only is applied to clothing, and not bare skin.
3. Natural insect repellants, such as lemon eucalyptus oil and rose geranium oil, have shown to be effective, but short lasting, insect repellants. These products carry far less human health risks and environmental concerns than their synthetic counterparts (4).
4. Pyrethroid pet repellants may cause liver toxicity, and may cause skin irritation after prolonged exposure (5).
Practices to limit your exposure to ticks: Avoiding ticks in the first place eliminates the risk of tick-borne diseases and the negative effects of pesticide exposure. Tips to help limit exposure include:
1. Keep highly transited grassy areas mowed
2. Trim shrubs and brush that come in contact with walking paths
3. Rake leaves and brush in traffic areas to remove potential tick hang-outs
4. Wear long sleeves and pants when working in potentially infested areas, and be sure to tuck them in to boots, socks, gloves.
5. Wear lightly colored garments so ticks can be seen
6. If you do get bitten, remove the tick slowly with tweezers. Save the tick if you suspect it has been feeding on you for greater than 24 hours. Seek medical attention if you experience nausea, dizziness, flu-like symptoms, or develop a rash. Let your doctor know you suspect a tick bite, and give them the tick if you saved it.
Perfect Earth asks that you consider the human (and pet) health and environmental risks and questionable efficacy before choosing broadcast sprays for tick control. By protecting yourself directly with a non toxic repellent, you can be far more confident of the results (wherever you might roam) for yourself, your children and your pets.
Lawn Care "Programs"
A 5-step lawn care program is like using a sledgehammer as a flyswatter. This “one-size-fits-all” approach to lawn care applies hundreds of pounds of unnecessary synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides to your lawn. It forces you to apply chemicals to fix problems that may not exist. A cycle of dependency is created.
5-Step programs typically consist of:
1. Heavy doses of quick-acting fertilizers in spring. These high-nitrogen chemicals green up a lawn quickly, but do not last. Constant reapplication is necessary to avoid the lawn browning up again. Heavy spring rains encourage run off into ground and surface waters, causing algal blooms and contaminating drinking water.
2. Another dose of fertilizer combined with crabgrass preventative (pre-emergent) or “weed and feed” herbicide products. Compounding the problems mentioned above, crabgrass pre-emergent and “weed and feed” can be toxic to fish and other wildlife.
3. Another dose of fertilizer, often combined with insect/grub control. This constant fertilization increases runoff, making your lawn a pollutant to its environment. Insect control, particularly grub control, should only be considered if you actually have grubs; not as a preventative measure. These pesticides are dangerous to humans and animals, and are likely to contaminate groundwater.
4. Another round of fertilization, with spot weed treatments. At this point, your lawn has become chemically dependent on fast-acting fertilizer. It has not produced the deep, complex root system it needs to seek water and nutrition and defend itself from grubs, weeds, and other pests. Spot weed treatments exacerbate this condition, and pose additional health risks to humans and the environment.
5. Reseeding in fall, in preparation for another cycle of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Break the Cycle!
A strong, healthy, toxin-free lawn is possible and can naturally defend itself against pests.
5 Steps to a PRFCT lawn without chemicals:
1) Use slow-release fertilizers, compost teas, or nutrient rich soil mixes. Slow-release fertilizers feed your lawn continuously throughout the growing season, without the spikes and valleys of fast-acting chemical fertilizers. Your local cooperative extension or landscaping supply store can tell you which slow-release fertilizers work best in your area.
2) Scout for problems, and treat only those you actually have. Insects have natural predators in the lawn environment. Contact your local cooperative extension about treatment thresholds for grubs, and only treat if they are causing actual damage. Scout for weeds and remove them by hand. A strong, healthy lawn should outcompete and shade out most unwanted weeds.
3) Practice good cultural controls on your lawn. Set your mower to at least 3.5” (high setting) to allow grass to grow in thick and strong. This encourages a healthy root system that resists pests, weeds, and drought conditions. Water infrequently but deeply, to encourage more root growth. Aerate soil in fall to promote better lawn growth for the coming season. Leave grass clippings on lawn to provide another source of nitrogen, further promoting healthy growth.
4) Rake and over seed in fall. This gives grass a competitive edge over crabgrass and weeds in spring.
5) Most importantly, BE PATIENT. A healthy, pest-resistant lawn takes time. By acclimating your lawn to gradual change, you produce a balanced ecosystem resilient to environmental stresses.