A welcome feathered visitor to the garden. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: The benefits of gardening without pesticides

Do I want a yard humming with birds and bees and croaking with frogs, or a Silent Spring?

By Mary Lowther

All our efforts to grow food without pesticides pay off when we read that the World Health Organization has classified the most widely used pesticide, glyphosate, as a probable carcinogen.

El Salvador has banned the use of glyphosate because they are convinced that thousands of agricultural workers died from exposure to the stuff. Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Roundup, which has been touted to be the least harmful of chemical pesticides.

It takes a bit more effort to grow food without pesticides, but once the garden is underway the protocols become routine and are easy to maintain. I’ve learned to work around some pests, like slugs, realizing that I can’t grow strawberries in the spring or expect to reap a harvest in a cold frame in fall. Perhaps there’s a solution for this that I haven’t found yet, but there’s enough other food to eat from the garden. Some methods to keep unwanted pests and weeds at bay confer other benefits, like using soaker hoses that only water the plants we want, allowing the rest of the soil to become too dry and hot for slugs and weeds, thus using so little water that we can still irrigate even during Stage 3 watering restrictions.

Some cities in Canada have banned the general use of many pesticides, including glyphosate, citing the Precautionary Principle that states that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. I’m with them.

Given that glyphosate prevents the uptake of nutrients, why would I use it in my garden? Some studies have shown that it also disrupts hormones in frogs, rendering them sterile. Do I want a yard humming with birds and bees and croaking with frogs, or a Silent Spring?

When I’m in my garden, I’m not just feeding the family; I’m enriching the soil for future generations, hopefully leaving the place in better condition than when I got here. I’m learning from those who came before, who grew food for centuries before the advent of pesticides. Gardening mavens show us ways to improve soils and not wear them out; the value of recycling minerals and other nutrients; the delicate balance in nature and the need to not squander our inheritance.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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