5 Ways to Live Clean Outdoors

Spring…

Everything seems so fresh, clean, and full of new life. As I lounge in the front lawn, pondering this month’s theme of clean living and listening to the birds, I’m watching my 2 and 3 year old children pick and eat dandelion blooms and pretty blue violets. My nine month old prefers chewing rocks and sticks.

 

Oh yes, Clean living…

From where I sit I can see one lawn that looks like the outfield of the Royal’s stadium.  Another is almost entirely crab grass with some wild onion and poison ivy mixed in to spice things up a bit.  Ours is somewhere in between.  I feel like I’m writing this article from the trenches, not the winner’s podium.  My wife and I are on the journey.  I’m still slightly in shock from accompanying her to the store and shelling out $150 for some organic baby food and greens, but I’m pretty sure I have some old herbicide around here somewhere and I know I have some synthetic houseplant food on top of my refrigerator; go figure.  From my precarious perch somewhere along this narrow road, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how we can all take steps in our yards toward a cleaner spring and life.

 

1. Let go of the American dream lawn. 

It’s ok to see some yellow or blue flowers in your grass. They’re pretty.  The homeowners association won’t kick you out.

  • Tame some of the lions by brewing some dandelion root tea.  Add color and zest to your salad with the blooms and foliage.
  • While you’re feeling adventurous grab some wild violet and clover blooms too. Your kids will think it’s cool, your spouse might need some time…they’ll come around.
  • Research.

 

2. Skip the synthetic fertilizer/pre-emergentherbicide

bags at the entrance of most stores these days.  You pay more money to avoid toxins in your food, why walk in them.

  • Look into some natural alternatives at your local garden center.  There are quality organic fertilizers and less toxic pre-emergent products.  Talk to the staff, if they don’t carry it, maybe they should start. Yes they cost more.  The good news is your lawn can eat stuff that doesn’t come out of a bag just like we can.
  • Mow your lawn more often, at a higher setting, and let the clippings fall.  They are a free fertilizer and save you labor.  You’ll also be cutting off any dandelion blooms you haven’t already eaten and the longer grass can shade the soil and so go longer between waterings(which is good since I hear grass is now the most watered crop in America).  Oh...it will also hide some of those little weeds!
  • If you have the time and money feel free to aerate and verticut, which will increase the lawn’s vigor.  Happy grass crowds out weeds.  You can have a great lawn and still feel good about lying in the grass and watching the clouds roll by as you sip dandelion tea.
  • Research. (Please don’t harvest your weeds from the local park or city median.)

 

3. Assume a more primitive battle plan against brush and poison ivy

swords and spears instead of chemical warfare.

  •  Most of us would agree that Monsanto is not a friendly beast, yet the glyphosate(active chemical) in round-up (and all of its knock offs) come straight from the monster.  Doesn’t make much sense to bad mouth Monsanto and then douse your back 40 in glyphosate.
  • This is where the swords come in.  Get some gloves, or a friend with some gloves, to take a weapon out back before everything leafs out and get chopping.  If you then want to discreetly dab some poison on the severed trunks to ensure death, that’s your business, at least most of it won’t be heading toward the Atlantic Ocean the next time it rains.
  • You could also cover the cleared area with cardboard or weed barrier and then a good layer of mulch to prevent grow-back.  As far as gardens and flower beds are concerned, vinegar or boiling water can help knock the weeds back, and then good ol’ mulch helps keep ‘em out or makes pulling them much easier.
  • Research.

 

4. Plant something you can eat,

and that preferably doesn’t require a monthly spray routine to keep alive (a lot of the apple hybrids would fall under that category).

  • There are lots of new compact berry bushes on the market, as well as a lot of pretty AND tasty plants.  Daylilies, Nasturtiums , Pansies, Sedum, and Hibiscus are some of my favorite, though there are many more.
  • Plant something for the bugs.  Attract pollinators with bright, pollen rich flowers like asters, butterfly weed, salvia, and cosmos.  Welcome beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and tiny parasitic wasps that prey on insect pests with dill, fennel, yarrow, and DANDELIONS!, among others.  It also helps to keep a few “pests” around to give these hungry little guys something to eat!  A complete food chain in the garden is healthy.  If you blow a hole in it with chemical pesticides the pests are likely to return faster than the good guys. Just sayin!
  • There are some great insecticides derived from natural sources that a local garden center should carry, including products containing Spinosad or B.T. for caterpillars, Neem oils, insecticidal soaps, and the big gun of Pyrethrin for most other things, if drastic times call for drastic measures.
  • The trick is to spray at first or last light so the honeybees are in bed and won’t be playing in even these gentle sprays while they are still wet.  Many of the big name, big results sprays are extremely toxic to bees, including anything containing Imidacloprid (a very common systemic) and Permethrin. Remember, strong happy plants with lots of beneficial bacteria and living organisms in the soil produce their own insect repellent and are much less susceptible to problems.
  • Working on the soil’s health by adding compost every year, using natural fertilizers that contain beneficial organisms, and adding products with micronutrients and mycorrhizia (beneficial fungus, yum!) can be the best defense.  Sound like our own bodies, huh?  More fermented foods and less discount synthetic super-mega-multivitamins. You still might have to go stomp squash bugs once in a while (maybe your kids will do it), but just a friendly chat with a grizzled old garden warrior or garden center veteran may get you treasured old tricks of the trade.  I got a tip this year from a much more experienced gardener that there are Italian zucchini that have solid stems and so are not susceptible to the vine borers that have been destroying my crops recently.  Got some seeds to try this year!
  • Research.

 

5. Research everything. 

Remember, I’m not the expert on this, and I don’t know if you’re allergic to violets, squash blossoms, or any other weed.  Little bites are a good start.  A whole dandelion leaf salad with blooms for garnish is not a good way to introduce this stuff to yourself or your family.

Make it fun!  Talk to other gardeners. Talk to God, He’s excited about this journey too.

 

Maybe all this planting stuff is not feasible, that’s fine, just pack the kids in strollers and run down the road to the local mulberry tree, eat till everyone’s purple, then put a sheet under a branch, shake it vigorously while making monkey noises, pour all the berries that fell off  into a jar, jog home, and bake a pie.  Works for us…

Guess it’s back to the trenches for me (poison ivy firewood anyone?)  Remember the most important thing is to keep moving in the right direction, one step (or bite) at a time.  Do it for yourself; do it for your children; do it for the resident rabbit family or the planet; do it for your Heavenly Father.  I feel like many beautifully manicured yards are like the Pharisees of old, perfect in appearance, but full of death on a deeper level.   Jesus wasn’t out to please man (please keep cutting your lawn) but His Father in heaven.  May we also do our best as unto Him, get creative with Him, and work toward yards that are clean, beautiful, tasty, fun, and full of life!

Happy planting, -Dandelion Daddy