BY Carolyn Maynard-Parisi | Wednesday, Apr 20, 2011 9:30am
I’ve always been puzzled that the same folks who go out of their way to purchase organic produce, who shun antibiotics in milk and meat, and who only scrub their floors with “natural” cleansers somehow turn a blind eye to one of the biggest daily sources of pesticide contamination: their lawns.
More pesticides are used for suburban lawns and gardens than for agricultural purposes, according to the National Coalition against the Misuse of Pesticides. A study of 30 common lawn pesticides found that 19 may be carcinogenic, 13 may cause birth defects and 20 may cause liver or kidney disease.
Children, because of their lower body weight and developing organ systems, are more vulnerable to pesticides. Pets are at risk, too: studies have shown that dogs exposed to pesticide-treated lawns and gardens can double their chance of developing canine lymphoma.
Run-off into the water supply is also a serious issue, especially in our hilly area.
But there are alternatives, and they are safe, inexpensive and readily available. “For every problem, there is a natural solution,” said Harmen Vos, owner of the Organic Dutchmen, a completely organic lawn service company. “You just have to think about what is going on in the lawn and try to figure out what is happening in the soil.”
Vos founded the Organic Dutchmen 25 years ago. “We use no chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or insecticides,” he said.
The Dutchmen take a holistic approach, by first determining the lawn’s overall health. They will test the soil’s pH levels, and correct it with something as simple and natural as lime. They also determine if a lawn needs more top soil. “Builders today don’t put enough,” he said.
To rid a lawn of weeds, they use a combination of methods including manual removal, aerating the soil and treating it with natural remedies such as corn gluten meal. They also use a blowtorch to combat those stubborn weeds that grow in patio cracks. “It’s very simple and quick,” said Vos, “although you do have to be careful not to burn anything else.”
Vos also said it takes a little more work, and some patience on the client’s part. “If you want your lawn to look like a sterile golf course, this might not be for you. But people have to realize that chemicals don’t only kill weeds, they kill everything else too.”
Grass needs to be able to heal itself, he said, and it never gets the chance if it is always bombarded with chemicals. “It is a vicious cycle.” Organic lawn care also encourages more birds and beneficial insects, such as grubs. “In a quarter century of doing this, I’ve never seen a grub in anyone’s lawn,” said Vos.
Chemicals can linger in your lawn and garden for months, said Vos, causing potential harm to children and pets. “I get around four calls a month with horror stories from people who say their dog or cat died from ingesting chemicals in the lawn,” he said.
The Organic Dutchmen work throughout New Jersey, and in Bucks County, PA. “Our prices are competitive,” said Vos. He also noted that organic lawn and garden care products, such as Espoma, are readily available in nurseries and garden centers.
Vos said it makes him “very sad” to see people putting toxic chemicals on their lawns, when there are perfectly safe, natural alternatives. “There is enough cancer in the world, why add to it?”
So, Baristaville, what do you use on your lawn and in your garden?