I’m going to touch on a few different topics in this installment of Everyday Gardener. First, though, I want to update my column in the March Home Improvement Guide in which I talked about how neonicotinoid pesticides are harming bees and how to shop for plants that haven’t been treated with them.
I’ve now had the chance to talk with Bachman’s CEO, Dale Bachman, as well as John Daniels, Bachman’s vice president of production, about how the company is dealing with neonicotinoids (neonics). As of 2014, while various entities continue to research the role neonicotinoids play in the decline of bees, Bachman’s has decided to take the “precautionary step” of removing all neonicotinoid products for home use from their shelves. That includes imidacloprid, a popular neonicotinoid pesticide used for all sorts of things like rose and lawn care, as well as to protect trees from emerald ash borer. (Of course, homeowners can still buy these products elsewhere and hire professionals who use imidacloprid to treat ash trees.)
They have also stopped using neonics in the production of Bachman’s-grown nursery stock and outdoor plants, which means most of their shrub roses and perennials will be neonic-free along with some annuals. As for plants from other suppliers, they are currently talking with vendors about discontinuing the use of neonics and Dale and John says the outcome may cause them to rethink some of their suppliers. Even as they said that, though, they stressed that the neonics issue is much more complicated than it may seem — a fact that becomes more and more clear to me as I interview people on this topic.
For example, in many instances neonics and other pesticides are used in compliance with regulations regarding moving plants and the potentially invasive pests they may harbor across state lines. In the case of large-scale suppliers, discontinuing the use of neonics will mean switching to other pesticides that will come with their own problems and consequences. For now, shoppers looking for neonic-free plants at Bachman’s should seek out a salesperson for help locating plants the company has grown since implementing their new policy.
Take a deep breath. Buying plants at places that many of us like to shop is going to take more work and patience than usual if we want to help bees. If you start to feel frustrated about the slow pace of change, remember that we are part of the problem. Gardeners have come to expect perfect plants on store shelves, so every entity in the plant supply chain has done everything in its power to kill every bug and wipe out every disease imaginable to make us happy. Moving away from chemical treatments that harm people, pollinators and the planet will be costly and difficult for those who care enough to do so. And we’re going to need to learn to live with more mites, aphids and other things than we’re used to. Who’s in?
A couple of weeks ago I went to a Permaculture Research Institute lecture titled “Designing for Minnesota’s Changing Climate.” The speaker was ecologist Steve Thomforde and, as it turned out, what he said didn’t really fit the description of the event at all. But one point he made stuck with me and I want to share it with you because I would love to hear your thoughts. In talking about the future and climate change, he said we need to approach restoration differently if we really want to restore functional ecosystems.
To do that, we have to stop using so many chemicals to get rid of invasive plants like buckthorn and garlic mustard, and we need to add grazing back into the equation. That’s right, grazing animals that, just by eating and lying about in the shade of trees, help keep invasive species, weeds and tree seedlings in check. With this in mind, he would love to see park systems bring a few sheep or even cattle on board to help maintain certain areas. I doubt this will happen, but I found the idea interesting all the same. What do you think?
Treated lumber for raised beds
I’ve written about this topic before so ignore this bit if you know it. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of emails from people asking whether it’s safe to use treated lumber for raised beds, so I thought I’d answer the question here since it will soon be time to get beds going. Here’s the deal, wood treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) was banned for residential use over a decade ago due to concerns that it could be leaching harmful amounts of arsenic. It was replaced with ACQ, which is treated with alkaline copper quat. (Quat is a fungicide.)
Studies have shown that ACQ does leach some copper and debate over whether that is a concern when growing edibles rages on. What we do know is that copper is toxic to aquatic life, which means using ACQ anywhere near streams, ponds or storm drains that feed into waterways is not a good idea. So, in answer to the question over whether it is safe to use for raised beds, I’d say that’s up to each gardener to decide. I like to err on the side of caution so I choose not to use it. Instead, I would suggest creating raised beds using galvanized cattle troughs, cedar, natural stone or landscape block.
Visit Meleah’s blog: www.everydaygardener.com for more gardening tips or to email her a question or comment.