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Editor’s Note: Each Wednesday My Green Side brings Simple Tips for Green Living to The Christopher Gabriel Program. We also highlight a favorite green site each week. You can stream the segment at approximately1220pm (central) every Wednesday at WDAY.com or, if you’re in North Dakota or western Minnesota, listen on your radio at AM970 WDAY.

GREEN TIP: You don’t need to use commercial herbicides and pesticides to create a beautiful lawn.

We all want a beautiful lawn we can be proud of, but at what price? Is it really that important to have a perfect, weed-free lawn for a season or healthy children and pets for a lifetime?

As I was researching this topic, I came upon a study from the University of Minnesota that really hit home. In the study, 210,723 live births in Minnesota farming communities found that children of pesticide applicators have “significantly higher rates of birth defects than the average population.” Another study, this one from the University of Southern California found that young infants and toddlers exposed to weedkillers within their first year of life are four-and-a-half times more likely to develop asthma by the time they are five and almost two-and-a-half times more likely when exposed to insecticides. The studies go on and on that link childhood exposure to chemicals to cancer, asthma and learning and developmental disorders.

Lawn Fact: During a typical year in neighborhoods across the country, over 102 million pounds of toxic pesticides are applied in pursuit of a perfect lawn and garden. This figure, up from 90 million pounds in the year 2000, continues to grow despite the growing body scientific evidence of the public health and environmental consequences.

Source: Beyond Pesticides

Children and lawn chemicals don’t mix!

  • The National Academy of Sciences reports that children are more susceptible to chemicals than adults and estimates that 50% of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs during the first five years of life.
  • EPA concurs that children take in more pesticides relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) cites that over 30% of the global burden of disease in children can be attributed to environmental factors, including pesticides.
  • Studies show that children living in households where pesticides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer and soft tissue sarcoma.
  • A 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that students and school employees are being poisoned by pesticide use at schools and from drift off of neighboring farmlands.

So, do you have to have an ugly, weedy lawn? Absolutely not. The National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns has some easy tips you can use to create a healthy lawn.

  • Make sure your mower blades are sharp and keep your grass height at 3 to 3 1/2 inches.
  • Some weeds are the result of using poor quality grass seed. Make sure you use the proper grass seed for your region.
  • Many “weeds” have beneficial qualities. For example, clover takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and distributes it to the grass, which helps it grow. Clover roots are also extensive and very drought-resistant, providing resources to soil organisms. It also stays green long after your lawn goes naturally dormant.

Is an occasional dandelion, knotweed or clover cause for alarm? No! Dandelions’ deep roots return nutrients to the surface, crabgrass provides erosion control and I’ve already extolled the virtues of clover. And by not using chemicals on your lawn you are helping your children, pets, neighbors and our planet live a healthier life.

Need some non-toxic gardening tips?

  • Visit Loving Natures Garden. Alison Kerr will give you the inspiration you need to keep your garden green.
  • Another wonderful site is Ecosystem Gardening – Carole Brown is ready to help you Create Wildlife Habitats and Protect the Environment.

Know the health and environmental impacts of the products you’re using to improve your lawn and garden.

My Green Side’s web pick of the week:

Beyond Pesticides
Beyond Pesticides (formerly National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides) works with allies in protecting public health and the environment to lead the transition to a world free of toxic pesticides. The founders, who established Beyond Pesticides as a nonprofit membership organization in 1981, felt that without the existence of such an organized, national network, local, state and national pesticide policy would become, under chemical industry pressure, increasingly unresponsive to public health and environmental concerns.

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by Wendy Gabriel

Image my surprise (and delight) when Sue Reed, author and landscape architect, contacted me about her new book, Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for your Home and Garden. My approach in landscape design has always been to work with what I had, don’t add toxic chemicals and do add native plants whenever and wherever I could. After reading Energy-Wise Landscape Design, I was taken to a whole new level and have a new appreciation for how important our landscape design can be.

This book should be required reading for anyone who has a hand in planning a landscape design: homeowners, builders, city planners and so on.

Some of my favorites:

Chapter 8: Reducing (or Eliminating) Lawn
This chapter describes the evolution of the North American lawn and how we can replace some lawn with other things or design a lawn-free landscape. I sincerely wish that we could all shift the way we view a “perfect” lawn.

In the ultimate irony, to keep grass free of weeds, we blithely spread bags full of chemicals that harm the health of ourselves and our children, our pets and our friends, not to mention a whole world of wild creatures we never see or consider.

Chapter 9: Using Water Efficiently
This chapter explains how to design our landscapes so they need and consume less water including a section on collecting rainwater.

There is so much information packed into this book along with amazing photos and detailed drawings. Sue gives us an education in landscape design while opening our eyes to the possibilities of our individual landscapes. Her voice is full of common sense and charm. I highly recommend this book.

And, not only is the book fabulous, Sue’s publisher New Society Publishers has been Deep Green for over 30 years. They have produced the book on recycled paper made with 100% post consumer waste, processed chlorine free and old growth free. It’s a book you can feel good about buying for all the right reasons.

It’s time for us to imagine a new kind of landscape, one in which beauty is not just a social convention or a glossy magazine image, but also an expression of our social values. Now in the 21st century, we can design, build and care for our landscapes so that in addition to looking attractive they will also work for our own good and the good of the larger world.

For more information visit Energy-Wise Landscape Design.

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by Wendy Gabriel

GREEN TIP: Start grasscycling. When you mow let your grass clippings remain on the lawn instead of bagging them, you’ll keep your lawn healthy and save yourself some time.

Grasscycling is recycling grass clippings by leaving them on your lawn instead of collecting them for disposal. Grasscycling is a practice that can help produce a healthy lawn while at the same time benefit you, your community and the environment.

We recently moved… again. This time to a more permanent location in Fargo Moorhead. Since we still own a home in the Minneapolis area and left all of our lawn equipment there, we needed to purchase a few items for our new home.

First, a lawn mower. We found an Easun Push Reel Lawn Mowerat a locally owned hardware store. It’s fantastic. It’s quiet, runs on people power and is easy to use. Reel mowers are perfect for grasscycling because they send the clippings flying off the reel in a fine spray of short clippings which are virtually invisible on the lawn.

To grasscycle properly:

  • Cut your grass when it’s dry.
  • Cut your grass regularly. A good rule is to cut no more than one-third of the grass height at any one mowing. Cutting off more than one-third at a time can stop roots from growing and require frequent watering during dry summers to keep the grass alive. In addition, the one-third rule produces smaller clippings that disappear quickly by filtering down to the soil surface.
  • Cut your grass with a sharp blade. Sharp blades cut the grass cleanly and that helps ensure rapid healing and regrowth. Dull blades tear and bruise the grass. The wounded grass becomes weakened and is less able to prevent invading weeds and recover from disease.

Grasscycling improves lawn quality when grass clippings are allowed to decay naturally on the lawn.

  • They are returning nitrogen and nutrients to your soil.
  • Since the clippings are 80 – 85 percent water, they act as a water-saving mulch.
  • They encourage natural soil aeration by earthworms.
  • Your mowing time is reduced because there’s no nee to bag your clippings.

Thanks to Kathryn Grace for the idea for this week’s Green Tip.

My Green Side’s web pick of the week:

CNN Health
CNN special on Toxic America – Is enough being done to protect us from chemicals that could harm us? Watch “Toxic America,” a special two-night investigative report with Sanjay Gupta M.D., June 2 & 3 2010 at 8 p.m. ET on CNN

Wednesday night highlights “Toxic Towns” and will delve into the environmental health and justice problems plaguing the community of Mossville, Louisiana. Mossville is not an isolated example, but instead a poster child for a broken chemical safety system.

Thursday night highlights the “Toxic Childhood” and features Healthy Child founders, Jim and Nancy Chuda; Scientific Advisor, Dr. Phil Landrigan; and our “A Wake-Up Story” video. This second part of the series reveals the effect toxics have on unborn babies.

Take Action to help prevent these tragedies by emailing your members of Congress and asking them to support a strong Safe Chemicals Act.

Editor’s Note: Each Wednesday My Green Side brings Simple Tips for Green Living to The Christopher Gabriel Program. We also highlight a favorite green site each week. You can stream the segment at approximately 1020am (CDT) every Wednesday at WDAY.com.

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By Wendy Gabriel

GREEN TIP:  You don’t need to use commercial herbicides and pesticides to create a beautiful lawn.

 We all want a beautiful lawn we can be proud of, but at what price?  Is it really that important to have a perfect, weed-free lawn for a season or healthy children and pets for a lifetime?  Well, the answer is obvious so it mystifies me that people continue to dump chemicals on their yards and gardens not to mention the farmers who do the same.  As I was researching this topic, I came upon a study that really hit home.  In the study, 210,723 live births in Minnesota farming communities found that children of pesticide applicators have “significantly higher rates of birth defects than the average population.”  Another study found that young infants and toddlers exposed to weedkillers within their first year of life are four-and-a-half times more likely to develop asthma by the time they are five and almost two-and-a-half times more likely when exposed to insecticides.  The studies go on and on that link childhood exposure to chemicals to cancer, asthma and learning and developmental disorders. 

Children and lawn chemicals don’t mix

So, do you have to have an ugly, weedy lawn?  Absolutely not.  The National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns has some easy tips you can use to create a healthy lawn.  They caution that bad mowing practices can cause many lawn problems so make sure your mower blades are sharp and keep your grass height at 3 to 3 1/2 inches.  Also, some weeds are the result of using poor quality grass seed.  Make sure you use the proper grass seed for your region.  And remember many “weeds” have beneficial qualities.  For example, clover takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and distributes it to the grass, which helps it grow.  Clover roots are also extensive and very drought-resistant, providing resources to soil organisms.  It also stays green long after your lawn goes naturally dormant.  

Here’s a handy tip I got from my Mom: If you have weeds growing where you don’t want them (say, if they are peaking out from your mulch) pour vinegar, lemon juice or boiling water on them.  Make sure the liquid only goes where you don’t want vegetation of any kind because it does not discriminate; it kills everything.  Incidentally, boiling water also took care of a ground bee situation we had (again, a Mom tip).  I waited until after dark, when the bees were back in their nest, and poured the biggest pot of boiling water I could carry on them and then ran for my life.  I repeated the process the next evening . . . just in case.  Problem solved without calling an exterminator.

Is an occasional dandelion, knotweed or clover cause for alarm?  No!  Dandelions’ deep roots return nutrients to the surface, crabgrass provides erosion control and I’ve already extolled the virtues of clover.  And, by not using chemicals on your lawn you are helping your children, pets, neighbors and yourself live a healthier life.

My Green Side would like to wish all you Mother’s out there a Happy and Healthy Mother’s Day!

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