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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rachel Carson's Legacy

I was listening to a program on NPR yesterday about Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, a ground breaking work siting the use of pesticides and their effect on wildlife. This year is the 50th anniversay of the publication of Silent Spring. Ms. Carson's work led to many positve changes in the application and use of pesticides and the banning of a multitude of products that remain in the environment over long periods of time leading to reduced birth rates and even extinction in birds and other animals and insects.The program noted that the EPA was also formed as a result of concerns that arose in the light of Carson's work.

When I went through my courses at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in the early 1980's I studied "integrated pest management". This course was a direct result of the work put forth by Rachel Carson.  Rather than immediatly going to a chemical spray for pest problems the idea of integrated pest management was to use a combination of beneficial insects and bacterias, low toxicity sprays and more resistant strains of plants.  We did learn about pesticides but I was glad to see that many of the most hazardous materials had been banned.

The current movement towards organic produce and natural products for fertilizing and soil ammnedments is also a continuation of Rachel Carson's legacy.  As generations of consumers have become more aware of the dangers of lingering chemicals in the soil and water supply it has forced the large supermarket chains to demand more organic produce and also meats,poultry and fish.

As gardeners we can do at home what organic farmers are doing in the fields.  Promote an active bird and beneficial insect community. They help control the pests that eat our plants.  Rather than spraying with a pesticide try a mild soapy solution in a hose end sprayer for aphids, spider mites and mothes/larvae.  Gather up the snails in the evening instead of baiting. This actually worked a lot better in my garden than snail bait ever did.  Use natural fertilizers rather than chemical formulations. Luckily we now have several lines of great products for this.  Good old manure works well and compost from home. Be sure and leach before use (water down to wash away salts).
If you do use pesticide, do so sparingly. Usually 1 or 2 treatments will be enough to control a
problem.  Keep in mind that many pesticides and herbicides now available are held to a much more stringent standard so occasional use is not a horrible thing.

In our garden we always have an active ecosystem present because there are the basic needs of living creatures in the garden: fresh water available, flowers for nectar, seed heads too for birds, foliage for protection from predators, and fruiting trees.  Yes, we had some insect damage, some snails and the influx of wildlife but it all balanced out pretty well because there were beneficial insects, birds and bacteria to help out and Me, the gardener, keeping an eye out for problem spots.  My favorite helpers were the praying Mantis with their triangular heads and long legs! Very cool.

So yay- Rachel Carson! Thanks for caring about not only the birds and wildlife but our children as well. 

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