Healthy yards don’t need chemicals. Simple solutions are best.
April showers bring May flowers.
That old adage surely applies this year given all that rain we witnessed last month. A local farmer once told me never to plant anything before May 1. So—now’s the time! However, flowers need more than just water. They need healthy soil, as do we humans and wildlife. Without it, food nutrients are diminished.
To start our gardens, we purchase topsoil that was cooked and cleaned, thereby destroying all the ingredients vital for nutritious soil, namely bacteria, nematodes, protozoa, insects and earthworms mixed in with root hairs, clay, silt and sand. Then we purchase fertilizer or manure plus those little perlite or vermiculite mini-ball polymers, all to replace what’s missing, in hopes of soil rejuvenation. Given some alone time, nature will do this better—and for free.
Astounding fact: One teaspoon of healthy soil can have over 4 billion microorganisms! That’s a good thing. Such an intricate food web breaks down pesticides and hydrocarbon pollutants, immobilizes heavy metals, and serves as a disease-control mechanism. Nutrients get recycled into a form easily accessible by roots and their hairs.
Good soil is a multi-tasker. It serves as a sponge, a filter, and a trap, purifying air and water as it binds oil, metals and pesticides while providing antioxidants to plants. It’s also good for stormwater retention and climate change moderating.
What if your soil is bad? Make compost. You can find plenty of recipes and instructions online, but here’s one: Combine 1 part greens (vegetable food scraps) with 2 or 3 parts brown (dead leaves, sawdust, cardboard). Water a little and occasionally mix to toss air into it. Add earthworms if desired.
You can spend a lot of money on special containers, but a pile on the ground works, too.
What if your soil is toxic? Try phytoremediation. It turns out that some plant species have an amazing capacity to take up toxic compounds and/or bind heavy metals in soil. Chattanooga, with its heavy manufacturing past, has many areas with unhealthy soil. Washington Street in the Southside used to have an auto repair shop with old vehicles likely leaking oil and gas.
That’s gone now, but Chattanooga Collaborative Senior Housing (CCSH) has purchased the land and intends to build shared living space there to establish an urban walkable, bikeable lifestyle. Design and resident arrangements are in process.
Meanwhile, instead of constant mowing, a scenic meadow will grow and phytoremediate, thereby mitigating any unhealthy soil that may be present.
Such a simple solution allows nature to do the work of collecting any contaminants. Yet, the current city landscaping ordinance is not conducive to such remedies.
The very subjective City Landscaping Ordinance Manual says: “The property owner shall be responsible for the maintenance of all provided landscaping. All landscaped areas must present a healthy, neat and orderly appearance and shall be kept free from refuse and weeds. Any dead or diseased plant material shall be replaced by the property owner with new plantings that meet the requirements of this Article.”
Growing a meadow in your front yard will likely get you a visit from the Landscape Inspector—probably driven by a neighbor complaint. The inspector will ask for your landscape plan and your permit. You will be informed that your grass is too tall and filled with weeds. You will be directed to remove all the biodiversity and that dead tree left for woodpeckers because it’s not healthy, neat and orderly.
Unbeknownst apparently to many, such a lawn produces healthy soil, keeping disease-causing organisms in check and providing free services beneficial to all life. That’s beautiful!
Sandra Kurtz is an environmental community activist and is presently working through the Urban Century Institute. Visit her website at enviroedu.net