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ImageJerry Coleby-Williams, ABC Gardening Australia presenter and organic gardening expert, talks to Jo Immig about why we need to stop using hazardous pesticides in our gardens and opt for safer solutions to solve pest problems while being kind to the environment and our health.

A champion of organic gardening methods, Jerry Coleby-Williams has been a long-term advocate for getting rid of hazardous pesticides in gardens by going back to basics, working with nature, nourishing the soil and using simple organic remedies.

Jerry hopes the Safer Solutions project will help home gardeners build the self-confidence necessary to maintain safe and healthy ornamental and productive gardens, minus the hazardous pesticides. “It’s all about taking small, meaningful steps that will give results,” he says.

Jerry honed his gardening skills in high profile places like the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (UK) and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney where he was responsible for establishing an organic management programme. More recently he’s been working closer to home, transforming a classic Aussie back lawn in suburban Brisbane into an organic oasis providing much of his family’s food needs.

Why we need to get off the pesticide treadmill in the garden

Whether it’s the convenience, slick advertising or lack of time and know-how, the fact is a lot of hazardous pesticides get used in home gardens. Some are ending up in our waterways and are a problem to remove. Wildlife like Tawny Frogmouths and lizards often get killed because they’ve been inadvertently exposed to garden pesticides. The impact on soil organisms can also be devastating.

Jerry has a sobering message for us all, “You and I are part of a gigantic experiment with all living creatures. The consequences of industrial chemical use, like pesticides, on human, animal and environmental health are poorly understood. Yet evidence continues to mount that even limited exposure to residues from pesticides registered for use and applied at legally permitted rates can have harmful effects”.

Tens of thousands of chemicals get used daily in a variety of products, including pesticides, yet few have ever been comprehensively tested for their long-term impacts to people and nature. In the home and garden, it’s children who are at greatest risk because pesticide exposures can affect early childhood development, with life-long consequences.

Start by nourishing and aerating the soil

ImageThe foundation for all healthy plants is a healthy soil, brimming with beneficial organisms says Jerry. “Gardeners wanting to eliminate pesticides from the garden must first start with nourishing the soil. This takes patience but the reward is avoiding half of the common gardening problems.”

If soils lack vital minerals and microorganisms, are too acidic or alkaline, then the plant will be behind the eight ball from the start. It’s not unlike our own bodies, we need to eat well and nourish ourselves to give us the best chance of warding off disease and illness.  (For more detail, see Creating Healthy Soil)

We may also need to change our gardening habits. Lawn is a classic example according to Jerry.  Most lawn weeds succeed where soil is compacted and lawns have become thin from mowing too low.  Poor drainage, lack of food and acidity will also encourage them.

“One way to overcome compaction and improve drainage is to aerate the soil using a fork or mechanical aerator.  Applying a balanced organic lawn fertiliser, adding lime to counteract acidity and mowing lawns higher creates healthy, vigorous turf that can smother lawn weeds.”

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