IN THE HOUSE,
LAWN AND GARDEN
Often the first chance a child gets to play outside is in a garden or on a lawn. However, in order to keep these places beautiful
and green, we heap on the pesticides. About 90% of Americans use pesticides, and we use a lot of them, about 2 billion
pounds a year. Unfortunately, pesticides can cause all sorts of children's health problems. Immediate effects include nausea,
vomiting, seizures, and shortness of breath. Longer term effects include neurological and reproductive disorders, birth defects,
asthma, and cancer.
These problems are preventable. We can easily remove pesticides from our homes, both indoors and outdoors. Using a
number of simple strategies, we can have beautiful lawns and gardens, and relatively pest free homes without endangering our
Did You Know?
- Children in families that use pesticides are 6.5 times more likely to get childhood leukemia.
- There is a correlation between the use of pesticides in the home and childhood brain cancer.
- Twenty-four out of the 25 most common pests are only problems because their natural predators have been killed by
- Nationwide, 47% of households with children under the age of five were found to store at least one pesticide within the
reach of children.
What You Can Do
An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach is the safest way to control pests. IPM is a sequential process based on
monitoring, prevention, mechanical and biological controls. In IPM you start with the least toxic step and proceed to the next
step only if the first doesn't control the pest problem.
Monitor the situation. Identify the causes of the problem. Determine what pests eat, where they are coming from, and
what kind of organism you are trying to control.
Preventative medicine. The best way to get rid of pests is to not attract them in the first place.
Mechanical controls. If preventative medicine alone isn't enough, then try some of these techniques.
- Cleaning up after yourself, shutting windows, and taking out the trash regularly are the keys to keeping pests out of the
- Just like with people, a healthy plant is less likely to get sick or be preyed upon than a weak plant. Plants have defense
systems just like animals. Encourage your plants to protect themselves by keeping them strong and healthy.
- Water appropriately. Be sure to take into account your specific climate. In general, try to water in the evening, anywhere
from 4:00 to 9:00 pm depending upon where you live. In addition to conserving water, this keeps plants from getting
burnt by the noon sun which reflects off the water, or from getting stressed by cold if watered at night. In order to save
yourself time and to stimulate root growth in your plants, water less frequently but for longer duration. Fungus growing on
your plants is a sure sign that you are over-watering.
If all the previous options fail, it may be helpful to directly add biological control such as beneficial insects, nematodes,
and pathogens. These techniques should be used sparingly in specific circumstances and under the supervision of a
professional; otherwise they can do more damage than good.
- Get down and dirty. Weed by hand. It is a small sacrifice compared to the health risks of weeding by spray bottle. You
might even grow to like it.
- Use mechanical traps to capture pests. Live traps are a good alternative.
- Biological controls. If the pests still won't give in, try recruiting some allies from the natural world.
- Attract beneficial insects. Some insects such as praying mantis and ladybugs will eat the bugs that eat your plants. You
can encourage their presence by not using pesticides which indiscriminately kill both good and bad bugs (they aren't
good for kids either) and by planting beneficial plant species. Plants such as daisies, sunflowers, marigolds, dill, and
fennel attract beneficial insects by providing them with food and a place to lay their eggs.
Least Toxic Chemical Controls. When all else fails, it is useful to turn to least toxic chemical controls.
- Boric acid is a useful way of controlling ants, cockroaches, grain weevils, and beetles, as well as many weeds. Although
boric acid is much less toxic than conventional pesticides, it still presents some health risks. For this reason, use it
sparingly and be sure to keep it away from children.
Sticky traps which attract insects with pheremones can be very effective. However, be careful because some sticky traps
use conventional toxic pesticides.
- Numerous other least toxic chemical controls exist, including diatomaceous earth, soaps, oils, and growth regulators.
- When considering these least toxic chemicals, be sure to check out all the potential health risks. Use these chemicals only
if the previous steps don't work, and be sure to use appropriate strategies for the specific type of pest you are dealing
with. Be as specific as possible.
If you'd like more detailed advice, check out the following:
Special Tips for Gardens - Lawns - The House
Special Tips for Gardens
- Use lots of organic fertilizer, especially compost. Compost is mother nature's primary fertilizer choice and she is pretty good
at planting gardens. Compost is a living system of microbes and decaying organic matter. As microbes continually break down
the organic matter, important nutrients are released slowly and steadily to be used by the plants. The glue-like waste products
of these microbes create a porous soil which holds more air and water, helping your plants to breathe and drink.
- Don't plant in rows. Plant with equal space in every direction. Rows were invented to ease the harvesting of really big
crops. In your own backyard this is less relevant. Try growing your plants equally distant from one another in all directions. This
helps exclude many invasive weeds. Additionally, this creates a microclimate which keeps heat in and retains moisture, the
combination which stimulates robust plant growth.
- Use plants suitable to your specific region. Buy seed (preferably organic) from a company that harvests seed locally. These
seeds have been selected for their performance within the specific requirements of your local environment.
- Use nature's tricks. Plants have evolved their own pesticides such as caffeine and nicotine. Dump some chewing tobacco or
coffee grounds in your watering can to make a less toxic pesticidal tea. Apply generously whenever you water.
- Slugs. To get rid of slugs, put out a pan of beer. This will lure slugs to a drunken death. (Note: Don't drink the beer
Special Tips for Lawns
- Use a variety of grass suited to your local area. Call your county extension service to find out which variety of grass would
be most appropriate.
- Reduce soil compaction. To aerate your soil use earthworms and a garden fork. For bigger jobs, rent an aerating machine.
- Remove thatch build up. Thatch is the layer of decomposing roots, leaves, and stems at the surface of the soil. Removing
this layer allows water and fertilizer to penetrate down to the roots where they are most needed. Use a thatching rake or for big
jobs, rent a thatching machine. It is most strategic to do this in the spring or fall when the grass will grow back quickly.
- Mow frequently but lightly. Mowing too low to the ground reduces the amount of green in a lawn, which reduces its ability
to produce food. Mowing too low also causes a lawn to dry out. Finally, be sure to use a sharp blade to reduce the stress on
Special Tips for the House
- Cockroaches. Keep food in airtight containers and block potential cockroach entry ways. Plug cracks around
baseboards, walls, pipes, sinks, and bathtubs. Repair leaky pipes and faucets. Try to reduce the amount of standing water in
your house and don't leave out soap bars. Roaches are attracted to both. If these preventative measures fail, try using a least
toxic chemical control - use a sticky trap or put a light dusting of boric acid behind and under the fridge, stove, and duct work
and in or along cracks and crevices. Be sure that your kids don't have access to these areas, as boric acid can be harmful to
children and should be kept out of their reach.
- Ants. Locate the place of entry and squeeze some lemon juice on it. Leave the peel at the entrance. Ants will also be
repelled by chalk, talcum powder, and coffee grounds. As with cockroaches, plugging cracks, holes, and water leaks is a good
- Flies. Sunny open windows are a fly's entry way to your house. So close your windows before it gets sunny. Also try
making your own fly paper with yellow paper and honey. Good old fashioned fly swatters work well too. They also provide a
good upper body work out.
- Spiders. Don't kill spiders. They are the good guys - exterminators at a reasonable hourly rate.
- Fleas. If your pets are infested, wash them well with soap and warm water, and comb them regularly with a flea comb,
disposing of the fleas in lightly soapy water. Vacuum your house and wash your pet's bedding at least every two weeks, before
the eggs have time to hatch. Empty your vacuum bag regularly to prevent eggs hatching in your house.
If you are really ambitious, don't declare nuclear war on the fleas with pesticides; rather practice guerrilla warfare by using the
following acrobatic technique. Place bowls of lightly soapy water around your house. Then put on a pair of white socks and
walk around. The fleas, attracted to your body's heat, will jump on your feet. Pluck them off and drop them in the water.
As a last resort, sprinkle diatomaceous sparingly into the carpet. Let set for one hour and then vacuum it up. Wear a mask to
prevent breathing in dust. The diatomaceous earth will cause the fleas to dry up and die.
- Insect Repellent. Sponge or spray on the following herbal rinse:
2 tbs. rosemary
1/2 pint boiling water
Steep the rosemary for 20 minutes, strain, allow to cool, then apply the liquid.
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