Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Chemicals in your Mulch and Compost -- All Politics is Local

We'd like to share a recent conversation among some of our followers about the chemicals which may be/are probably lurking in your mulches and composts.  We would welcome your questions, comments, and knowledge as we struggle to find healthy, natural ways to grow our food.

Concerned Permaculture Farmer:  I've just found out that the peanut hay I've been feeding my goats was sprayed with 2-4d and likely clopyralid, they are together in a lot of products.  Turns out it is one of the herbicides that won't break down in compost,  ( I've just finished two big piles)    In this article [from Washington State University at Puyallup] is a bioassay test with peas to see if your compost is safe.     I have noticed a serious lack of worms around the place since we started feeding this hay in the fall, and there are none in the vicinity of my compost.   There is another with a garden test patch that shows only damage to  high concentrations, lighter ones get by ok.    If you use horse manure, there is a good likelihood that they were fed sprayed hay, most hay farmers around here use it, and the stuff stays in the manure.    I'm worried about my goat milk too.

From Washington State University at Puyallup:  "Clopyralid is the common name of a herbicide that kills broad-leaved weeds such as dandelions, clover, and thistle. Clopyralid contamination of yard debris compost emerged as a problem in Washington State in 2000 and 2001. Clopyralid has since been banned as a lawn herbicide, removing the risk of contamination of yard debris compost. Because clopyralid is still registered for use on grass hay and some grain crops, the risk of contamination of some animal manures with clopyralid remains."   Additional information.

Janis:  A number of western states have long since restricted use of clopyralid on lawns, etc., but apparently it's not on Florida's radar.  Since we use a lot of straw for mulch in the VegHeadz garden and in some of our home gardens, the residue would be a concern as well as in composted animal manures and yard clippings.  First line of defense would be closely observing plants grown in soil amended with compost.  (Directions for bioassay test in your garden at link above.)

Gardener Ed:   Strange that this email arrived just as I was reviewing my notes on the subject.
 Persistent herbicides, or weed killers, are giving gardeners "growing pains." Several new herbicides developed by Dow and Syngenta have become the weed killers that keep on killing. They are three chemicals that are now in common use — clopyralid, aminopyralid and picloram. They persist in soil, hay, animal manure, mulch, compost, and in the tissues of crops grown in treated soil. It takes only a little to turn good compost into killer compost.  Additional information in Mother Earth News
Here’s IFAS information on persistent herbicides.

Any material in question should be potted up with a few peas or bean seeds ensure they grow normally. This is crucial to safe and reliable food gardening.

Concerned Permaculture Farmer:  (Commenting on what's happening in Florida) Not true, they're selling the hell out of it!!  I went to a hay producers meeting with sales reps and they told them not to get all fussed up about a few old ladies who complained about their tomatoes when they used hay mulch...

Cap'n Dave:  I thank you much for the reminder about contaminated hay. 

I buy hay to use for:  1) The chickens to nest in   2) The floor of the rabbit/chicken coop  3) To put under the rabbits for the worm bins.... etc. 

When the hay has done it's job and is crumbly and covered with chicken poop, etc,  I then compost it into the garden. Since this pathway into the garden was so delayed, and indirect, it had compeletly slipped my mind to do the "will-it-grow-peas?" test. 

This winter, I also used the now-poopy hay to put a thin, good-looking layer of mulch under the winter veggies in the raised beds. In addition to being mixed with chicken poop, this also serves to reduce rain-splash onto the vegs.   But while I got some very vigorous growth from some of the veggies initially; soon many of them (brassicas especially) had some wilting, some brown leaf-edges, discoloration, etc.   Lately, there have been few if any worms in the rabbit-poop beds .... another ominous clue.

Sissy:  I too have had this conversation with "Sam the Hayman" that delivers hay to Ace.

He doesn't grow the hay except when they are cutting it off the Leon county spray field,  which is only during the summer months.  The rest comes from who ever he cam buy it from, to sell. He doesn't know but my guess is that most all of it is sprayed with something, some more that others. They are not going to tell you one way or the other, bottom line is, Cash. You can also look for weeds in the hay when you buy it. Some hay has lots of weeds, probably not sprayed, by old farmers or those with little money.

I do not use it directly on any crops, but recycle it through the animals. It does grow hay when spread on the ground, I still don't trust it. Because you don't know. That also goes for commercial pine straw.

Here is the test..let your "mulching" hay sit for some time outside. Put some bean seeds into to it, if it sprouts, it is free of herbicides. I learned  this from one of our 2012 PDC students,  Melinda, that lost her entire garden for a year due to sprayed hay.

BUT,  to be sure, let it sit for 1 year, according to Les Harrison, Wakulla County Extension Agent. This would follow what Greg said. 

I do not use it, I use straw oat or wheat I buy from Gramling's, but I also buy it and leave it out to sprout and rot. I have never had a problem with it...knock on wood...

Damn shame we can't trust anything as simple as hay,  but the bottom line is...chemicals are in almost everything, we just have to do the best we can or grow it ourselves.

Gardner Ed:  “Some farmers and gardeners have reported damage to crops that has been associated with the class of herbicides known as pyridine carboxylic acids (PCA) (aminopyralid, clopyralid, fluroxypyr, picloram, and triclopyr). These herbicides are registered for use in pasture, row crops, roadsides, and some vegetables and fruits. In pastures, these herbicides are important to control toxic weeds that can sicken or kill grazing livestock. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the compounds pass safely through the animal's digestive tract and are excreted as urine and manure. Typically, the compounds break down through natural processes (i.e., sunlight, heat, biological decomposition) within 30 days, but sometimes the compounds can be persistent in manure, compost, and baled hay, especially if stored in static piles. Persistent PCA herbicide activity has occasionally resulted in poor seed germination; twisted, cupped, or elongated leaves; and reduced fruit development. Keep in mind many factors can cause these symptoms (e.g., disease, insects, herbicide drift from a neighbor). Gardeners can ask for a history of herbicide use prior to purchasing manure, compost, or hay. If in doubt, a simple test can be conducted to observe plant development from seed to the three-leaf stage by comparing commercial potting mix to the soil amendment in question. This procedure is explained in detail in Washington State University's Bioassay Test for Herbicide Residues in Compost.”

Janis:  And even more information in a recent post by Dr. Mae Wan Ho on the Permaculture News Blog on Glyphosate and cancer.  Dr. Ho is a geneticist known for her critical views on genetic engineering.  Dr. Ho is the director of the Institute of Science in Society (I-SIS), an interest group that campaigns against what it sees as unethical uses of biotechnology.  Much additional information can be found at the I-SIS site.  

Cap'n Dave:  Consulted with some folks that are up to speed on half-lives of herbicides in the environment.   2,4-D is very photosensitive and low vapor pressure so it evaporates quickly.  residual is essentially nil.  Glyphosate (Roundup, etc.) sticks to organic matter/binds relatively tightly so demonstrates little/no soil activity.  

The first question I have relates to the last point.   If the glyphosate is bonded to an organic molecule on the straw; what happens when that straw decomposes? 

Is the glyphosate then free to continue to cause mischief?

OK; this is exactly why there's so much confusion and uncertainty in the food safety world.

This is a combination of a few, clear, declarative sentences...  embedded with a lot of complex, arcane, obscure, barely intelligible-if-you don't-have-a-PhD-in-the-field, scientific mumbo-jumbo; most of it unsupported and unatributed assertions.

What's a poor ig-nernt dirt farmer to do?  Sigh.

Bottom line:  Given conflicting / uncertain ideas; I'm going with the most conservative.

Proposal: let's all invite Gramlings and Ace to join our concerns, and get them asking the questions on the front end..  "All politics is local."

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