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Homeyer: Pesticides In The Garden

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I was chatting with a young technician at my local hospital recently, and I asked her if she gardens. “Yes,” she said. She was just getting started, loved lilies and had planted several. "Oriental, Asiatic, or Daylilies,” I asked. When she told me she’d planted Oriental lilies, I warned her that there’s a pesky red beetle that loves to eat them, and has larvae that make a terrible mess.

“Oh, no problem,” she said. “I bought something to sprinkle on the plants that will kill the beetles. They told me at the store that it would work.”

When she told me what it was, I shuddered.

When she asked me what to use to keep insects from eating holes in her lettuce, I explained that all pesticides are poison, and that I’d never recommend using one on anything she planned to eat.

She was shocked. “But it must be safe if it’s for sale,” she said.

But that’s not a safe assumption. The Environmental Protection Agency – or EPA - sets the rules for how chemicals can be used on crops. For the pesticide she’d purchased, for example, the EPA requires a 14 day waiting period after application before eating lettuce, but less for some fruit crops. It requires the word “Warning” be printed on the label, which means the approximate lethal human dose is 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon – quite bit less for a cat or dog.

But the EPA is also the agency that banned the use of the pesticide Diazinon – and then allowed it to be sold for 3 more years so vendors wouldn’t lose money on unsold supplies. And until his recent, controversial resignation, the EPA director was Scott Pruitt. He was the former Oklahoma Attorney General who sued the EPA a dozen times before he was approved to run - and perhaps dismantle – it.

“If you must use a chemical pesticide,” I told the young gardener, “wear gloves, a long sleeved shirt and long pants when applying it; and use a mask or respirator to avoid breathing in the dust.” And since all pesticides are highly toxic to bees, I advised her not to use them near any flowers in bloom.

In fact, while there are pesticides that will kill beetles and nasty things that leave holes in lettuce, I never use them. I know they’re bad for the environment. And besides, I like to eat my garden lettuce whenever I want – without having to check the calendar to be sure it’s safe.