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BayScaping Takes Root in the Community

 

We first met Jesse O’Brien of Down East Turf Farms when South Portland was considering passing an ordinance to limit the use of pesticides. Jesse is a practicing agronomist, who says, “If you want to get good turf, you need to start with good soil.”

Initially, Jesse expressed concern about how businesses would be able to meet (some) customers’ demands for perfect lawns or athletic fields if pesticides were banned.

Jesse attended innumerable public meetings. We were at those meetings as well, sharing our data on pesticides in stormwater and our BayScaping outreach, to encourage town officials to limit the use of lawn chemicals. Jesse served for nine months on Portland’s Pesticides and Fertilizers Task Force, alongside Friends of Casco Bay Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell. They found agreement in the philosophy, “Don’t treat your soil like dirt!”

In January 2018, Portland passed a ban on synthetic pesticides similar to one adopted by neighboring South Portland in 2016. The City of Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance went into effect for city property on July 1, 2018, and will extend to private property on January 1, 2019.

Although Jesse worries about the unintended consequences of the ordinances, “We are in agreement that there is an overuse and misuse of lawn chemicals. I want to focus on culture practices that reduce the need for inputs.”

He has put those words into action. Today, Jesse serves on South Portland’s seven-member Pest Management Advisory Committee. In September, he recruited a dozen yard care professionals to demonstrate best practices for organic lawn care at South Portland’s Bug Light Park—teaching about overseeding, watering, aeration, soil testing, and dealing with pests. We applaud Jesse and other landscapers for helping our communities grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue.

Autumn BayScaping tips you can take this fall that will pay off next spring:
Let your soil breathe. Aeration allows water and nutrients to reach the grass’s roots. Seeding and composting on top of freshly-aerated soil can be done until the end of the growing season. Take away leaves soon after they fall.
Lower lawn mower height. Gradually reduce your mowing height to 2 to 2.5 inches before the first frost to help prevent snow mold.

Casco Bay begins in your backyard

Friends of Casco Bay has been a strong advocate for municipal ordinances to reduce the use of lawn care chemicals.

As the grass turns green, we are celebrating a series of milestones in our effort to protect the Bay from pesticides and fertilizers:

  • The City of South Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance goes into effect for private properties on May 1, 2018. As a resource for its residents, the City of South Portland launched an informative website and education plan on how to grow a healthy yard–even if you do not live in South Portland, you may find this resource useful: http://www.southportland.org/departments/sustainability-office/grow-healthy-south-portland/

  • The City of Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance goes into effect on July 1, 2018 for city property and January 1, 2019 for private property.

  • With the help of Friends like you, we helped defeat bad bill in the state legislature that would have taken away the power of towns to pass ordinances to restrict the use of pesticides.

  • The Town of Falmouth is in the process of developing a pesticide and fertilizer ordinance.

We applaud the steps these communities are taking in order to protect public health and the health of the Bay! With the return of spring, be sure to use the BayScaping tips above to help grow green yards that keep Casco Bay blue. You can read more about BayScaping here.

Fireside Gardening: Winter BayScaping Tips

 

OK, there’s snow on the ground where you really want to be digging in the garden.

Instead, you can spend those carefree hours creating a beautiful BayScape in your mind!

You can incorporate ecological lawn care strategies into planning a new look for your yard, one that will require less maintenance and less expense than the outdated, overrated, “perfect” lawn of old.

 

Reflect on what you have now and design your ideal yard

Ask yourself, “What would I like my yard to do for me?” Are there areas of your lawn that demand more attention, maintenance, or chemicals than you would like? Are there views from inside your home that you could enhance by planting different vegetation?

Sketch a map of your yard and its features, preferably on graph paper. Include:

  • Buildings, driveway, walkways, and borders: neighboring yards, brook, street
  • Garden beds, water gardens, lawns, trees, and shrubs
  • Current uses, such as, sitting areas, playscapes, sports areas, gardening work area, or vistas for visual enjoyment

Highlight with yellow marker those areas of your lawn where you have turf challenges: areas that receive little sunlight, experience heavy foot traffic, or are poorly drained. Perhaps you should think of alternatives to grass such as patios of permeable paving stones or ground cover such as bunchberry, partridgeberry, or Canada mayflower. In wet areas, consider placing rain barrels, rain gardens, or bushes that can help prevent runoff.

Now create another map that has all the elements that you would like to have in your yard.

 

Ask the experts

Bring your ideal yard map to a nursery or garden supply store to learn more about native plants, low maintenance grass seed mixes, and ecological lawn care. The staff will love the company, and they’ll have more time to brainstorm with you. You will appreciate seeing some lush greenery.

 

Don’t pile snow on the lawn

This promotes snow mold disease in the grass.

 

DO put a BayScaper sign in your yard

Come in and pick up a free sign that announces to your neighbors that a green yard and a blue Bay will be the “in” colors for Spring! Request a BayScaper informational packet, a yard sign, or a presentation for a neighborhood association or garden club within the coastal Casco Bay area. Reach us at Friends of Casco Bay, 43 Slocum Drive, South Portland, keeper [at] cascobay [dot] org, or (207) 799-8574.

 

Download our BayScaping documents:

 

 

Friends of Casco Bay's BayScaper Sign

Get your BayScaper Sign!

Friends of Casco Bay's BayScaper Sign
Pick up a BayScaper sign and you can be ready for the growing season! We have these signs at our office, 43 Slocum Drive in South Portland.

Stop by our office on the campus of Southern Maine Community College, South Portland, and get a yard sign (like the one above), soil test kit, and information on how to have a green lawn and a blue Bay.
Contact keeper [at] cascobay [dot] org or call (207) 799-8574 for more details.

Spring BayScaping Tips:

Weed: It’s easier to pull weeds by hand in the Spring.
Overseed: Seed bare spots with perennial ryegrass before weeds take over.
Sharpen blades of the lawn mower: A sharper cut prevents tearing, which can open the grass to fungal infection.

Pesticide Purchases Graph

A New Tactic for Attacking Lawn Chemicals

Pesticide Purchases Graph
Education alone has not succeeded in significantly reducing the amount of pesticides intended for home use.

In 1998, then Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne was featured in a newspaper ad with the message, “Weed‘n’feed isn’t fish food.”

This was the precursor to BayScaping, an outreach campaign that Friends of Casco Bay has conducted since 2000, to encourage homeowners to reduce their use of pesticides and fertilizers. We have partnered with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control on ads, publications, workshops, and Flower Show exhibits, to show homeowners how—and why—to grow lawns without using chemicals that harm our coastal waters. Yet, after nearly two decades of outreach, it is evident that education alone has not significantly reduced the amount of pesticides and fertilizers purchased for Maine lawns.

Citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about the impacts of pesticides and weed-and feed products (a mix of pesticides and fertilizers) on children, pets, pollinators, and the rest of us. Residents are taking matters into their own hands to ban lawn chemicals.

In 2015, Ogunquit became the first town in Maine to enact an ordinance banning the use of outdoor pesticides on both public and private land. South Portland is poised to do the same. South Portland’s approach focuses on education—for consumers, retailers, and town employees—before it phases in a prohibition on pesticide use on public properties, including athletic fields. A ban on pesticide use on private property will follow a year later. In a nod to Friends of Casco Bay’s concerns about nitrogen pollution in Casco Bay, the committee that drafted the South Portland ordinance has stated that an ordinance on fertilizers will be enacted separately.

At the other end of Casco Bay, the coastal town of Harpswell passed a pesticide ordinance on March 12th. Its ordinance clearly seeks to protect the fishing community, where lobstering is a way of life.

According to Mary Ann Nahf, Chair of Harpswell’s Conservation Commission, “The ordinance bans neonictinoids and insect growth regulators because of their toxicity to pollinators and lobsters. To further protect marine createures, it prohibits spraying of any pesticide or fertilizer within 25 feet of the shoreline.”

These ordinances may serve as models for Portland and other municipalities. Could a trend in community bans portend a downward turn in the use of pesticides and fertilizers? Time will tell.

We’d love to share more about our work with you

Invite us to give a presentation to your community

Contact Mary Cerullo: mcerullo [at] cascobay [dot] org or (207) 799-8574. Topics include:

The Health of Casco Bay: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Friends of Casco Bay works year-round on threats to clean water, such as sewage overflows, oil spills, and ocean acidification, as well as green slime, red tides, and dead zones triggered by nitrogen pollution from fertilizers and stormwater runoff. Get an update on the health of our coastal waters and learn how Casco Bay is changing.

 

Save the Steamers! How coastal acidification is killing our clams

Why are shellfish disappearing in parts of Casco Bay where they were once plentiful? Some clam flats are becoming more acidic, clammers can no longer find clams in traditional harvesting areas, and aquaculturists are seeing seed clams dissolve. What’s up with that?

 

Casco Bay Begins in Your Backyard: How to have a green yard and a blue bay

After finding pesticides and fertilizers flowing into the Bay, Friends of Casco Bay launched BayScaping, a lawn care program that doesn’t rely on toxic chemicals. Find out why our ocean-based organization is working with neighboring communities to limit or stop their use of pesticides and fertilizers on land.

 

Fighting Plastic Pollution

Most of are aware that plastic products can harm seabirds, dolphins, whales, and sea turtles, when they mistake plastic bags for food or become entangled in fishing gear. Now people are learning that the smallest form of plastics—microbeads—are having an unexpected impact. Microbeads can be found in shaving cream, facial scrubs, and cosmetics. They are so tiny that when they wash down the drain, they can go right through our wastewater treatment plants and into streams and rivers, and end up in our coastal waters. Microbeads absorb toxic chemicals and are ingested by shellfish, causing a health risk to humans. What can be done to stop plastic pollution? Lots!

 

Nabbing Nitrogen: Help Us Test the Health of the Bay

If you’d like to be a citizen scientist for a day, join us for an hour on the morning of Sunday, July 10, 2016. We plan to mobilize volunteers to help us learn more about nitrogen levels in Casco Bay. Volunteers will collect water samples at sites around Portland Harbor and bring them to designated collection sites to be sent to a lab for analysis. We will use this day of action—and the results—to educate people about Nitrogen Pollution, help the Maine Department of Environmental Protection collect valuable data, and shine the public spotlight on an issue too few understand. Find out how you can help!

 

Cover photo by: Dennis Welsh

Five things you need to know to be a great Friend to Casco Bay

 

1.) Did you know that what we put on our lawns is showing up in Casco Bay?

In the summer of 2005, Mike Doan, Research Associate at Friends of Casco Bay, opened an envelope and gasped.  Before him appeared a table of laboratory numbers, an analysis of a sample of stormwater Mike had collected a month earlier, from the end of a pipe in Back Cove.  The readings for 2,4-D, a primary component in weed and feed products, were at the highest levels he’d seen yet in stormwater samples.  This herbicide has been classified by the World Health Organization as a possible carcinogen.

The sampling was part of our work in BayScaping, our effort to document that lawn chemicals are going into Casco Bay and to educate residents about strategies for achieving a chem-free lawn. Between 2001 and 2009, we collected rain water flowing into the Bay and analyzed the samples for a suite of pesticides. Lab results identified 7 different pesticides in 13 locations all around the Bay.

Now several municipalities are considering ordinances to restrict or ban pesticides and fertilizers. We are sharing our data and point out that fertilizers are of equal concern.

 

2.) Do you know why it shucks to be a clam?

When it rains, nitrogen-laden fertilizers are swept into Maine’s nearshore waters. This nitrogen pollution triggers algae blooms that release carbon dioxide when they die and decay. In seawater, carbon dioxide forms an acid. Acidification changes the chemistry of the water, inhibits shell growth in clams, mussels, oysters and other marine organisms, and is suspected as a cause of reproductive disorders in some fish.

We are encouraging communities to consider banning high-nitrogen fertilizers and weed and feed products, which contain both pesticides and fertilizers. Limiting or eliminating the use of fertilizers locally will lower the amount of nitrogen coming in to Casco Bay; this can help slow the devastating effects acidification is having on our marine resources. We are also working on several other projects to reduce nitrogen pollution from sewage discharges and stormwater runoff.

 

3.) Did you know that discarded hypodermic needles are regularly found on our beaches and marshes?

“Yipes! Here’s another needle!” That is a shout we frequently hear at our beach cleanups. Citizen Stewards Coordinator Peter Milholland rushes over, warning the volunteers not to pick up the discarded hypodermic needles. He uses rubber gloves and tongs to dislodge the needles from the sand or salt marsh. He places them a Sharps disposal kit—basically a plastic box that can hold medical waste—to drop off later at a safe disposal site.

Even though insulin users may use sharps several times a day, the only officially recommended way that residents can dispose of them is to place them in a rigid container, such as a liquid laundry soap container, and toss them in the garbage. When these containers end up in a landfill, they may break open and spill their contents. Many users simply flush them down the toilet. When it rains, overflows of the sewage treatment system can wash the needles into the Bay.

If you should find a sharp, do NOT pick up it up. Notify local police to come pick it up. Should you be pricked by a needle, call the Maine Center for Disease Control at 1-800-821-5821.

 

4.) Did you know that microbeads are a megaproblem?

Those tiny granules in acne scrubs, moisturizing cleansers, whitening toothpastes, and wrinkle creams wash down the drain and may end up in our waterways. Researchers have found that ocean filter feeders such as mussels and oysters ingest these tiny pellets, passing them all the way up the food chain to humans. Last spring, Friends of Casco Bay, along with concerned citizens, other environmental and health organizations, and even industry representatives, successfully persuaded the Maine Legislature to pass a state law to phase out microbeads.

President Obama recently signed into law a federal ban on microbeads! Emma Halas-O’Connor of the Environmental Health Strategy Center observed, “Congress never could have passed this ban had it not been for individual states passing their own legislation, which put tremendous pressure on the industry to change, and creating the right conditions for a national ban.”

 

5.) Did you know that populations of blue mussels in Casco Bay are hanging by a thread?

Blue mussels, besides being a delicious and economical seafood for humans, provide a rich habitat for other bottom dwellers. Dense mussel beds also can dampen wave action and buffer the shorefront against storm surges.

Friends of Casco Bay Board member Ann Thayer wanted to verify anecdotal accounts that mussel beds, once so common in Casco Bay, have all but disappeared. Ann offered to head up a volunteer effort to survey the Bay. Over the past two summers, she and her team covered more than 25 areas between Portland and Harpswell. They discovered juvenile mussels on mooring ropes, wharf pilings, and floating docks.  They found far fewer thriving on the ocean floor.

Friends of Casco Bay's BayScaper Sign

Putting Your Lawn to Bed: Autumn BayScaping Tips

Following these easy steps will ensure you have a healthy lawn without using toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

  • Friends of Casco Bay's BayScaper Sign
    Pick up a BayScaper sign and you can be ready for the growing season! We have these signs at our office, 43 Slocum Drive in South Portland.

    Lower lawn mower height: Your normal grass height of 3½ to 4 inches needs to be reduced gradually to 1½ to 2 inches. Reduce the height by ½-inch every two weeks. Lowering grass height takes some of the effort out of leaf raking and makes the grass more resistant to snow mold disease.

  • Rake leaves, leave grass clippings: Most lawns over ten years old do not need fertilizers, if you leave the clippings. The clippings provide a source of slow-release nitrogen and adequate phosphorus for your lawn. However, once the leaves fall, mulch or rake leaves from the lawn as soon as possible.
  • Aerate: Aeration involves perforating the soil with small holes so that air, water, and nutrients can penetrate the grass roots. Ask at your garden center or hardware store about renting an aerator or hiring a service.
  • Overseed: Seeding over freshly-aerated turf is feasible right up to the end of the growing season. Just be sure to water thoroughly.
BayScaper Sign in Garden

Lawn Enforcement

BayScaper Sign in Garden
If you use lawn care practices that eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers, please come by our office on the Southern Maine Community College Campus to get our new BayScaper sign.

Last week we received an email from a summer resident on Little Diamond Island who asked, “Is there any information Friends of Casco Bay can provide that I could share with islanders about the potential harm from using the weed killer Round Up?” This may seem like strange question to ask a marine conservation organization. But for the past 15 years we have been advocating for lawn care practices that reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers.

Our water quality sampling shows that heavy rains can flush pesticides into Casco Bay. Even more concerning is the impact of nitrogen – from fertilizers, as well as from sewage and air pollution. Too much nitrogen leads to more acidic water, lower oxygen levels, and slime-covered coves, all threats to marine life such as clams and mussels. Weed and feed products, some of the most widely-used lawn chemicals, are a combination of pesticides (“weed”) and fertilizers (“feed”).

Several communities are considering a range of actions to get residents to reduce their use of lawn chemicals. What is the best approach?  Education? Enforcement? Or both?

Ogunquit was the first town in the nation where voters banned pesticides on private property, as well as public. Other communities are considering similar restraints. Fortunately for Maine, we are one of nine states and the District of Columbia that still allows municipal voters to decide this issue. Elsewhere, chemical company lobbyists have convinced legislatures to take away local control.

In South Portland, a citizens’ group called Bees, Bays, and Backyards has lobbied for an ordinance to ban the use of pesticides. On July 13, City Manager Jim Gailey presented South Portland City Councilors with several examples of pesticide ordinances to solicit feedback. More than 70 concerned citizens spoke both for and against strict regulations.

Friends’ Associate Director Mary Cerullo urged the City Council to broaden the ordinance to include restricting the use of another lawn chemical – fertilizer. After nearly three hours of discussion, the City Council directed City Staff to draft language that would restrict pesticides on both public property and private residences. A draft ordinance will be presented in November.

The Town of Harpswell, at the other end of Casco Bay, is comprised of narrow peninsulas with over 200 miles of coastline. Every part of town is close to the water. Rather than implementing an outright ban on pesticides, in 2004, the town banned Insect Growth Regulators (diflubenzuron and tebufenozide), insecticides that adversely affect aquatic invertebrates, especially molting lobsters and crabs. This ban was in response to spraying to eradicate the browntail moth caterpillar, whose toxic hairs can cause blistery rashes and respiratory distress.

In the summer, the focus is on “green garden practices” such as BayScaping, which teaches natural yard care practices that don’t rely on the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They are educating residents about Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and their right to be notified before a pesticide is applied in the neighborhood.

Whatever approach communities choose, it is part of a trend to find local solutions to global challenges.

FOCB bayscaper_print

Lawns Are to Blame for Much of the Nitrogen and Toxic Chemicals in the Bay

Joe’s footprints in green slime at a cove in Falmouth

Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne received a panicked call from a member of Friends of Casco Bay who lived on a cove in Falmouth. He asked Joe to discover the polluter whose actions had turned his scenic inlet bright green. When Joe walked out onto the flat to investigate, his boots sank four inches into green slime. He observed that the member had recently installed a culvert under the driveway that channelled rainwater runoff directly into the cove. He turned to his worried friend and said, “You did this.” The culvert was collecting runoff from fertilized yards in the neighborhood, stimulating a lush growth of green algae across the entire cove.

Friends of Casco Bay’s stormwater monitoring reveals that this neighborhood is not the only one over-fertilizing the Bay. We have found nitrogen and lawn care pesticides in waters around Casco Bay.

Because our advocacy is grounded in science, we worked in conjunction with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control to collected water samples around Casco Bay. Chemicals we found are shown on this map.

When Friends of Casco Bay tested stormwater for pesticides in a South Portland waterfront neighborhood, we found Diazinon and 2,4D, a component of weed and feed products. This prompted further testing at every coastal community around Casco Bay. We detected more pesticides flowing into the Bay in stormwater. Our findings inspired our BayScaping program, which teaches residents how to reduce their use of lawn chemicals.

Pesticides and fertilizers can harm marine life, as well as children and pets. But the good news is there are simple ways you can grow a green lawn that keeps Casco Bay blue.

BayScaping will save you time, save you money, save your lawn, and save the Bay! Join your neighbors, and learn more at cascobay.org/bayscaping.

Read the next section of the report What Is Our Coastal Future?