Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beware of second-hand herbicides

Everyone knows the effects of second-hand smoke, but not every gardener is aware of the potential dangers of second-hand herbicides.

Eco-friendly gardeners make extra efforts to maintain the weeds in their yards with non-chemical methods such as spot treating, hand-pulling and hoeing. But an article in a recent edition of Maryland Home and Garden, a newsletter from the Home and Garden Information Center of the University of Maryland explains how even gardeners who are making the right choices around their yards by eliminating chemical weed and pesticide products may be unwittingly adding poison to the planet.

The article, entitled Gardener Alert! Beware of Herbicide- Contaminated Compost and Manure reports that unsuspecting farmers and gardeners have applied compost, manure, and grass clippings contaminated with herbicides.

Here are the steps they advise to make sure that you aren't inadvertently using second-hand herbicides.

What’s a gardener to do? 

* Grass clippings can make a wonderful organic mulch and addition to the compost pile. Just be certain that the clippings you use were not sprayed with any herbicides. Don’t use neighborhood yard waste unless you’re sure it’s free of herbicides.

* Herbicide-contaminated compost and manure do not look or smell unusual. Most farmers who sell or give manure away may or may not know if their animals grazed on grasses or ate hay sprayed with aminopyralid or clopyralid. Ask commercial compost suppliers if their products are free of herbicide contaminants. Maryland Environmental Service (MES) is the producer of Leafgro, a very popular yardwaste compost available at garden centers throughout Maryland. MES has Leafgro tested regularly by an independent lab and have not detected aminopyralid or clopyralid. 

Bioassay test- this is the best way to test for possible contamination. You just mix some of the suspect material (hay, grass clippings, manure, compost) with a soil-less growing mix, dump it in a nursery pot, plant pea or bean seeds and observe what happens. Contamination is indicated if the seeds don’t germinate or seedlings emerge that are twisted and deformed. 

You can read the whole article along with other great information for local gardeners by downloading the Maryland Home and Garden newsletter here (pdf format).

This grant money is for the birds

If you've followed this blog, you know that I feel that eco-friendly gardening goes hand-in-hand with appreciating the birds and the bees . When you "garden green", you eliminate chemicals and use more native plants, and both of these steps have a natural tendency to attract more birds, bees and butterflies.

But it works both ways. Sometimes the love of birding and wildlife comes first, encouraging a homeowner to create an eco-friendly garden to attract wildlife. And sometimes the eco-friendly garden comes first, and the visiting wildlife is just a welcome and wonderful surprise.

In any case, organizations such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology understand the importance of encouraging people to appreciate birds. With that in mind, they are offering mini-grants to help fund neighborhood bird appreciation events in urban areas.

The grants can be used for any creative program using the arts, science, community service and greening to encourage an understanding of birds and to get people to become involved in conservation.

In 2010, Miriam's Kitchen, a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C., used a grant for a month-long program for their homeless clients, which included: bird yoga, origami, poetry, art, as well as learning about 16 bird species and collecting data.

In 2009, Garland Hayward Youth Center in Princess Anne, MD used a mini-grant to plant raised beds and install bird houses and bird feeding stations to enhance wildlife habitat around their Center.

Also in 2009, Queen City Creamery in Cumberland, MD had a community greening and bird program with the local public libraries.

What is a Celebrate Urban Birds event? These are neighborhood events featuring activities involving birds, community service, art, greening, and science. Celebrate Urban Birds mini-grants could be used to support a bird-activity day at a local museum, after school program, library, or community center, or fund art and gardening activities at your club, business, school, senior center, or neighborhood. 

Organizations working with underserved communities are strongly encouraged to apply.

For more information on the grants, go to

Also from their website, Urban Gardening for Birds

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