Climate Corner: Making better choices
Jun 26, 2021
My awareness of human impact on the environment began during a conversation with my grandpa when I was a child. At dinner he was discussing the banning of DDT pesticides and how it was going to have a negative effect on garden production. He understood that the banning of DDT was because it was harming birds. It wasn’t until high school that I understood the greater impact, after reading “Silent Spring,” by Rachel Carsen.
In her book, she writes about DDT … “important studies established the fact that the insecticidal poison affects a generation once removed from the initial contact. Storage of the poison in the egg, in the yolk material that nourishes the developing embryo, is a virtual death warrant and explains why DeWitt’s birds died in the egg or a few days after hatching.” “Silent Spring” was published in 1962, and here we are 59 years later still using insecticides … albeit not DDT. As you likely know, insecticides are not only killing the detrimental insects, but our pollinators, too.
In addition to the loss of our pollinators the use of insecticides is having a deleterious effect on our environment as they contribute to climate change. In an intergovernmental study it was found that 30 percent of emissions that are attributed to climate change can be directly linked to agricultural activities, which includes the use of insecticides. How do they contribute to climate change, you may ask? They contribute to the nitrous oxide in our atmosphere, which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
A study completed in 2017, by Jamieson, Burkle, Manson, Runyan, Trowbridge, and Zientek and referenced on the U.S. Department of Forest Service website, discusses the negative effects climate change has on plants, specifically the phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are compounds that are produced by plants to help them fight off bacteria, fungi and some viral infections and can be found in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, etc. These phytochemical changes are believed to be having a negative impact on plant-insect interactions, as well.
So, as an incidental gardener, I am experiencing the negative impact of two variables on my garden as my harvest decreases each year. I have been looking for differing ways of controlling for pests, weeds, and plant diseases that do not have a negative impact.
To solve the problem of insect damage in my garden, I am using an integrated pest management system. There are several components to this system but have chosen the cultural controls and the mechanical controls. Cultural control is the use of crop rotation, tilling, pruning/thinning and using timed planting. My grandpa would tell me that this was important so you wouldn’t “wear out” the soil. The mechanical controls I use are things such as traps, netting, and in some cases hand destruction (picking the naughty culprit off the leaf by hand). Another example for me, is the use of Beetle Bags in June.
To assist with my veggie/fruit pollination, I plant oodles of flowers around and in my garden. I surround my garden with zinnias, butterfly weed, cleome, marigolds and various other flowers. Not only do these plants attract pollinators, provide food and refuge for insects, but they provide a barrier to rabbits and deer who like to munch on my garden for their early morning or late evening meals.
As for my impact on climate change: My goal is to be mindful of my own choices. I was taught at an early age to leave things the way I find them, including to leave the land as I found it or even better.
Nenna Davis, B.S Zoology/Botany; MA, Organizational Communication; Master Gardener.