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How Green Is Your Garden?

By Dr. Marisa Weiss on May 21st, 2011 Categories: Uncategorized

Because neither of my thumbs is green, my husband does almost all the gardening and lawn care at our house. Since my diagnosis, we’ve been talking about how to make our green space truly green – a healthy yard and garden with no chemical pesticides or fertilizers.

I always thought that using a chemical spray was the easy way to kill weeds and insect pests that seemed to attack our bushes and lawn. But now I know that chemical pesticides only kill things temporarily – they have to be applied again and again. And all those applications increase our exposure. Researchers at Cornell University found that nearly 50 of the active ingredients in turf and lawn care products are likely carcinogens or evidence suggests they’re possible human carcinogens. Many of these chemicals also are considered hormone disruptors. Hormone disruptors can affect how estrogen and other hormones act in the body, by blocking them or mimicking them, which throws off the body’s hormonal balance. Because estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer develop and grow, many women choose to limit their exposure to these chemicals that can act like estrogen.

So instead of using chemicals to combat bugs and weeds, we’re trying to fix or avoid problems before they start. We’re also trying to be smarter about how and when we use fertilizers. Like most everything, it’s a process, but here’s what we’re planning to do this year.

Test our soil. I thought that lawns had to be fertilized every year – boy was I wrong. Depending on what’s in our soil, we may not need to add any fertilizer. Soil test kits are available at most garden stores and will show you the levels of different nutrients in your soil, so you’ll know whether you need to fertilize or not. You also can call or email your local Cooperative Extension office for help with soil testing. Our local Extension educators were very helpful. (The Breast Cancer Risk Factors: Exposure to Chemicals for Lawns and Gardens page has tips on how to choose what fertilizer to use when your lawn does need it.)

Enrich the soil. We have a compost pile year-round and use the mature compost to enrich the soil. Banana peels, coffee grinds, orange rinds, egg shells, peanut shells, spoiled lettuce, etc. all go into the pile (just no meat or fats). Except for turning the muck every once in awhile, it required little attention. This is a great way to recycle and reuse your refuse and increase your garden’s yield in a healthy way.

Enjoy the clover in our yard. Clover usually starts growing in lawns that are low in nitrogen. But it fixes the problem by adding nitrogen to the soil. So we just mow the lawn and the clover. The clover clippings add needed nitrogen to our lawn without chemical fertilizer. This is why we don’t bag our clippings. Letting them fall back into the lawn recycles nutrients.

Mow our lawn on the mower’s highest setting. This means our grass will be a little longer, which is a good thing. Taller grass crowds out weeds, including crabgrass, and encourages deeper roots. It also needs less water.

Let the lawn dry out before we water. Grass that’s wet all the time is susceptible to mildew and other fungal diseases. It’s also a good idea to water only during the day, never at night.

Pull out dandelions (and other weeds) by hand. Well, by a hand with a long-handled weed puller in it. I find it strangely satisfying to get rid of dandelions one by one. It’s a little too late this year, but early next spring, we’re going to spread corn gluten on the lawn. Corn gluten can help stop dandelions from germinating.

I’m looking forward to having my nieces and nephews run and tumble in the back yard. And one day, have a few grandchildren out there. Products you use today can persist in the environment for years. Chemical exposures in kids can have a significant effect on breast health over a lifetime since they are building their breast tissue, laying down the foundation of their breast health. This is just one more important reason why choosing the best products is important.

Dr. Marisa Weiss

Marisa Weiss, M.D. is the founder, president and guiding force behind Breastcancer.org, the world's most trafficked online resource for medically reviewed breast health and breast cancer information, reaching over 8 million visitors per year. A breast cancer oncologist with over twenty years of active practice in the Philadelphia region, Dr. Weiss is regarded as a visionary advocate for her innovative and steadfast approach to informing, empowering, and treating patients with breast cancer.

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