Keep Your Garden Looking Great Without Chemicals
By Sierra Fleenor
District 4 Representative, GPHC, Inc.
Our focus on sustainability at Greater Park Hill Community this summer continues.
Last month, GPHC Executive Director Rebecca Born discussed composting and how to keep food out of landfills (that column can be read at greaterparkhill.org).
Now that you know how to make compost, let’s explore how to keep your garden looking great and weed-free without using harmful chemicals.
There are two main types of products you might be considering using to keep your garden luscious while killing bugs and weeds: pesticides and fertilizers. Each of these can have extremely harmful impacts upon our neighborhood and our planet and frankly, you just don’t need them.
Pesticides are one of the only substances we release into our own environment to kill living things. Two of the big types for gardening are herbicides (weeds) and insecticides (you guessed it, insects).
Pesticides are a quick and easy way to deal with a nuisance, but the harmful impacts of pesticides have been documented since the early 1960s. Pesticides can make children and animals ill and can actually hurt your garden. Worms, microorganisms, and other good bugs live in your soil and garden (and keep other pests under control). Pesticides kill indiscriminately and can even hurt the roots and immune system of your plants.
So what are the alternatives? Each pest requires its own defense or prevention strategy, so you may have to do a little homework.
As many long time rose gardeners know, for example, aphids can seriously damage your roses. To keep these pernicious little bugs under control, introduce some ladybugs to your garden. Both natural aphid predators and delightfully bright additions, ladybugs can help your garden thrive.
For dandelions, on the other hand, you may need to assess the health of your soil. A few dandelions are no biggie and actually help increase bee pollination, but a large amount is usually a sign that something is off. Have your soil analyzed and address the real issue, which will set you up for a long-term solution and a gorgeous lawn.
As for fertilizers, well, applying it may seem like a no brainer. We all want our gardens to have a good yield and it’s hard to pass up this quick fix. The problem with fertilizers, though, is that they are destroying our water tables locally and globally. Fertilizer runoff, rich in nitrogen, is pouring into our streets, our rivers, and our oceans. Large swaths of the ocean are no longer habitable by fish because blooms of algae are feeding off the fertilizer and depleting oxygen.
At home in Denver, the issues may be less visible or dramatic, but using fertilizer can be costly and in some cases, increase the wrong nutrients in your soil. Steer clear of fertilizer and if you do use it, be careful to follow all the appropriate watering and other directions to keep it out of our gutters and water table.
There are a few easy ways to increase the production and beauty of your garden without using fertilizer. You can start your own compost bin and then after a few months, add that compost directly to your soil. Uneaten or spoiled food becomes future fruit and vegetables. You can also rotate your crops from year to year.
Each plant takes certain things from the soil and each plant puts certain things back in the soil. Does your soil need nitrogen? Plant some peas. Peas are nitrogen fixing and are also very pretty.
What about you, gardeners of Park Hill? What do you use instead of pesticides or fertilizer? There are many free and low cost resources where you can learn more about reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizer, as well as alternative means of controlling pests and increasing the production of your garden.
Here are a couple of helpful online references:
• Alternatives by pest type – beyondpesticides.org
• Soil analysis – soiltestinglab.colostate.edu
As your gardens start producing, you may find you have more food than you can eat, which for us over here at Greater Park Hill Community, is fantastic news. We offer fresh produce to neighbors Monday and Wednesday through our Emergency Food Pantry at 2823 Fairfax St.
You can drop off fresh produce Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Don’t forget: all through the growing season, we have a free farm stand open to all residents on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Sierra Fleenor is the District 4 Representative for Greater Park Hill Community, Inc.