By Diane C. Kennedy, for Let’s Talk Plants! October 2023.
Editor’s note: This is the last Permaculture column written by Diane Kennedy for Let’s Talk Plants! The SDHS thanks her for this wonderful piece and for all her previous articles and wish her well as she transitions into retirement. This column will continue however with a new San Diego permaculturist author starting in December.
Reducing Chemicals in Your Yard and Home
My partner just found two dead snakes on his five-acre property. One was a beautiful kingsnake, bashed by the neighbor lady who proclaims to hate all snakes. The other was a gopher snake, and it looked as though it may have died from ingesting a poisoned mouse. Neither of these snakes was venomous, and both would have killed far more rodents over their lives than poison ever would. Another neighbor saw a sickly coyote with rough fur and swellings around its body. That animal was suffering from mange, which grows out of control in coyotes and other animals when the host eats a poisoned animal. Mange is a long, terrible death and can be transferred to other animals. When hiking too often we see the carcasses of raptors: hawks and owls which have died from eating poisoned rodents. Many homeowners have the perimeter of their house sprayed regularly with insecticides. These chemicals are invisible and often have little or no scent, so they are considered safe and are forgotten once the applicators leave. However, most of these household and professional insecticides are very dangerous and cause many short and long-term illnesses. If they are damaging to adult humans, imagine how they must affect small pets, which lick their paws after walking through the dried chemical. Tumors, kidney and liver issues, loss of scent and sight, nerve issues, skin problems… the list goes on.
Managing and living with wildlife and insects doesn’t have to involve the ‘nuke them all’ method of control. Rattlesnakes have venom that can harm a human or animal; it uses it to paralyze rodents and will only use it on non-food beings when threatened. All the other native snakes in Southern California may bite you if threatened but can’t inject venom. They are also a vital part of the balance of the ecosystem. Use small mesh wire around the base of your fence line to keep snakes out and create an oasis with water and shelter somewhere on your property away from your house. Rodents can be controlled with snap traps, which usually offer a quick death. Remove rodent habitat and screen off their entryways. Having an indoor-only cat keeps rodents out (no cats outdoors, please!). Gophers can be discouraged by sheet-mulching the ground, by using quick death snap traps or gasses in their holes, which won’t cause secondary death. Live capture of animals and relocating them is not only illegal but is cruel to the animal and may spread disease or vermin. Catch and release only makes humans feel better.
Only 1% of all insects are considered ‘harmful’ to humans. Non-targeted applications of insecticide kill all the other 99% as well, leaving an ecological imbalance that affects humans through lack of pollination and increases in the ‘bad’ bugs (once their parasitic enemies are killed). If a leaf has a bite on it, and the rest of the plant is healthy, don’t spray chemicals. It isn’t an emergency. You can hand-pick most insects, or put out food grade diatomaceous earth, or use mesh (not bird netting) over your trees when fruit is ripe, or spray with kelp or compost tea to bring up your plant’s health and resistance.
There are so many ways to save your own health, the health of your family and pets, while not contributing to the very real eradication of our natural ecosystem. Chemicals may be easy, but their effects are devastating. Please look into natural alternatives to chemical controls, both inside and outside your home. Read up on the wildlife and insects in your area; once you understand how marvelous they are you will be more inclined to preserve them.
Please visit Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture at www.vegetariat.com and on Facebook. A branch of the Center for Conservation and Education Strategies.
"Always be a little kinder than necessary." -James M. Barrie