I mentioned the other day that my husband is the one that really got me started on learning more about environmentally friendly gardening.
I have always loved nature and gardens and wildlife. I grew up in a small town in New Jersey where I inherited my love of gardening from my parents, who always had beautiful elaborate flowerbeds filled with multi-colored, sweet scented blooms. As soon as I was old enough to start living on my own, every home I lived in, whether rented or owned, soon became filled with my own beautiful gardens.
But taking my parent’s lead, I thought that beautiful gardens meant lots of chemical fertilizers and foul smelling pesticides. I was happy with the occasional bird or butterfly passing through and I blamed the lack of more of those gardener visitors on all the new construction going on around me.
Then I met my husband. He was the rugged, outdoor type and when he started trying to tell me everything I was doing wrong in the garden I thought “Yeah, right. What does a construction worker/outdoorsman know about gardening?”
And then I went to his home and saw his gorgeous organic vegetable garden, full of huge ripe vegetables and I watched him hand-picking insects off of them instead of spraying chemicals and when I asked him why he gardened that way, he told me it was because he likes to fish.
Like most gardeners, I have learned my gardening habits from many other gardeners. I’ve learned from my childhood gardens in New Jersey, my inlaw’s gardens in Michigan, and my grandmother’s farm in Oklahoma. But when I met my husband, I soon learned that many of the things I was doing in my landscape were not only harming the birds and butterflies that I loved so much, but the environment in general, and that meant it was having an impact on people that like to fish.
He taught me how everything, from washing my car, mowing my lawn, and walking his dog, could affect his fishing hobby. I should add here that when my husband first taught me many of these things, I thought that he was just trying to save time and money so he’d have more of both to devote to fishing. But I’m from Missouri (the Show Me State) so I did plenty of research that helped to prove that sometimes it really DOES benefit the environment to do a little less around the yard instead of more.
So in an effort to keep the good ol’ boy that I married happy, here is a list of the “Six Things I’ve Learned to Do Around my Property so that My Husband Can Keep on Fishing.”
1. Watch what goes in the groundwater - Everything that goes into the ground around a home has the potential of finding its way into local fishing spots. This is the most important lesson of all. All of the chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that are used in landscapes can get picked up by rain and misdirected sprinkler heads and get washed out into the stormwater lines where they can find their way to rivers, lakes, wetlands, coastal waters and even underground sources of drinking water. This type of pollution is called nonpoint source pollution and is one of the major contributors to degradation of the Metro area’s waterways. Many fish species are affected by nonpoint source pollution. The affects of chemicals in the waterways are so far-reaching that in a study performed in the Potomac River, 79% of the male bass which were studied were either producing eggs or showing other “intersex” characteristics. The solutions to preventing stormwater pollution are simple. First, don’t put dangerous chemicals into the ground (see #2 and #3 below). And take steps to make sure that water remains in your landscape rather than washing into storm drains. Always remove any debris or chemicals from driveways, roads and hard surfaces. Don't let them wash into waterways.
2) Switch to natural fertilizers - Chemical fertilizers in local waterways can cause algae blooms that kill fish. You can meet a plant’s nutritional needs in ways that are not as harmful to the environment by using compost or allowing grass clippings to remain on the lawn. My hubby only let’s me use natural fertilizers such as fish emulsion and liquid seaweed – both good choices for fisherman and for the environment - and, of course, compost.
3) Don’t Let the Pests Pester You – Pesticides and herbicides are two more substance that are almost always found in unhealthy fish. If you keep a healthy yard, bugs and weeds are less of a problem. Healthy plants are less vulnerable to bugs and predators such as bigger bugs, toads and birds usually take care of the ones that sneak in. Anything that you decide to spray to kill insects, again, has the potential of making its way into the groundwater so if you do decide to use chemicals, ask your retailer for the least toxic solution for a particular bug and ONLY spray the bug or infected plant. Broad spraying of an entire garden or yard is rarely needed or effective. Broad applications of products such as weed and feed are also harmful. Many pest problems can be treated in ways that don’t harm the environment. You can handpick bugs or prune off infested parts of plants. Weeds can be handpicked, blocked with mulch or treated with corn gluten meal (CGM) a natural weed control.
4) Don’t waste water – Fish depend on the rise and fall of ground water levels for survival, so wasting water at home reduces water in fish habitat and increases the concentrations of minerals and contaminants in the remaining water. The results are crowding, disease and eventually fish die-offs. Wasting water can disrupt the natural cycles in wetlands, ponds and lakes.The biggest waste of water in the Washington DC metro area (and most states) is landscape irrigation. Planting drought tolerant plants, using rain barrels, mulching and properly managing your irrigation system can save thousands of gallons of water annually.
5) Quit fighting mother nature – Many of the problems caused by non-point source pollution and excess watering can be solved by creating a more natural landscape. A landscape plan that follows the natural contours and soil conditions of the site and utilizes native plants which are well-suited to the site conditions will require less fertilizing, less pesticides and less watering. The ideal plant for any location will have needs that match what your site already provides. Native plants are often excellent choices because they require less maintenance (which allows more time for fishing). Correct plant selection and placement can help filter pollutants out of groundwater and reduce heating and cooling costs by providing shade and wind barriers.
6) Don’t coddle your lawn - A healthy lawn helps protect local waterways by acting as a filter to trap sediment and pollutants. Fortunately, keeping your lawn healthy usually means less work, not more. Over watering, over-mowing and over-fertilization weaken a lawn by not forcing it to develop a strong, healthy root system. This harms the lawn AND the environment. As with other plants, it is important to choose a species cultivated for the region, such as the red and tall Fescues. Proper lawn mowing also keeps the lawn healthy. Keep mower blades sharpened to avoid damaging the grass blades and never remove more than one third of the grass blade when you mow. Tall grass shades and cools the soil, discourages weeds and shelters beneficial ants and ground spiders that prey on pest insect eggs in the turf.
Since I’ve learned these things, I’ve devoted a good part of my life trying to teach them to other people. Some folks think I do it all to attract more wildlife and to help grow delicious chemical free produce. But mainly I think that if I convince enough people, maybe my husband won’t think that he has to go out every weekend to check on the fishing!
For additional information about these principles, visit: Landscaping and Gardening, Fairfax County, Virginia From Creeks to the Chesapeake, Protecting our Watershed (pdf file) (City of Rockville) Conservation Landscaping (City of Rockville) Water Quality Stewardship Guide, Fairfax County, Virginia.