Thursday, February 20, 2014

Small Pebble Big Pond


I once thought that to grow an organic garden you simply had to avoid using chemicals. If you chose any organic product over a chemical one, you qualified. It never occurred to me that all the pollinator supporting plants I brought home every spring had already been treated with pesticides. I never once thought I was poisoning the pollinators I was determined to attract. If ignorance is bliss, then I was the happiest person on the planet.


Annual rudbeckia hirta, also known as Black Eyed Susans

Last summer I stumbled onto an article from BeeAction.org describing the results of independent testing of multiple pollinator-supporting plants taken from local garden centers and large home improvement stores from around the country. Systemic pesticides were present in almost every plant, including pesticides known to contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees. Designed to move through the tissues of a plant, systemic pesticides contaminate the leaves, flowers, and pollen of the plants that have been treated. Every bee that came to my garden and visited an annual or newly planted perennial purchased from local garden centers took poisoned pollen back to the hive. Even non-organic fungicides contain pesticides since a fungus is considered a pest.


Gomphrena with evoluvus 'Blue Daze'

I can't find an organic grower for annual 'Blue Daze' and it's grown from cuttings not seed so I won't be growing it this year. It's one of my favorite plants.


Gomphrena with pink cosmos

Furious at what I'd learned, I made a choice. I would grow all my own annuals and only buy new perennials from growers who didn't use pesticides. As angry as I was that growers were pretreating their plants, I was worried about my ability to grow the plants I wanted. Ultimately, it all came down to desire, one of our most powerful emotions. My desire to create a garden that functions as a refuge and sanctuary for local wildlife and pollinators is greater than my desire for any particular plant. I refuse to create an oasis only to poison the water.


I added as many perennials as I could last fall, knowing that by the time they bloomed this summer the systemics would be gone. Several of the plants in my container garden have heaved out of their pots. I'm hoping to replace them with plants my local garden center is overwintering from 2013. If no older plants are available, I'll wait till fall to buy new ones so the chemicals can break down during winter. While I may seem calm about all this, it's a facade. Even after stewing about this for months, I'm irritated that gardeners are being undermined by the very growers we depend on.


Part of my extensive container garden
I always grow my own zinnias from seed and will be growing about nine different varieties this spring. Fortunately, they're very easy to grow.

 

Pink zinnias and 'Abraham Darby' roses

You don't need any special equipment to grow zinnias. They do very well when direct sown into either potting soil or straight into the garden. 

I've already started growing my seeds and for the first time in years have only three perennials on order. This year I'm using Streambank Gardens, a small family owned nursery that specializes in growing plants organically. As for all the seeds I've started - so far so good except for some finicky lavender. My next post will show the easy way I've sown my seeds as well as a new method I'm using to winter sow.

***

I've listed the plants I'm growing from seed and linked them to the companies I purchased the seed from.

Plants under grow lights (annuals/vegetable/herb):

Ammi 'Graceland' (Ammi majus)
Scarlet Flax (Linum grandiflorum)
Lavenders 'Vera', 'Purple Ribbon', and 'Hidcote Dwarf'' (Purple Ribbon has been very easy to grow. The other two - not so much.)

Plants being winter sown:

Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta)
Rudbeckia Irish Eyes (Rudbeckia hirta)
Linaria 'Fairy Bouquet' (Linaria maroccana)

Seeds being started in early April:

Nine types of zinnias
Orange cosmos

59 comments:

  1. It is no end of annoying all the chemicals that growers use on plants, not just the pesticides, but growth regulators too. I grow a lot from seed as well, I've been winter sowing for years.

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    1. Growth regulators drive me crazy. I want my plants to grow, not just sit there! This will be my second year to winter sow and I'm taking a slightly different approach based on some mistakes I made last year. I'm excited to see the results. :o)

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  2. Good for you! And,to be sure of getting good seed, seek out heirloom/heritage seed merchants in your area.If there none, there are mail order companies.Good luck.

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    1. All of the seed companies I used are highly reputable organic growers who sell non-GMO seed and aren't owned by Monsanto. :o)

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  3. I love your flowers. Yes, it's not easy to get all organic stuff for my garden. Sometime pesticide 'come' to my garden unconditionally. I keep my garden organic. But so many pollinator free fly to other garden that full of pestcide. Hard work...

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  4. I know, it's annoying and actually ... awful. This is an important message. I'm moving more and more toward perennials and fall seeding, too. Not sure I'll ever get into grow lights because of the cats and the mess, but never say never. Your container plantings are beautiful.

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    1. Next week you'll see my plant set up. It's not messy at all. It's very cat accessible but I don't have a cat. But you could winter sow even if you start in March. I just started my sowing this week. I use my container garden as an extension of my perennial beds since so much of my garden is shady. Where there's a will, there's a way. You'll figure out what works for you. :o)

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  5. Hi Tammy, honestly, I don't know what to say other than thank you for passing this very valuable but equally inconvenient information on. Before I read your post, I was like you, that I simply didn't think about that the systemic pesticides that the plants are treated with that I buy would poison the pollinators. In the moment I just feel downright angry and sad at the same time. I really believe that the only way out of this craziness is to consequently buy plants from organic growers only and/or grow your plants from (organically grown) seeds. For me that would mean that I can't buy any plants except organically grown herbs from local nurseries anymore, since they don't offer any other organically grown plants. I know I am not 100% there yet like you, but I promised to myself that I will search for plant nurseries that sell organically grown plants online and grow at least some annuals from organically grown seeds by direct sowing onto the ground this year. Gosh, I am so sick of this!
    Christina

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    1. When I discovered all this last summer, I felt physically sick and incredibly upset. I felt like I'd been lied to and that I was lying to the very creatures I tried to attract. Being in a climate with a cold winter allows me to continue buying perennials in the fall, knowing they have all winter to break down the remaining chemicals. Because you have flowers all year, this is much harder for you. But perhaps the gardening culture of CA will help you discover some small organic nurseries that are flying under the radar. Don't give up hope. :o)

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  6. This does explain why garden centres are packed full of pristine looking plants! I've been tending to go to smaller nurseries recently, to source unusual varieties more than anything, but some of these claim to grow organically. In terms of the Great British public though, I'm very much in a minority.

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    1. I had that same thought last year. The pesticides explained why I never saw any insect damage on perfect plants. I don't even see butterflies on all those butterfly attracting plants. Considering the fact that a garden center should be a pollinator buffet, they are incredibly insect-free. But most people want perfection at any cost and are so profoundly ignorant about insects that their first thought is to kill them all. If it were survival of the smartest instead of survival of the fittest, we'd have a lot less people. Apparently, there are a lot of really fit idiots out there.

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  7. I don't think most of us realize what all these growers and even nurseries are doing to the plants. They are in effect hurting their own industry.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. It does seem pointless to kill the very creatures that people are hoping to attract. But from a growers perspective, insects or fungal diseases can destroy everything in their greenhouses, leaving them out of business. There just has to be another way.

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  8. Hi Tammy, you know, I never thought about this. It never once occurred. Thanks for raising this issue. I shall be careful to think about this. Though I'm not wholly organic, I'm not out there with an arsenal of chemical weapons each time one of my plants may be looking peaky. I grow shrubs, annuals from seed and perennials that take time to flower, so systemics would have worked out of the system by then hopefully. I try to provide a good oasis for wildlife in the garden and the thought of introducing plants with the best intentions that may actually harm it fills me with horror.

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    1. It is horrifying. I felt like I had contributed to a problem I was trying to solve. Hopefully, this new knowledge will be food for thought when you start your new garden. :o) So glad to have you back!

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  9. I am so disappointed;however, I wonder how our grandmothers gardened without the plethora of garden centers from Walmart to the nursery growers. I have determined, too, to grow from seeds because due to the cost of nursery plants. Another solution would be to start plant cutting exchanges through our blogs. I have to share this with you. When I worked, I would take the excess from the garden to the Faculty work room. One colleague holding one of my beautiful, big tomatoes asked me if it was organic, I laughed and answered that we don't use anything in the garden mostly because we are lazy gardeners. A really great post today. Let's spread the word.

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    1. Word of mouth is a very powerful thing, indeed. I researched various seed companies to find out which ones are owned by Monsanto and contacted many to find out if their seeds were treated with any chemicals. All of the companies below sell clean seed. I thought I'd been organic for 8 years but this year will be my first year to be truly pesticide free. It feels good!

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  10. Thank you so much for this post. I'm unfortunately only starting to become aware of how bad things are out there as far as gardening and pesticides. I've ordered only organic vegetable seeds for this year but clearly need to do more as far as my annuals and perennials. I appreciate all of the links and look forward to reading more and then taking more action.

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    1. Your'e welcome! The best type of knowledge is any knowledge that spurs a positive action. :o)

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  11. I add my thanks too Tammy for opening my eyes to something I never knew. I also grow organically in the garden but never considered the plants I was bringing home. I shall be more careful now.

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    1. You're welcome! I think plants should be labeled so the buyer knows what they've been treated with.

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  12. I honestly had no idea that this went on - luckily I have always grown my annuals from seed and have stopped buying perennials due to the cost and the fact that they never seem to last more than a year - thanks for this useful info.

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    1. You're welcome! I'm excited to add cerinthe and ammi to my garden. I grew ammi from seed last year but ended up killing it because I didn't give it enough room in the container for that big tap root to grow. Lesson learned! I'm using the cerinthe to replace a plant that was heaved out of its pot in our extra cold winter weather.

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  13. I grow annuals from seed. The perennials and shrubs (and trees) are another matter. I'm thinking of traveling to McMinnville, Tennessee later this spring to buy from wholesalers who have great prices. I don't know what their practices are on pesticides or fungicides, but I'll try to ask while I am there. Some of the perennials I presume I might be able to grow from seed, but I think others probably only come from cuttings, so I'd have to seek out an organic grower (which I shall try to do now) or go to a plant swap. Maybe if we all start asking the nurseries and growers about this, they'll realize that gardeners DO care and DO want pesticide-free plants (especially plants free of systemic pesticides -- and ESPECIALLY ones that we're growing specifically to attract pollinators!)

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    1. Chances are the wholesalers absolutely use systemic pesticides because they need to have perfect plugs to sell to nurseries. Check with www.prairiemoon.com for natives for your area. They are completely chemical free and only sell natives. The more gardeners speak up, the louder this issue becomes. If we kill off our pollinators, we kill off our food supply.

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  14. Goodness, I had no idea the bees could be so badly affected. But while the majority of gardeners want to buy pristine cheap plants the organic growers just won't be able to compete. Even organic peat free compost costs more than the less environmentally friendly alternatives. Good for you for taking a stand.

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    1. It is ironic and incredibly sad that we have to pay more for a product that contains less. Anything organic is so much more expensive because it's more labor intensive to produce. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't take a stand. I had to create change even if it was only in my garden.

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  15. I admire your resolution. I confess that while I prefer organically grown plants, I frequently will buy non-organic. Unlike you, who are always so determined and upbeat, I am a bit of a defeatist, and think that even if I were to do everything right for the pollinators, there is still nothing to stop them from flying over to my neighbors' pesticide-filled yards and partaking of the chemicals over there. My neighbor is a very knowledgeable gardener who also happens to work for the Dept. of Agriculture. I swear I have never seen so much spraying going on in my life.

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    1. I assure you I am not always a ray of sunshine. I'm just convinced life isn't as bad as we imagine it to be. I am a realistic optimist: life will get better but not by chance. I think insects and birds can pick up the chemical signals given off by treated plants, which explains why there are no insects - even butterflies - at garden centers. I bet your neighbors yard is a sterile pit of nothingness.

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  16. Not only are flowers pre-treated with pesticides, what about our food. Over 70% of the food we buy is from genetically modified organisms. Corn and corn products are the worst. Baby food contains ingredients that are from treated seeds and plants. You have opened a whole can of worms, not only on our flowers, but garden vegs and of big farming corporations. Do we really know what we are eating? or planting? Not only are bees affected, but animals and people.

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    1. I eat very little corn. It's like taking a big bite of Monsanto. I think so much of what we eat, breathe, and grow is contaminated with chemicals. I started buying our meat and eggs straight off the farm several years ago so I could guarantee I was buying healthy, humanely raised meat. We also eat as little processed food as possible. I want to eat food that nourishes not some junk made in a factory.

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  17. Wow! I like to think my garden is organic, but you opened my eyes with this post. I had not even thought about pre-treated plants! Thanks for taking a stand. One post, one garden at a time…eventually it makes an impact. Just look at the organically grown products available now. Some years ago, there was hardly such a thing.

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    1. The organic movement is 100% farther along than it was just a few years ago so in time I think there will be changes made to the way our plants are grown, too. But the more people we educate, the faster progress will spread.

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  18. Oh dear - another inconvenient truth. We need to start a campaign to push growers to go organic - or to at least label what they offer for sale so we can be better educated consumers. I've just begun trying to grow some of my own annuals from seed - I've still got away to go before I can count that effort a success.

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    1. Inconvenient, for sure! I'm no expert at growing anything from seed so I only grow plants that are easy to grow. It's a great way to feel successful.

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  19. I buy relatively few plants. Our garden is now established and we are just keeping it tidy for the future gardeners. I don't have your after the winter issues, for us it's pruning what doesn't make it thru the summer heat. I'm focused on indigenous / native plants. Haven't a hope of getting indigenous and organic plants! I wish I had that option.

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  20. sigh, and as an organic farmer pointed out to me - the seeds, need to be untreated and organic too!

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    1. Organic plants are very hard to find here, too. I did a lot of research before buying my seeds to make sure they hadn't been treated with anything, either. I wish there was more transparency and labeling so we knew what our products had been treated with.

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  21. Eek ! I am ashamed to say that I had no idea of the pre- treated garden centre plants. I was in that happy state of ignorance which you inhabited initially Tammy! I need to do some thinking nd take some action, I think.

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    1. Knowledge inspires action. Glad I could help. :o)

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  22. Powerful powerful stuff you've written here Tammy. You are like the child that saw the Emperor had no clothes.

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    1. And what I saw instead of clothes was hideous to behold.

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  23. Good grief! I had no idea that such awful practice was going on so thanks for opening my eyes, how disgusting to think that these plants are harming our pollinators...I grow from seed and am so glad I do now, but if I do buy a plant I will certainly check. I'm not surprised you're fuming, I am too!xxx

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    1. The public has a right to know what we're buying, all the way down to the plants we choose. When I bought my plants, I never realized I was buying a pesticide, too!

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  24. You have given me food for thought....I too will strive harder to have a more organic garden.
    I'm glad that you have opened my eyes to this problem......thanks.
    It's going to be hard bypassing new plants at the garden centre, but we must take a stand.

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    1. Avoiding the rows of gorgeous plants will be torture, but my appreciation for them has changed since I know what's lurking inside.

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  25. A wonderful post, Tammy. You've made some fantastic points about the origin and treatment of the pollinator-friendly plants we buy in garden centres. It is terrible that we have been buying flowers in good faith because we feel they're just right for bees and other pollinators when they've already been treated with pesticides. I wonder if garden centres will eventually change - the desire to sell the perfect looking plant is very strong.

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    1. Until the public changes its perception of what they expect a fresh/new plant to look like, progress will be slow. Demand affects supply and we need to change our expectations of perfection.

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  26. A very useful post. It makes me want to keep growing from seed and to encourage others to grow from seed and not use pesticides or chemicals in the garden. And to think twice about plant purchases. We'd probably be shocked at the amount of chemicals that go on to the fruit and vegetables we purchase in the shops!

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    1. I read an article once that encouraged people NOT to spend extra for organic fruits/veggies because they weren't any more nutritious. I couldn't believe it! The author completely ignored the negative affects of chemicals on our bodies.

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  27. Now I feel I need to find out about all my sources of plants, to see if any of them are grown without insecticides. I wouldn't really insist on completely organic, as I don't think the use of fertilizers is going to hurt pollinators. I'll be very interested to see what I found out about the different growers. I would think that my native plant sources, like prairie moon and prairie nursery, will be insecticide-free, but we'll see.Thanks for pushing this to the front of my mind!

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    1. I agree with you about the chemical fertilizer. I don't mind that growers use them. But I think plants that have been treated with a pesticide should be labeled.

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  28. Maddening, isn't it? The nursery industry is big business and many customers will only purchase pristine plants. Here in Oregon many nurseries are environmentally friendly which is nice. I grow very few annuals and most of them are self-sown. I sure hope we can get our lawmakers to pass laws that protect our precious critters. Great post, Tammy!

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  29. This is an issue I haven't considered. I am not sure there are any growers/nursery retailers who specialize in young plants that are grown organically here in Canada, but then I am not sure it has even been raised as an issue so perhaps it is not surprising. It is great that you have made us all aware of the issue Tammy.

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  30. You have my head spinning as I was just watching a video about an organic farmer who is suing Monsanto for contaminating his field with gmo seeds. I'm afraid this matter is happening on many levels all over the world. It makes me angry. I do self sow under shop lights in my family room. Buying only organic non gmo seeds or getting them from garden friends. The problem is I don't have a ton of space to grow what I need to fill in my garden. I did try the plastic bottles last year but had
    little results as I know that would help me with my space issue when growing. And now what to do with buying plants this
    year...I may have to buy them online and would be very interested to see if my local small family owned nursery pretreats their plants...which by the sounds of it..they probably do. I am a bee lover and I would hate to think that the plant that I am growing is causing them harm....so much to think about. Thanks so much for the links friend. Education is power and how right you are about the ripple effect! Keep up the good work on spreading the word! Oh and your bracelet is being shipped tomorrow....sorry for the delay! The flu has been making its way through the beans! Wonderful weekend to you friend! Nicole xoxo

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  31. Thanks for this informative post. I did not know about this. I love my pollinators and do not want to add anything to the garden that would put them in jeopardy.

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  32. Karin at Southern Meadows wrote a post about nicotinoid insecticides a few months ago and it was both depressing and informative, as is yours. Now I am afraid to buy seed for the birds and to put any plants in that I haven't raised myself.

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  33. When I read this same thing I was furious and now make an effort to find non-pesticide flowers. This will be hard and I missed the window to start some of my own this year so I will direct sow as many as I can. I noticed lots of pollinators on the flowers I usually buy at a nursery near by so I will be asking them if they use these chemicals...I think not and hope not.

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