Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Best Defense for the Garden – Your Brain

It’s official. Ontario is banning the use of cosmetic pesticides. Premier McGuinty made the announcement yesterday, his Earth Day gift to the province. It’s particularly encouraging to us folks who want to grow organic veggies in our backyards. How can a garden be truly organic when your neighbour is spraying the nasty stuff on his prize tomatoes?

The problem with pesticides is that the poison magnifies as it works its way up the food chain, disrupting the ecosystem. Insects become more resistant to the pesticides every year. And pesticides are a petroleum product - another reason we don’t like them.

Like many, Jane and I are busily preparing our toxic-free garden. We’re really just learning as we go. Last year, we discovered that soil makes a big difference in the quality of the vegetables. Go figure, eh. In the fall, we spruced up the garden patch with a proper cocktail of manure, topsoil and compost. We also used straw as mulch to help with water retention. We’re now mixing in more compost and top soil, and will sprinkle in some fertilizer that we bought from Grassroots.

This weekend or the next, we will till the soil – no more than six inches. We don’t want to cut up earthworms which are very important players in the garden – aerating and fertilizing being high on the list.

Then we will plant seeds. Jane and I came up with an assortment of our favourite veggies. I’m in the process of charting out where to place the seeds. We must be careful. Some veggies are very unhappy if they grow near a particular type of vegetable. The potato and spinach, for example, silently endure one another. The tension is terrible. Others, such as tomato and basil, are great chums. They flourish in once another’s company. A companion veggie may repel insects that want to feast on the other. It’s a matter of knowing what plants work best together to prevent insects from feasting on your vegetables. Who needs pesticides? A brain works much better.

So with our copy of The Organic Gardener’s Home Reference, we are charting out a veggie map on what goes where, complete with sun images to indicate which ones like sun the most. We’re very accommodating. We don’t like unhappy drooping vegetables.

Other tips: marigolds repel many pests so plant them in and around the garden. Rose bushes indicate the health of the soil. If the roses are looking unhappy, the soil needs some work.

In the News

While folks celebrated Earth Day, some news was far from celebratory. Economist Lord Stern realized that the problem of climate change is much worse than he originally estimated, and scientists announced evidence of methane stores in Siberia thawing and releasing into the atmosphere.

As if in response, Michael Pollen wonders ‘why bother’ in this week’s New York Times Magazine. He concludes that we can’t wait around for politicians or companies to change our lifestyles. It’s up to us. No one exemplifies this more than Wangari Maathai who started the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. I just saw a documentary featuring her at the Toronto Hot Docs Festival - Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai. She argues, and backs it up with experience, that it is only when the people take action and stay on course that they make a difference and affect government change. If you’re ever feeling depressed or wonder ‘why bother’, I recommend that you google Wangari Maathai and let her inspire you.

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