In Your Yard

Page - April 19, 2007
Every little bit of greenery on our planet helps clean the air, contributes to our oxygen supply and helps prevent soil erosion. Whether you have a few square feet or a forest behind your home, preserving and promoting the diversity of the area and maintaining it toxic-free will enhance your life and keep you, your family, and the animals in the area safe from harmful toxins.



  • Plant flowers, trees, bushes, ground cover and vegetables instead of grass. A lawn is an unnatural ecosystem. Lawns also use more water, and mowing contributes to global warming.
  • Avoid the use of fertilizers and toxic chemicals on your lawn, which impact wildlife and end up in waterways.
  • If you do have a lawn, be sure to set your mower blades to high. The minimum height for grass is two and a half inches. Anything shorter is hard to maintain, encourages weeds and disease and requires more intervention. Longer grass also protects the roots, offering more shade and preventing water evaporation.
  • In a drought, don't waste water on a lawn beginning to turn brown, it will revive after normal rainfall resumes.
  • Take the grass catcher off the lawn mower. The sun and rain will break down the grass clippings and reward you with instant compost or use the clippings in your compost.
  • Keep your lawn mover blades sharp. Dull blades will tear the grass, damaging the plant, making it require more water than healthy plants.
  • Choose well adapted and disease resistant varieties of grass such as ryegrasses and bluegrasses.

Organic Gardening

Organic gardening begins with your soil. Healthy soil breeds healthy plants which can fend off weeds, pests and diseases without chemical treatment. Have your soil tested in early spring; home testing kits are also available at most garden supply centers. These tests will tell you where your soil is deficient and what organic ingredients your lawn needs.

Compost, made from rotted organic material, is the best all around soil conditioner available. It improves the physical and biological condition of the soil, providing beneficial micro-organisms, excellent drainage and both major and minor plant nutrients. Plus, by using your kitchen scraps, you'll reduce

Use a shovel or hoe to turn over and break up soil. Digging is an important part of conditioning your soil:

  • It allows roots to reach deep, unimpeded by stones and clumps of hard earth.
  • It adds to good drainage and air circulation in the soil.
  • It works compost and other organic material into the soil.
  • Digging discourages harmful root feeding insects.
  • Companion planting is the cornerstone of organic gardening. There are many plants that repel insects and provide natural protection for other plants that are susceptible.
  • French marigolds repel certain insects that are attracted to tomatoes and potatoes. You should plant them throughout your garden.
  • Interplant potatoes and collards to reduce flea beetle damage.
  • Garlic repels the larvae of many harmful insects and can be planted with anything else except onions.
  • Onions repel many species of insects and should be dispersed throughout the garden. But some plants are bad for each other too. Avoid planting broccoli and cauliflower close to each other as well as other varieties of plants that are closely related.

Quick Tips

  • If you must water your lawn and garden, water in the morning or at night to prevent evaporation. One inch of water a week is better than several short showers.
  • Plant native plants in your garden - they need a lot less water and maintenance than introduced species.
  • Grow ground cover or use mulch in your garden to cut down on water use (it also helps control weeds).
  • Spend an evening outdoors weeding your lawn by hand early in the season.
  • Put a barrel under your eavestrough downspout to catch water when it rains. You can use this to water indoor plants, your garden and wash your car.


Organic materials are broken down naturally by bacteria and fungi. Composting speeds up this process by providing an optimum environment for the transportation of organic wastes to the nutrient-rich end-product: humus. The whole process takes anywhere from weeks to months, depending on the composition of the pile. Composts add moisture and nutrients to your soil and improve soil structure so you will have a healthy and productive garden.

Getting Started

You can start your compost in a heap in the corner of your yard in a well drained spot. You can also buy a compost bin or make a wooden box for the compost. Just remember to leave space between the slats of wood for air circulation.

Alternate layers of garden waste and food scraps with a thin layer of soil. Keep it moist and stir up the compost every 1 to 3 weeks with a shovel.

The smaller the pieces of food and yard waste the faster it will decompose.

Composting slows down in winter, but you can continue to add organic materials. It's fine if your heap freezes, but if you want your heap to continue decomposing throughout the winter, add an insulating layer of plastic over the heap.

In Spring and Summer

When your compost is dark and crumbly rather than lumpy, work it into soil for a general conditioner. You can add your compost to gardens and lawns throughout the growing season.

In the City

You can start a compost wherever you are with a garbage bag. Compost made in a plastic bag will be more moist than outdoor piles and will therefore decompose faster.

Put your small scraps of kitchen waste in a black plastic bag, try to add coffee grounds and a few cups of top soil. Tie the bag and place it outside in a sunny spot. Composting should be completed in two to three weeks.

Empty the contents of the bag in a corner of your backyard or leave the bag open, dig in some more top soil and let the pile continue to work for a few days. You can add your compost to indoor plants, your garden or potted plants outside.

You can also investigate vermicomposting. The main ingredient in vermicomposting is red wiggler worms. The worms are kept in a box with bedding made from such materials as straw, grass clippings, or shredded paper. Within a few months a dark rich compost can be harvested for house plants and the garden.

Good Materials for Composting

In general, yard wastes and organic foods are good: grass clippings (if not recently treated with chemicals), dead leaves, shredded twigs and branches, weeds (avoid the seeds), flower cuttings, pruned material, all fruits, vegetables, grains, egg shells, baked goods, tea bags, coffee grounds, manure, hay and straw, even human hair and nails.

You Should Avoid

Roots of hardy weeds, dog or cat feces, diseased plants, meat, poultry, fish, fat or oil, dairy products, bones, highly fatty foods such as salad dressing, paper wastes, large amounts of wood ash and any toxic materials such as household cleaners.