Mar 13, 2009

Sights, Sounds and Synthetic Compounds of Spring

The sun's been shining for a week now, so it's officially spring around here no matter what the calendar or thermometer say. If you need further proof: both my neighbor and I busted out our lawn mowers in the last week for the first time in months; my broccoli, which I swear I just planted, has bolted and gone to flower; the annual weeds like dandelion and Italian ryegrass have kicked it into overdrive and set seed already.

In other words, this is the time of year when our gardens are most likely to get away from us. A little rain, a little sun, a little extra warmth, and everyone's feeling happy. But for those of us who desire to chaperone the party a bit, this can also be a very challenging time, and it's when we are most likely to break out the RoundUp, Corry's Slug & Snail Death and other chemical assistants to give us a hand.

As much as I prefer gardening organically, I recognize the realities of modern life; I also much prefer a handwritten note to email, or reading the newspaper to reading a blog, yet here we are. I also will not be out in my yard hoeing away every last ryegrass seed, so chemicals can be a "technology" I use to achieve my goals with the time and energy I do have.

Like any tool or technology, RoundUp is not inherently evil. Sure, it may have been created by evil men (although I doubt it), it may harm the earth and its inhabitants, and there's no question that it's integral to the morally corrupt business strategies of companies like Monsanto. But on its own? RoundUp is just a chemical compound, and it's up to you and me to use it responsibly.

The chemical isn't the problem. The problem is, we lose sight of our real goals (a vibrant, healthy garden environment) in the glare of short-term fixes. Add to that the urgency panic inspired by a garden quickly outpacing us, and our tendency is to grab the nearest solution and drench our problems with it. But if we stop, take a jasmine-scented breath, and think, we can actually make choices that fulfill our short- and long-term needs. For weed control, try repeated applications of undiluted vinegar, or boiling water, or boiling undiluted vinegar (after a reality check). For slugs and snails, an iron-phosphate compound such as Sluggo is extremely safe (and more convenient than beer traps).

There is no shortage of organic gardening blogs out there, as well as Cooperative Extension offices with expertise far beyond what I'll ever accrue, including strategies for integrated pest management. Start there, then take another look at the garden you really want to have... does RoundUp really belong in it?

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