High Altitude Gardening: Make your yard organic
April 19, 2014
I like to write articles about gardening, giving pointers on growing better vegetables at high altitude. In my organic gardening class, I promote the practices of organic gardening when growing your vegetables.
I have learned how our corporate food sources, from our meats (think Oscar Meyer or Prime Select) to our packaged foods (think Nabisco or Kraft), to our vegetables (many imported from across the globe and chemically treated), are toxic with chemicals and genetically modified organisms. The only way to insure a clean food source is to grow your own. You can also be fairly confident when you buy locally at farmer's markets. Small farms generally — not always — use organic methods.
Cut the chemicals
In my last class, a student asked about how these organic growing procedures apply to her lawn. The answer is that they are the same. Good organic, non-chemical practices are what promote healthy soil, creating a fertile environment for good bacteria, which actually feed grasses and plants, resulting in lush, green lawns and gardens with fewer weeds.
Chemicals certainly have no place in our vegetable gardens, but also should not be used on our lawns, especially if you have kids or dogs. Adults may not come into contact with their grass lawns, but our kids and dogs play on it in their bare feet every day. Those chemicals that you may be applying to keep the dandelions down can be absorbed through the skin. The chemical producing companies like to suggest that these chemicals pose no health risk (even though some instructions read "apply with full clothing coverage and face mask"), but more and more, research shows otherwise.
To learn about some of the information on GMOs, you can watch a documentary on YouTube called "Seeds of Death." To learn about some of the health risks of the lawn chemicals you may be using, you can Google any of those found on the labels like 2-4 D (for killing dandelions) or Glyphosate (Roundup's superstar chemical). These chemicals stay in our environments for years, as well as our body tissues and may cause a host of health issues.
My students tell me many homeowners associations are not interested in considering the small added cost of organic practices for their landscape areas, preferring to stay with the usual chemical practices provided by most landscape companies. But if you are concerned for your own health and that of your children and pets, then it is up to you and the other homeowners to petition the association to investigate organic, non-chemical procedures.
HOW TO MAINTAIN AN ORGANIC LAWN
So let me give a brief rundown on how to maintain your lawn without chemicals:
Do not use any product that says "suppresses or kills weeds and crabgrass" on the label. This is 2-4 D chemical, a known carcinogen.
Never use insecticides on your lawn. They kill insects, but they also kill us. Most insects, such as bees, are beneficial to a healthy garden. There are also better organic methods for insect control.
Do not use any fertilizer from the big chemical companies (like Scott) that looks like little grains of white sand. These are just synthetic pellets of nitrates that promote rapid grass growth, but do not contribute to healthy soil. They can even kill the natural healthy bacterial action in the soil.
Use organically derived soil conditioner and fertilizer with words like manure and compost on the label. I use Alpha-One organic lawn fertilizer with fabulous results.
Aerate your lawn once or twice a year. This reduces compaction and promotes natural composting in the soil.
Reseed areas as needed with drought tolerant grass seed for our climate, such as Fescues, not Scott's Kentucky Bluegrass.
To reduce or eliminate dandelions, you will probably have to do some hand weeding. Weeds love to get established in neglected, nutrient-deficient lawns. Once healthy grass is established, the weeding can be a minimum, and it is worth the cost.
To keep ahead of weeds in the rest of the garden, you can spray with simple acetic acid vinegar (like the kind on your salad), but not on grass — it will kill that too by burning the skin. A stronger 20 percent concentrate is available online.
We all vote with our dollars. Start buying more labels that say organic or non-toxic and work towards a cleaner environment.
Lori Russell is a professional gardener and teaches organic high altitude gardening each spring at Colorado Mountain College. Contact her by calling 970-328-5324 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.