Saturday, September 10, 2011
Pondering pesticides (and just saying no)
"I need to talk to you! Stop!" The man jumped out of a red car and started hurrying towards me. "I need to talk to you!"
I was walking my two dogs, Trevor the dachshund and Raven the cocker spaniel, through the cemetery in my neighborhood, and had just enjoyed seeing a belted kingfisher flying off down the stream that cuts through the middle of the graveyard.
I turned around apprehensively. The man sounded so insistent. There's no rules prohibiting walking dogs in this area, and neither of them had made a "deposit" on someone's grave site, so what was the big deal? Was I about to confront the town looney?
It turned out the man wanted to warn me against walking them along the creek area.
"I had a bulldog that I used to walk along there," he told me. "One day she ingested some pesticides that were sprayed along the creek. She came home and kept licking her paws. I loved her so much--she suffered for days, then she died. So don't walk your dogs along the creek!"
I thanked him for warning me -- at least, as best I could over Trevor's barking (he can be a very bad dog that way -- we are registering him for obedience class on Monday, and not a day too late!), and pondered his words as I finished the walk.
I've been taking the dogs along that area all summer, so I wasn't too freaked out. Plus, pesticides have a distinctive, awful smell, which I didn't detect even a whiff of. Still, I did take the man's warning to heart, and although I won't stop walking my dogs in the area, I will be careful to make sure nothing's been sprayed recently. And, since I love to be a public nuisance, I'll start pestering city and county officials about it -- not that it will do any good.
I have absolutely no reason to doubt the man's story, and I appreciate that he tried to spare my dogs the same horrible fate as his. My aunt had a collie who died suddenly after she'd had her yard sprayed. And if you do an Internet search of pets poisoned by pesticides, you'll find a lot of similar tales, such as this one from One Green Generation. (I highly encourage you to follow the link to a great post -- and don't worry, it has a happy ending.)
As the above post explains, according to the ASPCA, over 30,000 pet poisonings related to pesticides are reported to the poison control center each year. That's a really big number, and I was unable to verify it, but if you include cases of pets ingesting items left around the house or garden (such as roach hotels, rodent bait, poison granules, etc.) then perhaps.... (BTW, I was a bit annoyed by a line on the ASPCA website, along the lines of, "These products are necessary to keep your garden healthy, but keep your pets away." WTF?!?)
I guess that's what annoys me most about home use of pesticides: so much of it is completely unnecessary. It's really not a big deal to pull some weeds...and if your lawn in less than perfect, seriously, so what? In a previous post, I complained about the use of pesticides on the lawn by my work place pond because of the potential impact on birds, but now that I own dogs, I have even more reasons to object!
With all that said, I can understand the temptation. After walking the dogs, I worked on clearing out the raised beds in my garden, which have been completely overgrown all summer (I wanted to see if anything worth saving popped up. In a word, no), to get ready for planting native herbs and wildflowers next spring.
As I began pulling out plants and digging in one of the beds, a swarm of ants began seething across the dirt, rushing up my legs and arms, and -- ouch! -- biting me. And these are just normal ants, not fire ants like I encountered in Georgia. So my first thought was (as I decided to work on a different raised bed for the day), "How the bleep do I get rid of these ants?"
Reading advice on the Internet -- and skipping over anything that suggests using a pesticide, as I don't want to kill any birds or poison my soil -- I have run across suggestions to use boiling water, hot pepper sauce, cayenne pepper, orange oil, grits or corn meal, and human urine. I have also read that ants are not harmful to plants so why not let them be? (Well, I'd be happy to...if they'd stop biting me!)
My experience and research today has really helped confirm, once again, that I don't want to use any pesticides or herbicides in my garden as I create my Avian Haven. But in the meantime, does anyone have any thoughts or advice about the ants?