As responsible gardeners we know just how important it is to ensure the products we use are planet and ocean safe. At the end of the day, whatever we use in the garden will eventually end up in the water that is home to our sea life, including over 3,000 species of invertebrates, over 200 species of fish, and hundreds of species of seabirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl.
Tip #1: Avoid Neonicotinoids
If the word Neonicotinoid is new to you... get ready! This class of systemic pesticides has been widely used in the agricultural industry since the 1990's. Their water solubility, long lasting effects, and broad scope of insect control have made them a popular choice for home gardeners and agricultural growers alike. Recently, however, new studies have shown the long lasting results of neonicotinoids have an even longer lasting impact on our environment.
While neonicotinoids, also known as neonics, are one of the safest pesticides for mammals (including humans), they are also the most effective in killing invertebrates- including the ones in our oceans. The incredible water solubility in neonics aids in their ability to travel through the soil, into the groundwater, through streams and into the ocean. This study charts the results of a fishery collapse after the use of neonicotinoids were introduced.
Studies have also linked the decline of native pollinators to the use of neonics. The effected plants still had residual from being treated when tested after a 2 year period. When applied as a systemic insecticide, all parts of the plant are effected by the neonicotinoids- including the pollen and sap.
Calls to ban the use of neonicotinoids have happened all over the globe, including this bill presented to US Congress in 2019. While they are still actively used in the industry, growers who do not use neonics will often label their plants as "Neonicotinoid Free" or "Bee Friendly". Many small independent garden centers vow to keep their plants free from neonicotinoids and only purchase from growers who do not use the pesticides.
Here are a list of common neonicotinoids found in garden products:
Tip #2: Use Ocean Safe Products in the Garden
One of the easiest ways to grow an ocean friendly garden is to use ocean friendly products. Opting for organic, sustainable soils and fertilizers over synthetic is a great place to start.
Not only are the ingredients in organic fertilizers derived from natural sources (instead of synthetic chemicals) they also contain a lower percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (also known as the N-P-K). Image below: 5% NPK (left) vs 20% NPK (right).
While the stronger dose of nutrients in synthetic fertilizers might sound like a good idea (more nutrients equals happier plants, right?), the excess amount rarely gets utilized by crops. Instead, the over surplus gets washed out of the soil, into the groundwater, and makes it's way to our oceans. Nutrient pollution caused from this surplus of nitrogen and phosphorus can "cause(s) algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. Significant increases in algae harm water quality, food resources and habitats, and decrease the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Large growths of algae are called algal blooms and they can severely reduce or eliminate oxygen in the water, leading to illnesses in fish and the death of large numbers of fish. Some algal blooms are harmful to humans because they produce elevated toxins and bacterial growth that can make people sick if they come into contact with polluted water, consume tainted fish or shellfish, or drink contaminated water." (United States Environmental Protection Agency)
Which ever method you choose for fertilizing your garden, reading the package and using the recommended application is vital and will also help to decrease a surplus of nutrients. Before selecting a fertilizer, however; go one step further in creating an ocean friendly garden using our third tip...
Tip #3: Test First
While there are specific blends of fertilizers that are made with a plants ideal nutrient needs in mind they do not account for the nutrients already available in your soil and garden.
A surefire way to eliminate an excess amount of nutrients in your garden is to test your soil prior to adding a fertilizer or soil amendment. Use your results to then add amendments as needed in certain areas on a crop by crop basis. Single ingredient fertilizers (such as blood meal, bone meal, alfalfa meal, etc.) can be utilized to improve specific nutrient needs, without elevating other levels. As always, be sure to read and follow the recommended application rates on the products before using.
The Clallam Conservation District also offers in depth soil analysis. (They are currently suspended during COVID.)
Tip #4: Cover Your Bases with Cover Crops
Cover crops are one of our favorite green thumb secrets! These crops, grown specifically to address the needs of the soil, help prevent soil erosion and water runoff, aid in soil aeration, prevent soil nutrient depletion, protect soil microorganisms, introduce nitrogen to the soil, and more! Learn more about cover crops in our blog post here.
Tip #5: Utilize Crop Rotation in the Veggie Garden
Long before pesticides were manufactured and you could purchase bags of fertilizer at the garden center, crop rotation was used as a method to suppress pests and diseases, reduce soil erosion, and add nutrients to the soil.
With a bit of planning, crop rotation can help reduce, or even eliminate, the need and use of pesticides, fertilizers, and fungicides.
Read more about crop rotation in our blog post here complete with sample rotations, planning tips and more.
We hope you enjoyed reading about a few of our favorite ocean friendly gardening practices!
To learn more about Feiro Marine Life Center's upcoming Making Waves 2021: Resilience fundraiser visit https://feiromarinelifecenter.org/waves/ or visit their social media.