Inundating the landscape with pesticides is a bad idea, period. Japanese beetles suck, period. Rock and a hard place … There are few effective non-chemical ways to control the Japanese beetle. People talk about milky spore disease, but over time it has produced unimpressive results. Likewise, nematodes can provide a little bit of control, but not enough to make most gardeners/foresters/landscapers/etc. happy. Japanese beetle traps are best used as a joke present for a despised neighbor (they attract more beetles than they catch). Personally, I was born in PA and saw some pretty bad infestations growing up. Mostly we ignored
them and eventually the environment limited their populations all by itself without our help. Unless the beetles are destroying your garden, I’d let them be. If they are destroying the garden—well, unfortunately that means that a pesticide will probably need to be used. In terms of the government—be it local, state or federal—trying to control this pest [as it is in Orem, Utah, where residents are being asked to stop gardening for 3 years], I know they’re doing the best they can to control a noxious insect, but I tend to err on the side of allowing the insect to spread rather than apply pesticides (lots of my colleagues disagree with me). It’s a terrible damned if you do damned if you don’t situation, and, while I’m happy to offer my opinion, I’m not going to claim that I have any amazing insights.
What about this comment: “the companies themselves are fundamentally not even curious about possible long-term ecosystem or health effects.”
Wow! who made that comment? I work on a semi-regular basis with people who research and sell pesticides. I can tell you that individuals within the companies are concerned. However, I will be the first to admit that as a whole these companies seem to value the dollar above a healthy environment. Since I don’t actually work for a pesticide company I can’t tell you much about the inner workings of one, but I do periodically test pesticides and talk with their representatives and I work with many researchers who communicate regularly with these companies so my perspective might be a little different than that of many of the ranters. To let you know how I feel about these companies it’s probably best to draw a comparison to the most evil companies ever: tobacco companies. Tobacco companies actively lied about their research to promote the use of their product. I think that pesticide companies are a touch better. In my experience they don’t cover up an experiment that points out problems with their products (and I do personally know a few researchers who have done work on problem pesticides and published without any repercussions or censorship). … Chemical companies are out to make a buck, and they’re not looking as closely as they should for potential problems, but if they do happen to find one, or if one is called to their attention, they do tend to respond (though their responses are often too little too late—as with Atrazine or Round-up ready GMOs). Are their responses designed more to placate than because these companies care about the environment? That’s for you to discuss.
Are there there new areas of research you’re working on that would be of interest to our readers?
I do have a couple of interesting projects that I am working on, two of which I’ll share here. One is a home remedy for disease and one concerns a common recommendation coming from the extension service. First the disease control. Every year since The Truth About Garden Remedies came out I have conducted some sort of field trial where I look at different sprays for powdery mildew and black spot on roses. I’ve had lots of failures including Cornell mix (baking soda, oil, and soap), aspirin (which I’ve got to try again based on an e-mail from a group in NH) and others, but only one true success. But what a success it was! By spraying a mix of milk and water on the roses weekly we got control of black spot that rivaled any synthetic or organic fungicide. And we’re not the only ones to have found that milk helps to control plant disease; many other researchers have found exactly the same thing. It doesn’t seem to matter what type of milk: whole, 1%, 2%, skim, even powdered seem to work. Also, the concentration of the milk in the water seems to be able to be varied: one part milk to two parts water seems a good place to start if you want to try this remedy, and it’ll provide some fertility to your soil or media too! Though we did notice a mildly unpleasant odor now and again…
Our other research is more controversial because it’s contrary to what everybody “knows” about transplanting trees and shrubs Everyone knows that when a tree or shrub is in a container for too long the roots will start to circle around the container and create a pot-bound condition. But when we tried planting pot-bound shrubs that were butterflied (the soil ball divided into two sections), scored (this is basically the recommendation that you’ll receive from your extension service where the sides of the root ball are sliced at four evenly spaced locations around its circumference and across the bottom in a big X) or where the roots were teased out, we found that none of these techniques had any effect on the number and size of roots emanating from the original root mass. And other researchers have found exactly the same thing! What does it mean to you? Nothing yet. This is so contrary to what we expected, we’re doing another, long-term experiment with many more species. For right now continue to cut those root balls—but don’t be surprised if recommendations change in a couple of years or so …
How about this comment: “The one thing that has been ignored in the discussion of whether Roundup is harmful is this: the more people who consider it relatively safe and use it, the bigger evolutionary pressure it becomes, and the sooner plants (which are chemical factories in their own right) will evolve around it. IIRC, Scott’s just got whacked with a major fine for mismanaging field trials for Roundup-ready creeping bentgrass, to wit the ‘resistant’ plant escaped and is considered invasive and has to be eradicated (with what, I wonder?)”.
It is true that the more Round-up is used the more likely we are to select for plants that are resistant to Round-up, and indeed there are a few cases where plants have developed some level of resistance, but these are pretty rare (which is surprising considering that Round-up has been used for over thirty years). It’s a good argument for using less Round-up and I certainly think that, if you can avoid any herbicide, that’s a good thing. But if I had a big patch of ground to clear I’d still use it. Resistance is driven by repeated use of a chemical on the same population. If a compound is only used once in a while then you’re not going to force plants to develop resistance, and, even if resistance is seen, it would be quickly lost because it would only be beneficial to the plant for a brief time (typically resistance to a chemical costs an organism strength. Hence, a resistance gene or genes are a liability unless the chemical is actually present). Regarding the genetically modified grasses that can’t be killed with Round-up: honestly I do worry about those Round-up ready GMOs escaping and becoming terrible weeds. I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s a possibility that we need to take very, very seriously.