Loaded “Guns” in Your Childish Hands



Homeowners throughout the United States are wanting the grounds surrounding their homes to be aesthetically pleasing. So they invest in bushes, trees, flowering plants, hardscape, and maybe even a vegetable garden. Then, to keep them looking nice, they water, fertilize, prune, trim, and whatever else they can to maintain the beauty of their territory.

And then one day, while strolling through their grounds, they spy a six-legged something on a bush, tree, or tomato plants, and they immediately fall to pieces like a Jenga game with the wrong piece pulled out. “What is that thing,” they cry in horror. “It’s eating my bushes on which I spent so much money!” Or maybe they spy some weeds that had the audacity to spring up in their otherwise pristine lawn. “This must not stand,” they exclaim to themselves. “I will not tolerate anything marring the perfectly coifed beauty of my yard! I must go to my local big box store and purchase something to spray on the offending intruder that will punish it with death for its brazen invasion of my property!”

May I inject a little sanity into this situation? First of all, calm down. It’s probably safe to say that you’re not dealing with a locust swarm that threatens to devastate all your food crops and cause you to starve over the winter. Second, before you start indiscriminately spraying chemicals all over your yard, I suggest that you first take the time to identify exactly what it is that is setting on your landscape or growing in your lawn. Take a picture or capture it live, look it up on the Internet, or bring it in to your local Cooperative Extension office and ask someone there to identify it for you. You may discover that the creature is harmless or maybe even beneficial. Or even if it is a pest that could potentially defoliate bush, tree, flower, or vegetable, there are more than likely many environmentally friendly ways of dealing with it.

“Don’t talk to me about that ‘preserve the environment’ crap,” you might be saying. I want a beautiful lawn, trees, and bushes, and I’ve got to do whatever it takes to make that happen! Besides, if my yard isn’t perfectly pristine, what will the neighbors think!?”

I have no idea what your neighbors will or won’t think. But I do know that if you start randomly spraying chemicals on the first insect or weed you see, then you are like a child with a loaded gun. And just as a child firing that loaded gun has no concept of the carnage and damage he could cause, he who indiscriminately sprays chemicals has no idea of the environmental harm he could cause. Used improperly, these chemicals can kill bees and other beneficial insects, leach into our groundwater and poison fish and other marine life, and potentially promote cancer or other life-threatening diseases in your pets, your children, and you. Using environmentally friendly means of pest and weed control is more than just nice words. It can ensure that the flora and fauna on this planet (including you and your loved ones) can continue to survive and thrive and that you can leave a world for your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren that’s better than when you entered it. And that’s far more important than what a random collection of neighbors might think — that is, if they actually think of you at all in the first place.


Insecticides, Piscacides, and Homicides


We all want a successful garden. We all want our vegetable and fruit plants to yield large quantities of wholesome, intact, fresh fruits and vegetables. So when we see insect pests turning our plants, fruits, and vegetables into Swiss cheese, we immediately think of three things – kill, kill, and kill again! We want those intruders dead, and we’re willing to go to any lengths to do this. We’ll go to the nearest big box store and purchase the first bottle of unpronounceable chemicals we find. As long as it promises to kill those garden pests, that’s all we care about.

But before you start spraying that stuff on your plants, please stop, take a deep breath, and think about what you’re about to do. You will be introducing a synthetic substance into the environment that may have long-lasting harmful effects. Furthermore, that stuff may hang around for a long time and multiply those harmful effects. These products not only kill the insects that are eating your plants, but they may also kill or otherwise cause great harm to a whole host of other living creatures.

Meet the rogue’s gallery.

Malathion – Malathion is an organophosphate insecticide used to control leaf-eating insects such as aphids, leafhoppers, and Japanese beetles on flowers, shrubs, fruits, and vegetables. It’s also used for large-scale mosquito control. It is available for home use under the brand names of Ortho MAX Malathion and Spectracide Malathion Insect Spray Concentrate. Malathion is highly toxic to fish and bees and mildly toxic to birds. If ingested, the human body converts malathion to malaoxin, which may be strongly toxic to humans. Malathion may also be carcinogenic.

Carbaryl – Carbaryl is the third most widely-used pesticide for home gardens, commercial agriculture, and forestry and rangeland protection. It is most commonly sold under the name Sevin. Carbaryl is used to control aphids, fire ants, fleas, ticks, spiders and other types of garden pests. The EPA considers Carbaryl “likely to be carcinogenic in humans,” due to laboratory studies showing increased tumors in mice exposed to it. Toxicity is low for fish, birds, and other animals, but high for bees.

Acetamiprid – Acetamiprid is a neonicotinoid used to control sucking-type insects on vegetables, fruits, cotton, and ornamental plants and flowers. While classified as “unlikely to be a human carcinogen,” nevertheless, like Malathion and Carbaryl, it is highly toxic to bees.

Permethrin – Permethrin is a dual use product. Medically, it’s used to treat and prevent head lice and as a treatment for scabies. Permethrin is listed as a “restricted use” substance by the EPA because it is highly toxic to aquatic life. It’s sold commercially as Ortho® Bug-B-Gon MAX® Garden Insect Killer Dust. While it’s not toxic to mammals and birds, it is strongly toxic to cats and fish.

Metaldehyde – Metaldehyde is used to control gastropod pests such as slugs and snails. It is sold commercially as Ortho® Bug-Geta® Plus Snail, Slug & Insect Killer. At 50 ppm, it is considered mildly toxic and a breathing irritant.

It’s important to remember that these products are designed for one purpose only – to kill. And they don’t do a good job in discriminating between the “bad” bugs and the “good” bugs. In addition, they do not break down in the environment very quickly, so they tend to stick around inflicting their toxicity for a long time after initial application. So I recommend going easy with these products, or better yet, don’t use them at all. Doing the latter will help insure that we do not cause undue harm to the world around us.