Over the past months I’ve had many discussions about Red Tide and I’ve heard “What are THEY going to do about it?” It’s become clear to me that many people feel helpless and wait for the government or whomever they think is in charge to do something. In reality, it is each one of us that can make a difference by our daily choices. We are all responsible for the earth and we all contribute to the problem, not intentionally, but because we don’t fully understand the effects of the things we do. Some scientists are saying that it’s not big agriculture or big businesses that are the worst culprits, it is us, the general public. The question we should be asking ourselves now is: “What can I do about Red Tide?”
We can all begin in small ways starting in our own backyards. Let’s begin by talking about runoff. Every roof, non-porous driveway or path and yard without vegetation or mulch can create extra runoff. That runoff goes directly from our yards into the road, ditch, canal, creeks, lakes and ultimately into the ocean. Runoff becomes a bigger issue in Florida because of the sandy soils we have. Sand has larger particle size than loam and especially clay so that it allows the water to filter down through it, a lot faster. Whatever residues there are around our houses like fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, oils, gasolines, paints, cleaning agents, etc. all get carried along with the water. Are you starting to get the picture?
There are many things we can do to prevent runoff: choose permeable surfaces for driveways and walkways; catch water running off roofs of buildings on your property and collect it in rain barrels where it naturally falls off the roof or install gutters that direct water into them; create a swale and direct water into a low area of your yard or a pond so it won’t run into the street and waterways; and plant plenty of vegetation, especially native plants and minimize the use of turf which requires a lot of water and fertilizer. Natives require far less water and fertilizer than most plants. If you must have a lawn, refrain from fertilizing all together or use slow release fertilizer only in the non-rainy season to prevent big dumps of nitrogen and phosphate into our waterways. These nutrients are the worst culprits that make conditions favorable for algae blooms and red tide.
I’ve been an organic gardener for many years now and I have had some beautiful gardens. They have not suffered in the least by using homemade compost, mulch, and other natural products which are readily available. In fact, my gardens were healthier and created a much more favorable environment for beneficial insects and native wildlife. Compost can be made in your own backyard by recycling yard waste and kitchen scraps making you far more sustainable and saving money too. You can also purchase organic compost, manure or worm castings. Applying lots of mulch is also beneficial and can be obtained for free from local tree companies. All of these products will break down far more slowly than chemical fertilizers and will build your soil, increase the organic matter content, and the water holding capacity of your soil. This means less fertilizer as the nutrients are being held in the soil resulting in healthier plants, better harvest, and ultimately less runoff! Liquid seaweed or fish emulsion can also be used for watering potted plants and as a foliar feed. Foliar feed used first thing in the morning gets quickly absorbed by the plants and can inoculate your plants and protect them from disease.
I worked at a greenhouse for five years and I know a lot about pesticides. I’ve seen chemical burns, tumors, cancers, liver toxicity, sensitivities and other illnesses. It was enough to fully convince me that organic was the way to go. I’ve found that by gardening organically and using good cultural practices I’ve greatly reduced pest issues. When nature is in balance it thrives! That being said, we all run into problems now and then. If that happens, first ask yourself, why might this plant be unhealthy? Is it planted too closely to those surrounding it without air circulation? Aphids are often attracted when this happens. The solution, thin your plants and try spraying with a homemade garlic spray. There’s loads of natural recipes on line, just ask Google or Siri. When we choose toxic chemicals, we take the chance that they may only kill our beneficial insects, sicken our wild life and ourselves, and also may runoff into our water systems and create more havoc than we already have.
The most widely used herbicide globally is Roundup. For years it was touted as being very safe but recent studies have found that glyphosate, the active ingredient, is everywhere in the food chain, including our bodies. It has created a lot of havoc in the environment. According to scientist and glyphosate expert Stephanie Seneff, blue green algae or cyanobacteria metabolize glyphosate and cause it to grow into huge concentrations. The blue green algae convert nitrogen from the air into nitrates and cause an excess of nitrates in the water. Add nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers to this from runoff and that provides the essential nutrients for the red algae, Karenia brevis, to thrive and cause a worse outbreak of Red Tide. Instead of using Round Up, weed by hand or suppress weeds by heavily mulching, using cover crops, solarizing with heavy plastic, and pour boiling water onto the weeds. You can also try this remedy to spray on weeds: 1 gal of white vinegar, 1 cup table salt, and 1 tbsp. liquid dish detergent.
In addition, if you want to get more involved there are a couple local groups on Facebook you can join: “Turn the Tide Florida” which is an advocacy group whose purpose is to “protect and love our environment through awareness, science and education.” Another is “Hands Along the Water” which has many local groups across Florida. Find the one closest to you. They both have signs, decals, or T-shirts that you can purchase to “UP” the awareness around you.
These are just a few of the things we can all do, but the list is endless. Be an informed citizen, educate your neighbors, spread the word, We Can Make A Difference and we owe it to our children to leave this earth a better place.
Linda is an herbalist and a landscape designer. She and her husband Greg have transformed their Englewood yard using Permaculture techniques. They offer consultations, design services, and free monthly tours through their business: Love Your Yard. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, 207-449-9012 or visit https://weloveyouryard.wixsite.com/swfl.