SAFETY

With regards to safety. Safety starts with awareness and your mind in sharp focus. A pair of kevlar chaps and carbon fiber hard hat and a thousand barricades will not help you if you are not present. You have to acknowledge that nature and the world we live in is dangerous, and can cause harm to you. This can happen if you are not careful, but can also happen because it is some crazy fluke. So you want to be prepared irregardless, and try to avoid getting hurt.

Hazards in gardening are many. The soil is full of bacteria. Some of it is helpful, others can get inside of you and try to take over and eat you alive. You will swell up with an infection, the bacteria will make their way into your blood, sepsis amputation and death are not far off. Lucky these days hospitals are equipped with antibiotics made from fungus and precisely other soil bacteria. Otherwise lights out. Many people who reminisce about the old times, or who have an idyllic vision of nature, often get into trouble because they want to put their bare hands in the soil and be one with mother earth. Maybe out in the country but in town it is right dirty and best to wear gloves. If you have an open wound for sure avoid contact with the soil. If you get an open wound or cut from a hori hori knife or a long barb of blackberry remember to wash it out good with soap and water. Not sloppy either wash it good.

Another common hazard is stinging insects. Around here the worst is yellow jackets that nest in the ground cause sometimes you don’t see em till its too late, you’ve already stepped on their nest and they come roaring out really mad. It really sucks when they go up your pant leg or chaps, are trapped, and really panic and sting and sting. Then you have to drop your drawers in the middle of the park and hope your underwear is not too unsightly. It would be a good idea to know if you are allergic to the venom. You can get tested by a doctor or wait and see if you have never been stung before. If you are allergic and persist in the great outdoors get an epi pen which is a shot of epinephrine which is adrenalin, so that you can inject yourself in the leg and not go into shock. Then get help. Just so you know bumblebees can sting also, as can of course honeybees. These are all insects in the colonial matriarchal clan called the hymenoptera. Ants are in this group too. Lucky here we do not have the stinging red ants in the south nor the massive conga paraponera bullet ants of the tropics. So before you go into a patch of ivy to weed it, observe to see if some yellow and black bugs are flying here and there. Watch where they are going. Preventive practices is a big part of being safe. Black widows are a concern too. So watch out for irrigation boxes and cleaning out the potting shed that hasnt been touched for a decade. Mostly with the spiders it is like with the moray eels, don’t just stick your hand down in some place some hole you cannot even see. Give em some warning, stir around with a stick. You are not superman or the widow whisperer.

Something along the lines of stinging things but human created is hypodermic needles. Around here there used to be a clean needle exchange. You bring in a dirty one, you get a clean one. Then it went to you bring in a dirty one, and they give you four clean ones. Now folks working on the street tell me its unlimited clean ones. So the needles, after being used to inject plant based chemicals, end up in the litter, in the ground. And if you are gardening, sweeping raking leaves and branches, that needle will likely end up jabbing you right in the hand as you go to pick it all up. So what do you do? Use a scoop shovel, use a rake, avoid contact. Bring a sharps container for such days. Until public health starts to care about you, you gotta care about yourself and take precautions.

sharps
Branches and trees are a big safety uh oh. Any tree worker can tell you stories. And stories. And stories. Its not that trees get mad and want to kill us, its just that they are so big and sometimes rotten and unpredictable. Yes physics and leverage and the lean are all important to know, but some trees… Eucalyptus in particular… Then when you are dragging branches or cutting a hairy trichome covered limb, you realize that wearing some eye protection does not make you a nerdy weenie, its just being safe. Like my buddy Gus says, “You only get one pair of eyeballs”. Haven’t heard of eyeball transplants or artificial AI eyes or stem cell grown eyes yet. Protect them. And hearing protection goes along with that too. Of course both Gus and I are probably a little guilty of this, and so do as we say, not as we do. So many good friends be jackhammering, shooting their 12 gauge, running that chainsaw, going to a rock concert, with no hearing protection at all. It takes a while but sooner or later. You are trying to talk to them. “Hey! Hey! Hey there you over there!” But nothing, they cant hear you no more! They see you motioning, and they smile back, but they are in a cloud. Sigh.

There is endless hazards working in the landscape and garden (rodent poo, human feces, poison oak, holes in uneven terrain, etc) and I won’t bore you with much more about safety. Just pay attention and dont rush things. I’ll finish this section with a story about an accident that occurred a couple of years back.

We went out to do our labs after lecture. The lab was pruning. One student went to prune the Lophostemon Brisbane box tree out front of our compound. He had a long 12’ fiberglass pole pruner and saw combo, and was pruning this tree from below. “I know what I am doing, I do this all the time”. Gus is supervising from a distance, sitting in his little electric cart. Then as the student pruned a small branch, it was falling down, he wanted to catch it. So he let go of the pole and the pole saw came down right on top of Gus’ head, hitting him square, luckily with the blunt part of the metal end not the sharp part, otherwise he would have died right then and there. Now Gus is one tough codger, born 1934, been through polio at 19, and been through all sorts of garden arborist diving fishing hunting accidents. So he took it like it was nuthin, still smiling and conversing with the students. Blood gushing and staining his white hair all red. I think some students were about to faint; we had some super competent nurses Nancy Lewis and Ana Trejo and Arete Nicholas as students in the class, and they luckily helped him out good. Scott took him to the hospital. If Gus was a wee bit younger he probably would’ve just shook it off and wrapped it with some duct tape and stayed to finish the job! So lessons were learned by everybody. No use blamin’. Gus learned to position himself a little further from the action, and wear a hard hat. The student learned not to let go of the pole saw. And I learned that I should tighten up the supervision and keep hammering on about the importance of safety.

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PESTICIDES

The reader we use is thirty or forty years old. So some of the information seems dated. I appreciate it for the elements of gardening that haven’t changed in all these years, and for its history. I will give an up to dated overview of our use of pesticides here, so that the information in the reader will remain useful and relevant to you as a student of horticulture.

In order for you as a gardener to spray any pesticide compound with an EPA number, you have to have a certified pest applicator’s license. Or at least a certificate. You can get this by passing a test and paying the appropriate fees. This is administered by the Department of Pesticide Regulation. Funny ironic thing in reverse is that any homeowner can spray darn near any substance they can get their hands on, without a license. So if they choose, they can spray that 50 year old bottle of lead arsenic nicotine sulfate methylmercury all over the place. Nothing stopping them. But you, as a professional, has to follow the rules. So if they hand you a bottle of skull and crossbones labelled pesticide and be like “Hey put this on those weeds in the sidewalk cracks”, and you are not licensed. You say, “Sorry I am not licensed, but you are welcome to spray it yourself”. Or, better, you can have them bring it down to Recology Sunset Scavenger to their toxics recycling yard.

We will introduce to you, over the course of the class, other methods of prevention and control of pests. Often, the pest is just the symptom of the problem. The problem is usually attributed to the overall culture and care of the plant. Attributed to basic things like water and soil and climate. But if you choose to use pesticides, these are the basics. Pages refer to the reader.

Read and follow instructions. (Pages 196, 197, 204 – 208)

Identify the pest you are trying to kill. No use using a snail bait if the pest is an aphid. Chemical poisons are specific! No one pesticide kills em all! (Page 198,199)

Decide the proper formulation to use. If you use a bait, make sure you confine the bait somehow and do not inadvertently poison the client’s prized pomeranian or poodle or pug. Sprayed aerosols can drift in the wind and kill unintended targets. Powders may be rained out and not stick to plant material and lose their effectiveness. (Page 200, 202, 233)

An ideal insecticide would kill your unwanted bugs, then break down rapidly into harmless ingredients. Unfortunately an insecticide that breaks down rapidly would also require more frequent applications, which are expensive in both labor and materials. Some of the more effective insecticides are longer lasting. Unfortunately this means that they may be passed on to more than your target species and can destroy the beneficial insects as well, such as honey bees and even marine invertebrates as the chemicals flow down the rivers into the seas. Sometimes an insecticide is also a piscicide, a fish poison. So again, you would have to know this and be careful if you are spraying a rose bush for aphids with rotenone, next to a fish pond with 10,000 dollar koi swimming about.

If you are using herbicides timing can be key. The poison must be translocated down to the roots for an effective kill. If the plant is going dormant anyways, or is stubborn and able to close off channels of movement, then all your spraying will be for nothing and the plant will sprout back happy as can be from down below. (Page 201)

In general, there are fewer gardeners who apply pesticides in town these days compared to times past. There is still a market for arborists who spray for insects because trees are a high profile high value plant that is not so easy to switch in and switch out. But otherwise insects are either tolerated or the whole plant is trashed and composted if it is buggy. One of the most effective methods to apply herbicides is by using a wick or a brush. This way you are only using a small and controlled amount of herbicide, and there is no drift like from a sprayer. It is useful for killing a tree dead after you cut it down, and do not want it to resprout and resprout for years and years to come. And you cannot afford, or there is no access, to bring in a stump grinder. (Page 209 – 212).

The Eugenia plant was commonly planted as a hedge and ornamental plant some thirty plus years ago. Then a bug showed up and gnarled the leaves and made the plant undesirable. Gus used to spray for the Eugenia psyllid with acephate trade name is Orthene. He would always remark about its strong smell, like sulfur. In recent years people have mostly yanked the plant because spraying is temporary and the bug comes back after a while anyways. The fruits however are tasty (if not sprayed with Orthene) and can be harvested for a nice jam in spite of the appearance of the leaves due to the psyllids feeding. By the way the plant was known as Eugenia but is now known more properly as Syzigium (Page 214-215)

The most troublesome mammalian pest we have in the landscape are gophers and rodents.
The most effective way to kill gophers is using traps. Many gardeners then leave the dead gophers out for the hawks to come by and eat them just like in scenes from the asian steppe eagle hunters or Conan the Barbarian. Another way we protect plants from gophers is by planting them in a gopher basket. It works well initially, but over time as the plant roots grow larger, they often struggle and are constricted or girdled by the thin metal cage they are living in. (page 217)

wire cage

Rodents are one of those do if you do, do if you don’t pests. They must be controlled; otherwise, living in such close proximity to us, an overpopulation of rats can cause many terrible health problems. Current solution is usually with poison bait boxes, located conveniently throughout the city and checked on by various Integrated Pest Management personnel. Rat poisons kill them through internal hemorrhaging. Once in a while a hawk or an owl that feeds on the rats also becomes sick. We find the birds in the parks hopping about, stumbling, and sickly. They usually end up dying in the bushes somewhere where ravens crows ants or rats then feed on their carcass, and so on and so forth. (Page 217)

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Specific insecticides (Pages 203, 218 – 220)
With regards to insecticides you have a choice of biological, oil, soap, botanical, and synthetic insecticides (and some others mixes or unspecified). Biologicals are bacteria that eat bugs. Oils kill by suffocation and restricting the breathing of bugs. Soaps break down their layers of protection around their outer exoskeleton, botanicals are chemical compounds derived from plants, and synthetics are human created compounds mostly derived from petroleum sources that became popular after World War II. The four main classes of insecticides are organochlorines, organophosphates, carbamates, and pyrethroids. More on this in the future.

Specific insect and invertebrate pests (Pages 221- 230)
As far as chemical type controls – our common insect pests are aphids (spray with water or soap, pyrethrins), caterpillars of moths and butterflies (Spray with the biological known as Baccillus thuringiensis B.t. or the botanical called rotenone), earwigs (sprinkle diatomaceous earth in their path), slugs and snails ( Sluggo iron phosphate or beer to drown them in), mealy bugs (oils or soaps), root mealy bug in containers (ethyl alcohol), mites (neem oil).

Neat to read how nicotine sulfate was such a common insecticide back in the day. Nicotine is one of the most toxic alkaloidal substances known. You can make your own poison spray by soaking cigarettes in water.

Weeds in general (234, 235, 239, 240)
If you spray weeds, they will die but you will still have to go back and remove their brown bodies or pull them up and out of the cracks. Some weeds are extremely resistant and do not die even from repeated applications of weed killer. As new products pop up you will have to try them at different times of the year, with different plants, with different treatments, to see if they work.

Specific weeds (236, 238)
Many weeds are edible or medicinal or cover crops that build the soil. As people have become less hunter gatherer foragers and more ‘civilized’ and landscapes more ‘controlled’ we have come to view these plants as undesirables and invaders and bad plants. Amongst these are chick weed, (tasty edible), dandelion (coffee substitute, greens, flower wine), pig weed (edible), and plantain (seeds are laxative, close relative of which is Metamucil).

Specific herbicides (203, 241, 242)
Many herbicides lost their effectiveness over the years as weeds became resistant to them. Also, many herbicides have been banned as people learned that their effects would travel along a chain and a web and affect all of life. For example the fumigant methyl bromide was a common herbicide used in the strawberry fields. If you are just eating a box or two of strawberries it might not seem a big deal. But imagine that you are the worker who is breathing this stuff in and out over the seasons. It is has been banned for the most part since 2005. Others pesticides been banned in Europe and Australia and still used here, or vice versa. With weed killers, there are selective (kill only some kind of weeds) and nonselective (kills all the weeds, or so it says on the advertising and packaging). There are pre emergent sprays (that is a layer of poison that sits on top of the soil preventing weed seed germination) and post emergent sprays (for weeds that are already up and at it). There are lastly contact herbicides (kills the part of the plant it touches), or systemic ones (poison can be moved, translocated, to the leaves or roots after it is sprayed.) Whelp, this is all for now!