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Jerry Coleby-Williams, ABC Gardening Australia presenter and organic gardening expert, reflects on the changing role of harsh pesticides in home gardening and explains why we need to re-embrace our powers of observation and develop patience in our endeavors to work with nature in the garden.

Pesticides once considered safe now banned globally

ImageThe use of manufactured pesticides and fertilizers is only a relatively recent phenomenon in the long history of gardening. While these chemical products have promised a convenient and seemingly effective way of managing pests and boosting growth, the downsides are becoming increasingly apparent.

Twenty years ago who would have thought that some mothballs could promote cancer or that DDT would contaminate breast milk? No-body planned for pesticide contamination in our waterways or residues in our food, yet these are the issues we face today with the continuing use of harsh pesticides.

In the past thirty years many of the most popular pesticides used and promoted by gardening experts worldwide have been banned from home use. Once sold as ‘safe’, these pesticides are now subject to global bans because of the serious dangers they pose to our environment and health. For instance, we are still dealing with the consequences of insecticides like aldrin, dieldrin, DDT, gamma BHC, lindane, metasystox, fungicides such as benomyl and the weedkillers such as paraquat, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D.

Many commonly used pesticide products in gardens today are currently under review because of concerns about their unintended impacts. Will they be the DDT of the future? The point is that this cycle is likely to continue. A pesticide we may regard as ‘safe’ today could be off the market tomorrow because it poses dangers to children or has long-term environmental impacts.

Prevention is the key to safer solutions

ImageGood gardeners today still believe that pests and diseases should be kept firmly in their place, but without the use of harmful chemicals.  While there are many quick and easy remedies to most garden problems, the key focus of organic gardeners is preventing these problems from arising in the first place.

The basis of a healthy garden is healthy soil where everyday problems are progressively reduced without the use of chemicals. Over half of the common gardening problems encountered can be avoided by developing healthy, compost-rich, well-nourished soil and by growing the right plants in the right spot. Simple things like adding good compost to soil has become our primary means of managing even serious and incurable root diseases, like dieback, caused by a soil-borne fungus known as Phytophthora, a problem for home gardens and production nurseries alike.

Gardens and gardening can also be as complex and demanding as you decide. Azaleas, citrus, lawns and tomatoes are some of Australia’s top favourites and growing them to perfection can be very involved. Some professionals enjoy spending loads of time gardening and choose to grow difficult species because they love the extra challenges these bring. It’s all about choice.

It’s also important to acknowledge that books, magazines and television shows often promote unrealistically perfect plants and idyllic gardens. Rarely do they discuss how much money, time and effort that has gone - or is going - into setting them up and maintaining them over time.

The message here for ordinary gardeners is to reassess what it is you want from your garden whilst taking the practical steps like using safer solutions and organic methods to achieve a healthy garden. If you can accept that plants and gardens, like real life, are rarely perfect you’ll find there’s room for many happy endings!

Go organic and avoid uncertainty

A lot of time and effort could be spent researching every chemical product available to the home gardener in an attempt to determine whether it’s safe or not. You wouldn’t get left with much time for gardening if you used this approach. An easy way to bypass the uncertainty is to only consider using products and approaches that have been certified for use in organic or biodynamic gardening.

There are a growing number of excellent products on the market to supply the organic gardener and many things can also be made at home for little cost. Fortunately most organic solutions are straightforward and the fundamentals of organic gardening are easy to understand and apply. Just remember that all gardeners, however expert or inexpert we may be, are all on a journey of self-improvement.

For more  information on organic and biodynamic approaches see:

Biological Farmer’s Association :
Biodynamic Agriculture Australia :
National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia :

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