Deke's Letters


In response to hearing that Deborah Mills weekly column in the Sunday Life section, below Martha Stewart's column was to be dropped, Deke wrote this letter:


February 1, 2002

Rick Welch, Editor Life Section


5250 Ralston Street

Ventura, CA 93003


Dear Mr. Welch;


Deborah Mills, Master Gardener, Ventura County, who writes a local gardening column for the Star Sunday Edition, provides information to your readers that they can use to reduce the need for chemical pesticides. Weeds, insects and disease organisms become pests when they increase in density to cause damage. Deborah's column emphasizes the basic gardening techniques that lead your readers to learn how to reduce the need for the poisons that the Federal Government has mandated to be reduced or eliminated through their advocacy for biologically based integrated pest management (IPM) programs.


Chemical pesticides no longer provide the benefits that they once did. Excessive reliance on them creates an addiction to use more and more. "More than 500 insect pests, 270 weed species and 150 plant diseases are now resistant to one or more pesticides, making these pests more difficult to control." They eliminate beneficial organisms that provide the natural biological control that Deborah champions ; ecologically based management practices, including providing refuges for beneficial organisms that suppress pests before they can cause damage.


Not only do the pesticides fail in their pest control but the "US Geological Survey reported in 1999 that more than 90 % of water and fish samples from streams and 50 % of all sampled wells contained one or more pesticides." Exposure to pesticides can cause a range of ill effects in humans from headaches, fatigue, and nausea to more serious effects of cancer and neurological disorders. "In 1999, EPA estimated that nationwide there were at least 10,000 to 20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide illnesses and injuries per year in farm work." I can't imagine the number of pesticide accidents that occur among the hundreds of thousands of gardeners in the nation, since most of these accidents go unreported.


My experience with ecologically based pest management in community gardens extends back to the 1980s when I consulted as an entomologist specializing in biological control at meetings of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Farms and Gardens. The decision of this Board of Directors to endorse biologically based farming and biological pest control at that time was made because of the high cost of liability insurance where conventional chemical poisons were endorsed. Mulching, composting and safe alternative control processes were made the norm; those advocated by Deborah


My visits to Deborah's garden and reading her columns confirm the success of the similar choices that she has taken. It is extremely important that natural biological control is kept alive and well in your reader's gardens. The'case observations' among the individual garden plots and the apparent satisfaction expressed by the gardeners that I have met suggest, if not confirm, this paradigm as a scientific finding.


The keys to success of biological gardening are based upon biodiversity of plants and the organisms associated with the whole plant from roots to above ground plant parts. The old adage expressed by organic farmers - "feed the microorganisms and they will feed your plants"- is well documented by modern day soil ecologists. The science that supports the gardening practices of ecologically based gardening is no longer in question. The ways and means to make the transition from the farm petro-chemical based fertilizers and pesticides to natural carbon and nitrogen cycles are based on humus and humic acid extracts created by decomposition of organic matter in the soil food web. Compost and compost teas that are made aerobically and when used right away offer a convenient, safe, and economical way for augmenting the soil food web. Deborah teaches these truths!


GAO August 2001 report : The United States General Accounting Office's Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Research, Nutrition, and General Legislation, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, U.S, Senate from which I have quoted gives data on hazards of overuse of pesticides and accuses the USDA and the EPA of failure to comply with the stated goals of the 1992 IPM initiative.


Deborah's column must continue in your Life section in the Sunday Star for you to help her do her part in reducing the risks of pesticides to human health and the environment. Gardners of Ventura County depend upon this column for information about alternative strategies of gardening that reduce the need for using toxic poisons.


Sincerely yours,

Everett J. Dietrick,

Board Certified Entomologist