Writing in The Raw: What More Can I Do?

After having read so many articles on the environment and global warming and as spring was approaching, I kept asking myself, “what more can I do?” That is, apart from the ordinary efforts, such as recycling all household garbage, even washing out plastic bags used for vegetables and reusing them again, going to the farmer’s market for many years, isn’t there something more I could or should be doing?

With the onset of spring, the first thing most of us think about is our lawns, you know, fertilizing, weed killer, etc. Some of us also think about Lawncare.net service areas so we can get booked in! However, this year I decided I was going to have a totally organic lawn, free of chemicals. I never used much other than fertilizer or weed killer. I feel like it is time to give my lawn the care it deserves, which is why investing in equipment such as Swardman Reel Mowers would be a good move to make. It’s worth a try and a friend of mine recommended it, so there’s no harm in trying, especially if I can get the garden I have always dreamed of.

For starters, I had heard about and read a little about the benefits of “corn gluten meal” as a weed killer. I began reading about it on the web at various websites, learning about its properties, how it works and what it actually does. It is a perfectly natural “pre-emergent” weed killer. That is to say, that the use of it at the proper time of the year can get the roots of pre-emerging weeds, but cannot kill the already existent weeds. Most of the organic websites wanted quite a bit of money for this “corn gluten meal.”

I went to a feed store not too far away. Interesting store, which I had only visited maybe once before a very long time ago. I asked the owner, “Sir, do you have any corn gluten meal? I am going to go organic with my lawn.” “No, I don’t have any here, but I can order you some.” “O.K., how much does it cost and how long will it take, it must be applied at the time the crocuses are blooming.” He went to look it up, “It will cost you about $22.00 for 36 pounds (that is about $20.00 or more dollars cheaper than organic stores sell it for and it is exactly the same thing), and I can have it here by Monday.” “O.K., please order it for me. Now, what about fertilizer – do you have any organic fertilizer?” “Yes, we have Milorganite – it’s totally organic.” “What is it?” “It’s waste, a waste treatment product – I’ve used it as part of my lawn care for years and my neighbors want to know why my lawn is so green.” “O.K., I’ll take a bag of it.” Would you believe that a 40-pound bag costs less than $10.00?

Of course, I came home and just had to look up Milorganite. If you’re interested at all, here is more on the product

But, more importantly, it’s what the chemical fertilizers are doing to our earth, our waters, our nature.

Why an Ecological Approach to Lawn Care? There is growing concern regarding the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on our lawns, and their effects on our children’s health, our health, the health or our pets and our environment.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency each year over 140 million pounds of toxic pesticides are applied to suburban lawns in pursuit of a perfect lawn and garden. Unfortunately most homeowners are not aware that many of the substances found in traditional lawn care products pose significant environmental and health risks.

And note this article in the New York Times ,dated April 24, 1994:

CUTTINGS; Fertilizing Your Lawn? Look Before You Leap


Published: April 24, 1994

WHEN the forsythia blooms, so the saying goes, it’s time to kill your crabgrass. Get out there with the herbicides like 2,4-D and pendimethalin to poison the weeds that have had the audacity to trespass on the great American lawn. . . . .

This is but one example of what we are doing to the earth and environment. Pretty scary!

I immediately applied the Milorganite – no need to worry, it doesn’t burn the grass, can sit and wait for the rain(s). Great! I like that! And the rains have been almost endless this spring. Ooooh, the rains have come and the fertilizer has sunk in and everything is coming up green, evenly, at that. I like it! I like it! I have now learned of yet another organic fertilizer, named Renaissance, containing organic nitrogen (haven’t used it yet).

At this point, I remind myself about “a little bit of knowledge . . . ” and so, I went to Borders and purchased this book Organic Lawn Care Manual (by Paul Tukey). It’s a very neat book.

So now, the corn gluten meal has come in and I must apply that. Owing to the fact that the ground of my lawn is extremely bumpy and I have severe carpal tunnel problems, I decided to use my hand-held manual “broadcast” type spreader. Wonderful stuff, kinda’ like a powder. I tried dodging the winds as I continued to “broadcast,” but it didn’t work out too well, as the in end result, I wound up looking like a “corncob” – yep, a half an hour spent trying to get rid of the “meal” in my clothing and Nikes. Advice: Use a drop spreader if you ever decide to go this route. You will have to soak it in, if you’re not expecting rains.

After applying the corn gluten meal, you will have to wait about six weeks before you over-seed (meaning seeding over an established lawn). This is very important – it’s getting more and more grass to grow, thus, forcing out weeds.

Now, it’s time to take care of the grubs in the front and side yard. Raccoons have been digging up the front lawn in search of the grubs – looks like someone had a golf club and took many swings at my lawn with patches of turf up here and there. Milky spore is the cure for this, but needs to be applied twice or more – so it will get another treatment this month.

So what to do about the existing weeds. Unfortunately, my backyard was the recipient of unwanted weeds from an uncared for backyard (vacant house) butting mine – creeping Charlie, violets, dandelions, etc. According to the book, learning to identify your weeds is an indication of soil conditions and there are certain remedies, including a soil test, for modifying the soil. Well, O.K., later on that one. This is the part I like: “Do you loathe digging, pulling and spraying weeds? Ha, what a silly question. How do you do that? With a flamer! A flamer is used to boil the water in the stems and foliage of weeds. So, of course I bought a flamer.

Details here

This is actually kind of fun. You torch the leaves of weeds for a second, drying up the water in them and they start to wilt – but some are very resistant and will need another shot. Of course, my lawn looks like I was visited by some UFO’s who left their codes burned in my lawn.

Nosiree, RiaD, I’m not putting up a picture.

I must also make some compost tea, a method using water and compost and mixing it up for about a week and putting on your lawn. Oh, and the book also recommends adding white clover to your grass. We had that in our grass when I was a kid. Funny!

Well, my lawn basically looks like hell – but it’s not an overnight process and takes about two years to get going, but I’m determined and, guess what, I have the only lawn that the robins have visited around me.

* * * *

Does anyone have trouble getting rid of magazines? Well, I confess I do. I hang onto them – so many are so nice in so many ways, beautiful pictures, stories, recipes, etc. So, now I became determined that I would not simply allocate them to recycling in the usual way. Some I took to hospital reception rooms and then made some phone calls. It paid off. A senior assistance home in my area wanted my magazines. The seniors like to read them, make collages and other items from the pictures. So, I bundled each like magazine chronologically, tied them up and took them (over 100) to the senior home. The administrator helped me get them into the “residence.” I received a “thank you” note from her.

* * * *

I also had some older computer pieces, a couple of monitors, keyboards, speakers, mice and other sundry items, which were still good and usable, but too little memory for the internet, perhaps. I checked out the web and there is a charity that does take such equipment, but they want a life history on each piece and then you have to ship the items to them. So, again, I started making phone calls. Again, I had luck. United Cerebral Palsy (of Greater Chicago) has a branch entitled ATEN – Assistive Technology Exchange Network. This branch takes in computer equipment, works on it and sees to it that children with disabilities are the recipients of this technology – their motto “Too often, the children with the greatest need are those with the least access – but ATEN is working diligently to change that.” Any equipment that is not usable, is broken down into plastics, glass, etc. and recycled. This was perfect – another extended life for equipment that generally winds up in landfills. So I cleaned off the various pieces I had, loaded them into my car and went to the facility that takes in the equipment. They greet you at the back door and carry in the equipment and give you a Donor Receipt with a list of items donated.

My next effort will be to take any hazardous waste materials to a place designated for just that. I don’t think there will be any extended life to any of it, for example, oil based paint, etc., but you never know, but at least it will be properly disposed of.

This will be an ongoing quest — still thinking about what else I can do!


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  1. Have you got any?

    O.K., O.K., moxie is not necessarily sexy!

    • RiaD on July 11, 2008 at 04:37

    but tahoe…those violets and dandelions are edible!

    the leafs from both are very delicious & high in iron & vitamin C! violet blossoms (& rose petals & nasturtium blossoms)can be dipped in frothy eggwhite then in sugar, dried, and eaten as candy (or cake decoration)….

    in charleston county, SC they take all the disposed of paint & mix it together (like kinds together, of course)& sell it for like $2/gal….


    • geomoo on July 11, 2008 at 04:45

    Everything’s been so boiled up and over the top recently.

    Thanks for the tips.  This is exactly what’s been on my mind and what I’ve wanted to check out.  Those are some good tips.  I think out west, you need to apply the corn gluten four times a year.  Or so I’ve heard.  Don’t use that waste on your vegetable garden, of course.  It makes me nervous on lawns as well, but I don’t know if that’s rational.  I think they have heavy metals in them sometimes.

    I fret over my lawn a lot, meaning trying to think what I could do instead.  It’s probably the most environmentally unfriendly thing I do.  I don’t use chemicals except nitrogen.  Of course, even nitrogen, in any form can be harmful.  The dead sea zones, such as in the Gulf of Mexico are the result of nitrogen over-feeding algae (I think algae) and all the oxygen gets used up.  Too much nitrogen is a similar problem in any of your nearby streams.

    And I use gas to mow it.  Small engines have awful exhausts.  And use up fossil fuels.  I wish I could get sheep or something.  I would try just letting grow whatever weeds can survive the lawnmower, but my wife will have no part of it.

    My lawn is weedy because I don’t use chemicals and I don’t dig up every single friggin’ weed in the whole friggin’ yard every year.  I tried the burn thing.  The result is very temporary for me.  And it burns a bit of a wide area, which remains dead of grass as well.  And of course it uses fossil fuels, and contributes to green house gases.  I just want to find a way to get rid of my lawn.

    Next to a car for every commuter, lawns seem to me one of the most obviously indulgent ways to live here late in the fossil age.  But I maintain one.

    I hope some other people have ideas about ways to minimize the environmental impact of lawns.

    Kudos to you, tb3, for getting a lot of things done this spring.  It is inspiring.

    • RiaD on July 11, 2008 at 04:46

    in a spray bottle will kill weeds (with several applications)

  2. and you’ll have really good fertilizer next year.  We compost all vegetable matter, no animal products, and the wandering neighborhood cats and dogs leave it alone.  This year it is completely hidden by the most massive sunflowers I’ve ever grown–they are 8 to 10 feet tall with enormous blooms.  Quite a sight out here in the desert.  Our yard is all natural, we’ve been composting for so long that we have enough to treat the whole yard once a year.  If the grass is doing well it will choke out the weeds, or that’s been our experience.  

    • Alma on July 11, 2008 at 06:26

    I knew you figure out what to write about.  Lots of good ideas too.

  3. …I didn’t get a chance to read this.  too busy with another post on this day’s topic.  I’ll read your WITR tomorrow.  Promise!

  4. i agree with geomoo… it is fresh and clear and feels, well, normal. actionable.

    puts me in touch with my own power to do something good!!!

    mwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! for your essay!!!

    • feline on July 11, 2008 at 17:29

    It’s one dear to my heart.  Excellent essay, thank you!

  5. …to thank you for caring for the garden of our planet.  I’m not a gardener, but I appreciate the several good garden diaries we’ve had here lately.

    I’m forwarding this on to those who are working for better ecology with our gardens/composting here at Strawberry Creek Lodge, a senior community with about 160 people.


  6. Thanks for disseminating the information — bit by bit — little by little, etc.  🙂

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