Saturday, October 22, 2011


            “INERTIA: 1. Physics: the tendency of matter to remain at rest if at rest, or, if moving, to keep moving in the same direction, unless affected by some outside force. 2. A tendency to remain in a fixed condition without change; a disinclination to move or act.”
                                     Webster’s New World College Dictionary

...from a member-no-more
            The Garden Writers of America sends me a batch of news briefs every other week or so. Apparently they think I’m still a member, even though I haven’t paid dues since 2009. I quit because the organization’s newsletter, Quill and Trowel, showcases such dreadful writing. When I objected to Belgium’s city of Ghent being spelled “Gent”—five times in one paragraph—the editorial reply was that’s how it’s spelled in Flemish. I apologized for my lack of fluency in obscure European languages and resolved to never send GWA another farthing.

Anyway. The news briefs are heavy on social media updates, suggestions for boosting one’s income via Facebook and Twitter, the continuing flaps over copyrights vis-รก-vis e-books and the death of conventional publishing, nifty software for those who don’t have the time or desire to learn how to write, and various bloggers’ takes on how to write more effectively.  More often than not, I scan the headlines then delete the whole thing. Once in a while, however, I read a whole piece.

A recent article about the saturation of the blogosphere and its attendant diminishing returns grabbed my attention. There are in excess of a million bloggers out there, it said, all screaming for somebody, anybody, to pay attention to them. Tim, for example, follows three or four painters’ blogs. Some mornings he spends more than an hour clicking the “Next blog” tab, which takes him to some awful places. Once he ended up on a site promoting an astoundingly self-involved “artiste” who would be staging the imminent birth of her child (the poor, poor thing) as an art installation at the same gallery where she re-enacted the loss of her virginity—as an art installation. (Who attends these things?) Having twice given birth myself, I can testify there’s nothing remotely artsy about it. It’s bloody, it hurts, it’s not the bit least dignified for the two principal participants, and is an intensely private matter allegedly focused on the safe delivery of a healthy child. Does that fit any sane person’s description of a work of "art"?

Be that as it may. There have to be tens of thousands of gardening blogs competing for readers. Some are quite popular, like Garden Rant, although, to my knowledge, none of those ladies have felt it necessary to air their most private linen so far. Gardening Gone Wild, a blog I actually follow, seems to be by garden writers for garden writers: unfortunately, the writing’s not that great. Most, I’ve found, want to sell you something, or to get a cut of anything you buy that you saw advertised on their sites. In general, the actual writing seems to be ancillary.

This distresses me. I’m toying with the idea of throwing in the blog-towel.

Sorry about the extended hiatus. I wrote the above for an October 10 post, immediately following which a serious bout of inertia settled in. In case you were wondering, that’s where I’ve been.

In the interim, I collected some interesting news about commercial compost to share.

Ever wonder what’s really in that bag of compost you picked up at Lowe’s or Home Depot? Not to worry—the U.S. Composting Council is on the case. Their Consumer Compost Use Program has designed “easily interpreted icons… reflect[ing] the compost’s use (or uses).” The catch is, only compost producers participating in the voluntary Seal of Testing Assurance program (STA) can incorporate the symbols reproduced below into their packaging and literature.

Consumer Compost Use STA labels

Still, I wonder: since compost adds organic matter to the soil, what difference does it make if you spread it around trees and shrubs, flower and vegetable gardens, or lawns? I guess the safest approach would be to seek out products labeled for all three. For people in my neighborhood, the Composting Council website’s locator map lists Seaside Mulch of Wilmington and Castle Hayne, NC, and Conway, SC, as the closest local source of STA-certified material.

Click on this link
for the dirt on
industrial sludge

Predictably, not all compost products are created equal. Recycled industrial sludge, like Milorganite, may contain unacceptable levels of heavy metals (although it’s better now than it used to be). Some manure products may come from animals fed genetically modified grains and shot full of antibiotics and growth hormones during their brief and nasty concentrated-animal-feedlot lives. Community composting operations can be contaminated by pesticides used on lawns and ornamentals. It’s enough to push you into making your own.

Exhibit A
Which brings us to the kerfuffle over DuPont’s latest entry in the herbicide market, Imprelis. A broadleaf post-emergent formulation labeled for use on turf grasses, Imprelis’ active ingredient kills plants by messing with their hormones, and belongs to a growth-regulating class of pesticides called pyridines. Because plants and animals have different hormones, the EPA rates them safe for ingestion by livestock.

Organic Gardening illustration
worth a thousand words 
That’s scary enough, but it gets worse. Pyridines persist for an extremely long time in the environment. An article by Dan Sullivan in 2011's October/November issue of Organic Gardening cites an Ohio State University study that found when grass treated with Imprelis was composted for 200 days, the chemical only degraded by 60%, “with plenty of the active ingredient remaining to do damage to susceptible [shallow-rooted] crop plants—including beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes.”

Countering with a move cementing their unshakeable belief in personal profit over ethics and the environment, DuPont and the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company announced plans to develop and market a combination lawn fertilizer/Imprelis-type herbicide to homeowners (pyridine-based products are only available to licensed pesticide applicators at present). So there.

In July, parties in Pennsylvania and Indiana filed a class-action lawsuit against the “Better Living Through Chemistry” company, charging negligence or recklessness in rushing its latest herbicide to market. The plaintiffs contend Imprelis-contaminated compost is killing trees, shrubs and perennials across the nation. According to the July 19, 2011 New York Times, DuPont responded by professing confidence “… that this purported class-action lawsuit is unfounded," and to "oppose it vigorously.”

 What evil lurks inside this
community compost pile?

By August, as reports of Imprelis-related dead and dying landscape plants multiplied geometrically, corporate bravado wavered. DuPont issued a voluntary recall of the herbicide to its distributors and turf managers. The notice expressed regret for the damages Imprelis “may” have caused and promised to “… promptly and fairly resolve problems associated with our product.”

Still, contaminated grass clippings and dead plants continue to enter the compost stream, raising red flags at agricultural agencies. Plus, there is no indication DuPont plans to stop marketing its four other pyridine-based products (Perspective, Plainview, Streamline and Viewpoint).

Dan Sullivan ends his Organic Gardening article on this note: “ ‘The industry’s rush to put products on the market before they are thoroughly tested has often resulted in unanticipated disaster,’ states Eric Vinje, founder of the gardening supply company PlanetNatural. ‘As with similar products, there are no “safe application” standards; no way to keep these products from moving beyond their point of application.’ Other than not using them in the first place.”

My advice to you? Make your own compost from material you know the provenance of, or seek out STA products. Find out exactly what your lawn guy’s putting on your grass, and ask him to stop if it contains pyridine. Or ask him to stop applying chemicals, full stop. There are worse things in life than lawn weeds.

Thanks for your patience while I wallowed in inertia, and for dropping by now. See you in a week or so.