Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do Environmentalists need Shrinks? Here is my answer

There has been an article kicking around on the internet  called Do Environmentalists Need Shrinks. The article talks about a theory and subsequent research by  John Fraser, a psychologist, architect, and educator with the Institute for Learning Innovation, who thinks that environmentalists may be suffering an emotional toll from their strong beliefs and concerns for the planet.

"We're asking people to accept that something they have always believed is their passion is also something that's hurting them," Fraser was quoted as saying.

I didn't pay a lot of attention to the article when I first read it.

But I've been feeling pretty stressed lately so I went out early this morning to take a walk. The sounds and sights of nature were just starting to unfurl the tight ball of tension inside me and clear all the conflicting "racket" and to-do tasks out of my mind when two female joggers came up behind me on the other side of the street.

Since they were running and I was walking, I only heard a few tiny bits of their conversation, but it was enough to take away my peace again.

I'm not sure what the topic at hand was, but one woman was telling the other one "I just pour the gasoline onto the ground and burn it until it is all gone and then keep repeating it."

For some reason, I assumed she was talking about ways to remove grass from her yard to create a garden. But she may have just as easily been talking about ways to get rid of old gasoline or kill insects.

In any case, my immediate reaction was that I wanted to pick up my pace, jog after them, and lecture them about Stormwater runoff, non-point source pollution and every human's responsiblity to keep chemicals out of our water supplies. The peace that I had just started to feel again after weeks of tension, was gone.

The article about Fraser's theory  immediately came to mind.

I thought about other times that I have driven after people who were throwing trash out their car windows, honking and waving my finger. I thought about the times that I have called government agencies and reported people for chopping down trees that they shouldn't. And I realized that there is some truth to what Fraser said.

But here is the bottom line and the answer to the question Do Environmentalists Need Shrinks . For me, nature is my shrink. It is the one place where I can go to unwind and de-stress  and get away from all of the other tensions in the world. So I DO need my shrink. And I need everyone else to quit abusing her.

Sugar as an eco-friendly weed control? Food for thought

I've written several posts about pet and animal safety in our gardens. One entitled Pets and Pesticides specifically detailed some of the research done on pesticides and how the can affect animals. The other one, called More Pet Safety in the Garden, talked about some of the other items we use in our gardens that can also harm our pets.

So when I saw a post today called Pet Friendly Weed Killers by Lori Thomas on, I had to check it out and see if I could learn anything new. I did.

The article states that SUGAR can be used as a pet-safe weed control. Since I had never heard that sugar can control weeds, I did a little more research to see if I could track down a reputable source for that statement.

Here are some excerpts form a study carried out at Charles Sturt University in Australia in 2005:

By Margrit Beemster, December 2005. 

Sugar has the potential to control annual weeds according to recent research trials conducted by researchers from Charles Sturt University. The researchers, ecologists Dr Suzanne Prober, Dr Ian Lunt and Dr Kevin Thiele, have applied sugar to trial plots for a project funded by the NSW Environmental Trust on how to restore understorey species in endangered Grassy White Box Woodlands. 

The researchers have found that sugar provides a good, short-term non-chemical and ecologically friendly method of weed control. "It appears sugar is a tool we can use to help change a system back to one dominated by native species rather than weeds,” says Dr Suzanne Prober who has been working to conserve and restore grassy white box woodlands for the past 15 years. Nearly all of the woodland belt, from southern Queensland to north-east Victoria is now used for agricultural purposes, principally wheat and sheep. 

So why does the sugar work? Because it is one of the fastest ways of reducing soil nitrate levels. Dr Prober’s compared soil nutrients in undisturbed woodlands and disturbed, degraded sites. She found the most striking difference between the two was in nitrate levels, which were extremely low in undisturbed remnants and high in degraded remnants. 

“It seems that many of our weed problems are due to high nutrient levels”, says Dr Prober. “There is an enormous amount of information on how to increase soil nitrogen to improve crop growth, but very little on doing the reverse. However there has been some research done overseas where sugar was used to tie up nitrogen levels for a short time.”  

The researchers, who spread half a kilogram of refined white sugar to each square metre of soil every three months, found this inhibited weed growth of most annual weeds giving the native plants the opportunity to become well-established. However more research is required to work out the optimum rate of application. “We realise that the sugar levels we used in our trials would not be economic to use over broad scales”, said Dr Prober, “but at the moment we don’t know if we would get similar results if we used less sugar or if we used cheaper alternatives such as molasses or sawdust”. 

So how does sugar reduce soil nutrients? “When sugar is spread on the soil, it feeds soil micro-organisms, which then absorb lots of soil nutrients as they grow,” explains Dr Ian Lunt from CSU’s Institute for Land, Water and Society. “The micro-organisms then hold these nutrients so the weeds can’t gobble them up. In effect we are ‘starving’ the weed species that require lots of nutrients to grow.” The lack of nutrients stopped the weeds from growing large, allowing the native plants, which can grow well in low nutrient levels, to grow bigger and faster. click here to read rest of article.

Whether or not sugar is a viable alternative for most of us in our search for earth-friendly ways to control weeds may require further research. But any method that adds fewer toxic chemicals to the ground certainly sounds like a sweet one to me!

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