So…How Much Pesticide Is Actually In Our Fruits and Veggies?

We have discussed the dirty dozen here before – those foods which a group called The Environmental Working Group (wow—fancy name – everything they say must be true!) has established contain more residues of different pesticides than other foods.  I’ve already stated my concerns about selecting organic foods instead of conventionally grown ones because of a fear of pesticides so I won’t restate that here.  Instead what I want to call your attention to an article sent to me by our visiting professor, Charlie Rowher.  This article runs down the amounts of pesticides that are actually in the dirty dozen. And the thing is….there just isn’t much pesticide of any sort on most foods and there is no evidence at all that eating these levels of pesticides would be bad for us in any way – even if we ate them in copious amounts day after day.

To be honest I think the authors of this article go a little too far – I do think that there is some potential for damage even from the ultra-small pesticide doses that we find on our foods.  But their points are well taken – the amount of pesticides in food is miniscule and less likely to be damaging to us than a great host of other things.  I’m much more concerned about certain segments of our population suffering malnutrition from avoiding conventionally grown fruits and veggies than I am about the larger portion of our population getting cancer from eating them.

What I did for my summer vacation

[Warning: pointless post/ramblings]

Actually it was a "staycation." We usually scoot to the Caribbean for a week.  I’d like to say this was better.* Though home from our regular jobs for a week, we worked like fiends.  Our primary target was the multitude of Autumn Olive (exotic invasive) and Sycamore (native yet ridiculously prolific) taking over a nice four-acre field.  We we don’t quite know what to do with this creek bottom, except to not let it grow up into a monoculture (biculture?) of 14′ tall Eleagnus and Sycamore.  Our local rental joint delivered a spankin’ new JCB backhoe/frontloader last Monday, and fun was had. I have a thing for heavy equipment, and don’t stink with a Bobcat. But this was bigger than I was expecting.

To familiarize myself with the backhoe, I started out with a planting hole for a 15-gallon tree.  Oh, what Linda would have given for a picture of resulting crevasse."Dig hole 1000 x the width and 6000x the depth of the rootball." Whoops. Could have planted a minivan.  Took a bit of time to fill it back up to the point the entire tree wasn’t below ground. But I got better.  After several days, I was ripping out invasive species with surgical (ha!) precision. Take that!  Very gratifying.

The JCB 3CX with "EcoDig." Advertised as 18% more fuel efficient, so I’m helping the earth while I tear s*** up.

Then Joel surprised me with a truckload of mulch (Squee! Nothing says "I love you" like 4.5 cubic yards of shredded bark).  With Bert’s recent post in mind, I proceeded to "check the mulch for the presence of a foul or pungent odor." My snort-inhalation was perhaps too close to the pile as the fine bits of mulch went up my nose like it was 1985.  I did detect some volatile compounds as my eyes watered and the sneezing commenced. It was still a bit warm, so was careful not to get it too close to the plants. Not that there was much "tender" tissue since it hasn’t rained here in eons.  Will report back if I’ve ruined the bed.

Truckload o’ love. And yes, our "Farm Use" plate is held on by duct tape.

*Nope. Wasn’t.

Podcast #3 – Plants, Drugs and Rock and Roll

I’m starting to have fun with these!  This week the podcast has some fun items about the wide world of plant secondary compounds, which are all those interesting chemicals that aren’t related to the basic building blocks of life (the carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids).  Plus there’s a myth segment on how music affects plants – is “acid rock” as bad for plants as it is for young developing brains?

And the highlight is my interview with Robin Haglund – Seattle gardener and urban beekeeper.  Both she and Corky Luster, owner of Ballard Bees, describe what it takes to open a bee hotel on a small urban lot.  My son Jack took some great photos of Robin’s garden, some of which are below:

Linda, Robin and Corky

Bee fountain

Bee heaven – nectar and lots of water

Corky opens the hive

Bees and honey!

Art and the garden

Please let me know what you think of the podcast; you can email me directly or post a comment on the blog. Suggestions for future podcasts are most welcome!

Toxic mulch: When shredded bark goes bad

We typically think of mulching landscape beds as a good thing.  And it usually is; helping to conserve soil moisture, reducing soil temperatures and contributing to soil organic matter.  Recently, however, I received an e-mail from a local landscaper that reported severe damage to annuals and perennials in a landscape bed immediately after applying hardwood mulch.  The problem, sometimes referred to as ‘sour mulch’ or ‘toxic mulch’, occurs when mulch is left is large piles and undergoes anaerobic conditions.  This results in the production of acids and other compounds that can volatilize when the mulch is placed in beds, especially during hot weather.  These vapors can quickly damage annuals and other sensitive plants.  Mulch in this condition is often characterized by a ‘sour’ smell.  If you suspect your mulch has gone sour, spread it out before use to allow toxins to dissipate and water thoroughly either before or immediately after application.  The University of Arkansas Extension has a nice fact sheet in the subject “Plant injury from ‘sour’ wood mulch.

Fried Gerber daisy

Sedums are usually pretty tough…

And, yes, I did steal the title of this post from one of my all-time favorite ‘Far Sides’…


Sunday Bloody Sunday

Is this title too extreme?  I’ll leave that up to you.

Most of you are aware of the frog controversy that surrounds Round-up.  A few years ago a professor from Pittsburgh showed that this chemical can kill aquatic creatures if it gets into a pond. Particularly tadpoles.  Not that Round-up is intended to be used around water, but still, it is a concern and I don’t want to minimize it.  Nor do I want people to forget that other supposedly safer products have their own set of dangers.

This past Sunday I was in the back yard pulling weeds (there is the possibility that my post last week led to this fate…but I’m not going to examine that here).  One of the places where I pulled weeds was under the deck at the back of our house.  This area is covered with rock mulch and hasn’t been weeded all year.  I started out pulling the large weeds, which took about 15 minutes, and then I started pulling the smaller weeds.  After another 15 minutes I realized there was no way that I was going to be able to pull all of the small weeds in what I considered a reasonable time.  So I went to the garage where I found a bottle of 20% acetic acid – that super strong weed killing vinegar spray that I’ve mentioned before.  I knew the stuff was too strong and not a great choice — I had been planning to take it in to school and use it for some experiments there, but I figured what the heck, it ought to do some damage to the little weeds, even if it doesn’t completely wipe them out.  So I started spraying.

The first things I noticed were things that I’ve had to cope with before when using this trigger-spray bottle.  The spray misted onto my hand and hit a small cut making further spraying uncomfortable –  but I pressed on (At this point you should all be screaming at me PUT SOME DAMN GLOVES ON – You’re right this was a stupid move on my part) and the smell was almost overwhelming.  But I expected these things, so I figured I’d finish.  Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw something coming from an area that I’d just sprayed — moving across the gravel and approaching fast.  It was a small toad, no doubt there to eat slugs.  He was hopping all over the place with no apparent direction.  Random leaps here and there.  I picked him up – and noticed that his eyes were glazed.  I called for my wife to bring a bowl of water – which she did.  I washed him off, but he had already stopped moving.  A few minutes later it was no better – just random twitches and nothing else.  His eyes seemed covered by a fine film – almost like cataracts.  I put him in a cool moist shady spot hoping that he might get better, but I didn’t have the heart to check on him.  The vinegar did him in.

I kill insects and other critters all the time and I’m no vegetarian — so why should I whine about this little guy?  Because it’s always a shame when a life is lost without a purpose.  This guy was helping me out underneath that deck and I killed him because I made a stupid decision by using a pesticide which I knew was a bad choice.  If I’d used Round-up (which I have accidentally sprayed a small amount of on adult toads without apparent effect)– or better yet taken the time to pull the weeds by hand I would have avoided this whole situation and I could have done a better job killing the weeds too.