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April 14, 2005
'Our Water Our World'
comes to Humboldt County
by AMY STEWART
FROM TIME TO TIME, I'LL GET
A NOTE from somebody who has a question about a problem with
a plant they bought, or a pest they can't identify, or a disease
they don't know how to handle. It's not easy to diagnose these
kinds of problems by e-mail, so I usually suggest that they take
the thing down to their favorite nursery and ask.
"Oh!" people will
say. "I never thought to ask at the nursery!"
I understand why somebody would
be reluctant to ask for help at a store. Walk into an office
superstore, for example, and try to find an employee who can
help you figure out what kind of fax machine you need to buy
if you want it to share a line with your home phone, or what
kind of external DVD drive to buy for your ancient PC. Go ahead,
I dare you.
But nurseries are different.
There are a lot of hard-core plant lovers out there who have
made satisfying careers for themselves working at nurseries.
It's a great place for a retired landscaper or a master gardener
program graduate to get a job. On a busy Saturday, a good-sized
nursery is quite likely to have a fruit tree expert, a rose lover
and a tomato farmer on hand. So go ahead, ask.
And the answers you'll get will
be even better now, thanks to a new program called "Our
Water Our World" that provides training to nursery staff
and free literature on how to take care of common garden problems
using less toxic methods. The program originally started in Contra
Costa County as a way to reduce the runoff of garden and household
chemicals into the waterways (thus the name), and then expanded
to Marin and Palo Alto. Now, thanks to a state grant, it runs
from the Oregon border to Santa Barbara. Annie Joseph, a consultant
and trainer for the program, explained how it works.
"We go into nurseries and
help them label the less toxic pesticides and fertilizers that
they already have on their shelves. Now there's a label in nurseries
all over the state that can help people figure out what are some
less toxic alternatives they can buy."
She also provides nurseries
with a rack of handouts on how to manage common home and garden
problems like aphids, ants and spiders. Weed control, rose care
and lawn care are some of the other topics covered.
But most importantly, she trains
nursery staff so that they will know exactly how to recommend
safer methods to control pests, diseases and weeds, and to keep
plants healthy. "It was very exciting for me to come up
to your area," she told me. "I found a real commitment
in Humboldt County to these methods. None of the stores I approached
turned me down. The management at each nursery really made time
for the staff to come get trained."
The philosophy behind the "Our
Water Our World" program is to start with the least toxic
alternative and then add more heavy-duty solutions if it's absolutely
necessary. In the case of aphids, for example, the first line
of approach would be to knock the aphids off with a strong blast
of water from the hose, or simply to squash them with your fingers.
Planting flowers that attract beneficial predators like ladybugs
would be a good first step as well. If that doesn't work, an
insecticidal soap would be the next step. But even a less toxic
product like insecticidal soap or horticultural oil should be
used sparingly, she points out. "Just because something's
organic, that doesn't mean you should spray it all over the yard.
Use it sparingly, and only when you know you're targeting the
pest it's designed to work on."
She also encourages the nursery
staff to manage customers' expectations about organic or less
toxic controls. "Take a pet-safe iron phosphate snail bait
like Sluggo," she said. "The slug or snail will eat
the bait and then go away and die. But you know this isn't a
pleasant thing to say but customers like to see the body count.
They want to use the product and then see all these dead snails
around. So you have to let people know what to expect. And encourage
them to tolerate a little pest damage."
Joseph trained staff at 14 nurseries,
including Miller Farms, Mad River, Pierson's, most of the feed
stores in the county, and Hensel's and Shafer's Ace Hardware.
She's already gotten requests to come back and train more nurseries.
"Your community in Humboldt County is very environmentally
conscious already," she said. "The stores already have
a wide variety of less toxic products. With your frequent rains
and all the creeks and rivers, people are already concerned about
nutrient runoff from fertilizers, so those slow-release organic
fertilizers really make sense in your community."
Mary Barber at Miller Farms
agrees. "We already offer a lot of these products,"
she told me, "and we use them to manage pests in the nursery,
too. So now it's even easier to just peruse the aisles and find
some better alternatives." Some of those alternatives come
from Fox Farm Soil and Fertilizer Company in Arcata, whose owner,
Willy Winer, said, "We do manufacture our products with
an eye to environmental stewardship and conservation. The idea
is not just to benefit the plant, but also the soil, and that
includes making sure we don't damage the ecosystem, the waterways
and the bay."
So look for the little blue
labels in the nursery, and if you've got a question, by all means,
ask the staff. You can also find out more about the program by
visiting www.ourwaterourworld.org. The program, by the way, also
is sponsored by the Humboldt County Division of Environmental
Health and the cities of Arcata, Eureka, Ferndale and Fortuna.
And speaking of good city programs,
Fortuna is selling Earth Machine compost bins to Fortuna residents
for the dirt cheap price of $25. Stop by City Hall or call 725-7615
to have one delivered. There will also be free composting workshops
throughout the year, including one coming up on April 30. Call
that same number to find out more.
There's also a compost festival
at HSU's Campus Center for Appropriate Technology on May 1 from
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 268-2225 for details.
garden-related announcements and news to Amy Stewart.
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