Friday, June 12, 2009

Obsessively Green Gardening

I was driving out of my neighborhood this morning and passed a crew working on a yard, doing the typical maintenance stuff with power mowers, power blowers, power edgers, etc. Their van was parked on the street, its name written boldly across the side. I would not have paid the van any attention except that that I saw the word “Green” in the name. I think the van itself was green. Granted, the crew was cutting green grass, and their van was colored green, but I see anything else about the operation that was “green.”

Which got me thinking again…What would uber-green (as in hyper green – better yet, let’s call it "obsessively green"), what would obsessively green gardening look like, especially in the urban/suburban/exurban setting?

Suburban gardening and yard maintenance is noteworthy for its pollution and toxicity. Almost all power equipment pollutes the air much more even than do cars. Then there is the noise – oh my has suburbia become a NOISY place to live. Power blowers are the worst, but power mowers and weed whackers certainly add to the noise pollution.

Water pours off roofs, driveways, and lawns carrying with it all sorts of nasty stuff – grease, oil, tire and asphalt residue from the driveway and roof; animal waste, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers from the lawn. The runoff goes right into our streams and rivers and lakes. This polluted runoff not only contributes to increased costs for water treatment downstream, but dramatically impacts the ecology of streams and rivers, effecting amphibians and fish and other aquatic animals, and the animals that feed upon them. The horrible state of Jordan Lake is a prime example of one end result of all this.

Are we really comfortable with the trace elements of these toxic chemicals in our water supply? There is no treatment that gets rid of it all.

We grow grasses and plants and trees that are not native to our area and not adapted to the particulars of our climate and soil, so we coddle them with excessive amounts of water, or douse them with fungicides when the clay soil is too moist. We use expensive treated water to keep these water-sucking non-native plants alive, water that could and should be preserved for other needs. We could reduce demand for treated water by catching roof runoff in rain barrels, or even (for those who can do so), catch roof and general runoff with cisterns. Large properties can have beautiful rain gardens where much of this water is allowed time to seep more slowly into the ground water supply, and at the same time provide habitat, food, and shelter for birds and small reptiles and mammals.

Most of us love it when birds and other wildlife show up in our yards and gardens. I think everyone loves bluebirds, watching them perched on a tree limb gazing downward, diving to the ground to snatch up a bug, and returning to their perch. And what child does not love robins! I watched a robin a few weeks ago put about ten worms in his mouth before returning to a nest. Robins also eat insects, the kind that live in a biologically healthy lawn.

Bluebirds need to eat insects in order to survive. We love bluebirds, yet we succumb to pesticide ads that promise to “kill everything” in our yards, a promise which I suspect is pretty truthful as advertising goes. In the “perfect lawn” as advertised on TV there are no bugs, few worms, and no weeds - just grass, the whole lawn looking and being little different than AstroTurf. It is a single crop farm, the crop being grass, with everything else dead.

The herbicides that kill the broadleaf “weeds” that interrupt the perfection of our lawns also seep into the soil to be ingested by worms which robins then feeds to their chicks. The leaf eating insects that manage to survive the initial dousing ingest huge amounts of this poison as they feed upon the grasses and other remaining plants (if there are any), which said bluebird takes into its body with each bug he eats.

On Memorial Day weekend I saw a lady out mowing her lawn with a manual rotary mower. The mowed lawn looked quite fine. No air pollution there! There have long existed manual edgers. There are even manual blowers – OK, not really, but I was thinking of rakes and brooms. I've yet to find an emissions free tiller other than a shovel and hoe, but we need tillers in this crazy red subsoil we work with in Greensboro. Is there a powerful enough electric tiller out there?

Though they are not pollution free (the electricity comes from a power plant somewhere) there are very good electric versions of most of these same tools.

So these are some of the things I think of when I think of obsessively green gardening. Maybe you have some ideas as well.


Joan said...

We've done such a turn around. We use to be obsessed with own lawn and even had underground sprinklers installed. 2 years ago we decided it wasn't worth the water and chemicals to get it unnaturally looking good. In fact I have a square foot garden right in where grass was in our back yard. We have a wooded lot and when we built our house we did have the smarts to keep the lawn area to a minimum - thank goodness.

Dwight and Susan on the farm said...

Joel, we have a young man who has helped us get part of our lawn going organically. He uses a pre-emergent in the fall, uses compost tea for fertilizer, uses something that looks like a ground up baby diaper that hold moisture until it decomposes. He's really done a good job helping us manage our lawn organically.

Dwight Thomas said...


there is a community garden near us that is a ministry of a local Methodist church and the staff person who operates it is funded by a grant from Duke University - they teach local people how to garden organically without any power tools (as most of them are very poor and cannot afford power stuff), the food produced is given to the helpers and others who volunteer, and it provides a work site for court ordered community service. It's really great. Sometime we can take you to visit it. Guess what else? The staff person who operates it is the husband of Elizabeth Hamilton (daughter of Susie and Will)! So small world. Guilford County could use something like this and maybe Duke is willing to provide more grants?

Hydroponic Garden Book said...

Have you tried hydroponic gardening? It could arguably be greener than most gardening techniques. :)

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