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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:

 

 

Cathy Ramsdell Interview

Protecting the Bay from Pesticides

Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell served for nearly a year on a task force to help the city develop the ordinance.

We are delighted to share that in January 2018, the City of Portland passed one of the strongest ordinances in the state to restrict pesticide use.

Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell served for nearly a year on a task force to help the city develop the ordinance. She often found herself a fulcrum of the group, reminding everyone of their common purpose to protect Casco Bay. The ordinance is similar to one that South Portland passed in 2016, also thanks in part to Friends of Casco Bay’s advocacy. While state and federal authorities have been slow to protect our waters from these toxic chemicals, we are heartened to see local communities take action.

Why restricting pesticide use is important for the health of the Bay: We have long been concerned about the possible impacts of lawn chemicals—pesticides and fertilizers—on the environmental health of Casco Bay. Our monitoring efforts revealed that the lawn chemicals we are putting on yards can end up in the Bay. Between 2001 and 2009, we collected rain water flowing into the Bay and analyzed the samples for a suite of pesticides. Lab results identified 9 different pesticides in 14 locations all around the Bay. Pesticides do not belong in the Bay, as they have the potential to harm lobsters, fish, and vital habitat.

 

Cathy L. Ramsdell, CPA, CGMA, Executive Director

Growing green lawns in Portland that keep Casco Bay blue

Cathy L. Ramsdell, CPA, CGMA, Executive DirectorAfter serving for 8 months on Portland’s Pesticide Task Force, Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell is hopeful that Maine’s largest city ultimately will pass an ordinance to restrict pesticide use. Cathy testified on the issue a meeting of the City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee on June 21. You can read our testimony which lists the many reasons that Friends of Casco Bay supports the draft Pesticide Ordinance crafted by the Portland Pesticide and Fertilizer Task Force here.

The 12-member task force consisted of a diverse set of stakeholders, including concerned citizens, lawn care professionals, and scientists. While meetings were occasionally tension-filled, the task force came out in support of an ordinance that bans the use of pesticides, both synthetic and organic, on lawns, patios, and driveways, and within 75 feet of water. The draft ordinance would also have Portland form an advisory committee to develop data on pesticide use.

“The draft ordinance is a good start—it doesn’t solve every problem associated with pesticides, but it does takes a good bite out of the apple,” says Cathy.

Stormwater testing by Friends of Casco Bay found pesticides flowing into the Bay in more than a dozen locations. This led to our outreach effort: BayScaping. After nearly two decades of education to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, Maine homeowners still use a large amount of pesticides. That is why we became involved in “grassroots efforts” with local communities to restrict the use of lawn chemicals.

In task force meetings, Cathy saw her role as one of finding common ground between those who wanted outright prohibitions on all pesticide use and applicators who did not want any new restrictions.

“In times like these, it would be easy to be an obstructionist and stop any forward movement,” said Cathy. “For the task force to do its job, though, we had to find common ground. Everyone on the committee agreed that we need to keep these chemicals out of the Bay. The recommended ordinance is a compromise position based on the idea that aesthetic pesticide use to make our lawns look pretty is not the best use of these toxic chemicals, given the risk to our health and the health of the Bay.”

The City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee now takes up the draft ordinance. The committee will discuss the issue at a workshop on June 26 at 5:30 at City Hall.

You can see the draft ordinance here: https://cascobay.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Pesticide-and-Fertilizer-TF-Report-_-Ordinance.1.pdf

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.

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.