So You Think Your Garden is Organic?

So You Think Your Garden is Organic?


When I stopped using non-organic products on my home garden I thought my garden was organic.  Okay, maybe it wasn’t the same as a “certified organic” garden but I figured that within a few years any non organic products I may have used would be gone.  I learned how to make compost and used it along with leaf mold.  I was committed to using only organic pest control although one year I gave up and used a little Sevin dust on the squash bugs.  Last spring we decided to try using an organic lawn program for weed control and fertilizer.  We were in for some major sticker shock.  A lawn chemical program at a local hardware or big box home store was around $40 on a good sale.  The organic program which we found at only one lawn and garden center was $145.  I wavered.  Two years ago we wanted to go organic on the lawn but decided to use up the last of our non organic chemicals and budget for next time.   We did that, still I wavered.

I had read about how lawn chemicals are tracked into our homes.  A common active ingredient in weed and feed is 2,4-D.  See a popular product label here.  You’ll have to really magnify to read the ingredients.  There is a good information sheet from Oregon State University on 2,4-D here if you want to learn more.  I didn’t like the thought that our geriatric dog was probably getting a lot more exposure than we were.  She eats it, she rolls in it.  Of course we followed instructions to wait until it was dry before letting her out to the back yard.  Side note: at her annual check up the veterinarian said that she has the equivalent of doggie Alzheimer’s.   I also used grass clippings on the garden for mulch and in the compost pile!  Oooops!  We bought the organic lawn program.

That started me thinking, what about the kitchen scraps I throw into the compost pile.  We don’t buy organic produce all the time.  What about the 5 gallon bucket of coffee grounds a friend shared with me that came from Starbucks and went into the compost pile?  I felt like I was doing a good thing by composting the kitchen waste instead of sending it to the land fill.  What kind of pesticides might be carried through to the garden?  A common pesticide used in producing bananas is Chlorpyrifos.

Here’s what happens to Chlorpyrifos in the environment (taken from the National Pesticide Information Center fact sheet):

When chlorpyrifos gets into the soil, it can take weeks to years for all of the chlorpyrifos to break down. Chlorpyrifos in the soil may be broken down by ultraviolet light and chemicals in the soil. Soil temperature and pH level may also affect how long chlorpyrifos stays in the soil. Chlorpyrifos will break down more slowly in acidic soils than in basic soils.

Once chlorpyrifos is in the soil, it sticks very strongly to soil particles. Plant roots won’t usually pick it up, and it won’t easily get into groundwater. Chlorpyrifos may wash into rivers or streams if erosion moves the treated soil. One of the breakdown products of chlorpyrifos, called TCP, does not bind to soil and may get into groundwater.

Most of the chlorpyrifos applied to plant leaves will evaporate, but some may remain for 10 to 14 days. Chlorpyrifos or the chemicals it breaks into may get into the atmosphere and travel long distances. Researchers found chlorpyrifos in indoor air, dust, carpets, and on children’s toys in homes where products with chlorpyrifos in them had been used.

I don’t know if the non organic bananas I buy have chlorpyrifos or not.  I don’t know if 2,4-d from grass clippings survives the compost process.  According to the information on 2,4-d it has an estimated half life of 10 days, depending on the form, etc, etc, but also has been found after 186 days post application in aquatic sediments, blah, blah.  Of course we were told for years that the glyphosate in Round-up bio-degraded quickly into a harmless compound-turns out not to be true.

I do know that this is one more reason to buy organic produce.  I do know that I am going to be more careful about what I throw in the compost pile.

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