University of Minnesota Extension
Menu Menu

Extension > Garden > Master Gardener > Over the Backyard Fence | News from the Master Gardener director > Archives > July 2011 Archives

July 2011 Archives

Question from a UMP1140998.JPGN Extension Master Gardener : I've been working with a community garden group in Southern MN since March.  They've carried their dreams and plans forward and have created working garden plots this year. I visited the garden site a couple of weeks ago and noticed that the plots border (within about 10-20 feet) a farm field--corn in it this year.  I asked one of the garden coordinators if the farm had received a pest/herbicide application this year, and she said yes.  As I recall, the application had been done by plane.  I don't recall the specific timing (in relation to garden planting/emergence). Because of the very close proximity of garden to active field, I encouraged the coordinator to keep in touch with the farmer to ask that great care be used in the future to protect the garden plants--in terms of timing of application, wind direction, notification of garden group, etc.

Before I communicate again with the garden group on the matter, I'm wondering if you have additional information for me to share and/or research.

Answer from Dean Herzfeld, Ph.D., Coordinator - Pesticide Safety & Environmental Education for University of Minnesota Extension:
You are already doing the most important thing - contacting the farmer to have good, positive, constructive and open communications. Pre notification is not required under state law, but the farmer or aerial applicator might be willing to do so for the community garden.  Also, it is not legal for some one to make a pesticide application that results in drift or off site movement.  

For the Master Gardeners, let them know you are in communication with the neighboring farmer. Also let Master Gardeners know:
  • The neighboring land is private land and no one should enter it without the direct permission of the landowner. This is both a legal matter of trespass and a health matter (to avoid exposure to pesticides that may have been recently applied).
  • If people working in the garden see an aerial or ground applicator applying pesticide to the adjacent field they should take the common sense precautions of moving away from where the application is being made and taking all their items with them (tools, clothing, chairs, toys etc.). There is no set distance, but with aerial application it definitely is far more than 10 to 20 feet. If it is clear there is no drift, then they can return as soon as the application is completed.
You don't say if any pesticides are used in the community garden. Keep in mind there a growing number of organic pesticides and they, like all pesticides, must follow all state and federal pesticide laws. Care should be taken that pesticides used in the garden (organic or otherwise) do not drift or move off site into the farmer's field or other garden plots in the community garden.
Beta vulgaris Bright Lights 1998 AAS Swiss Chard stems1.JPG
Response from Master Gardener who asked the original question:
Thank you so much, Dean, for your insights and suggestions. I will share them with the garden group at the next meeting, and I will inquire as to the relationship between the adjacent farmer and the garden group as a whole.

In the ethics classes I teach, we discuss the relationship between law and ethics, and here you aptly note law-related aspects of this case.  For example, we might say that while pre-notification is not required, it might be morally encouraged, and maybe even morally required (i.e., expected), and not merely morally praiseworthy.  And when we talk about ethics, we discuss, among other things, a) the importance of justifying our actions/decisions publicly and b) the fact our goal in life seems to be to live well (individually & together).

There's no shortage of importance or complexity in community garden contexts--between an organization and neighboring farmers/landowners (and other relevant parties, including pesticide applicators, for example), and between community gardeners themselves, who may employ diverse agricultural practices, all in the context of laws and garden rules.  If we can trust that everyone else is doing his/her best regarding a and b above, it seems our chances of flourishing are strong (but not guaranteed).

There seems good reason to highlight/emphasize ethics-related matters & cases in MG education and Extension communication--not just ethics in the sense of a set of rules, but also in the sense of studying and promoting human flourishing.

Check out the interview and article featuring UMN Entomologist Jeff Hahn:
Japanese Beetles Cause Problems in the Twin Cities

Question:  What about the studies linking glyphosate to birth defects?  Do we not also have an obligation as MGs to let the public know about those? I know these studies refer to agricultural use of glyphosate, not home use. I am careful to recommend research-based information only when I'm talking with the public as a Master Gardener, but in my own yard I would never, ever use glyphosate and if someone asks me, I will be honest about that.
Here is an article:

Answer:  At the University of Minnesota, we appreciate Master Gardeners' efforts to remain objective when volunteering for the University of Minnesota. Use of any chemicals - organic or inorganic - in one's own garden is a personal choice. It's our job to help people make that decision by providing good research-based information and options.

You bring up a very good question and one that, on a broader scale, is important for MGs and homeowners alike to think about and understand. There is a great deal of information out there - some info that is good and applicable, and some not so good or needs more research and explanation. Some may appear scientifically based, but read closer, the reasoning is not well-founded.

From Michelle Grabowski, UMN Extension Plant Pathologist:

The MG asks a very good question. It's important to read any article very carefully. In general, the information in the article is NOT research based information, but rather the opinion of a researcher. The researcher does not name the pathogen he is describing, or even its category (virus, phytoplasma, etc.) which makes me wonder what he truly knows about it. Likewise, the statements he makes are not based on a comparison. e.g. plants with this organism have disease, plants without do not. The researcher also states 'the presence of the organism was confirmed in animals with fertility issues' and 'the organism was prolific in corn and soybean crops stricken by disease'. This is not a cause-and-affect statement. No doubt we could find the thousands of bacteria, dust mites, viruses, secondary fungi and many other microorganisms in these very same plants and animals. We are all microcosmos of life.

In addition, the researcher neglects to state that animals and plants without this organisms do not suffer from fertility problems or disease. His connection between this organism - the supposed cause of the problem - and Round Up is very weak. He states "Glyphosphate ...may have facilitated the growth of the pathogen or allowed it to cause greater harm."  This says Round Up is not actually causing diseases, birth defects etc, but IF this pathogen exists, IF it is present and IF Round up is used, than the effects might be worse than otherwise. Essentially, since we do not yet have any evidence that this organism exists and is a pathogen, the connection to Round Up is a leap.

Regarding Dr. Huber's relationship to the American Phytopathological Society, here is a statement from the APS president in response to the letter noted in the link. Please note: there is NO Published research data to support his claims."Dear Fellow APS Members:  Many of you may be aware of a recently released open letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack from Dr. Don Huber. Although Dr. Huber is a member of APS and is coordinating a meeting through APS on behalf of the USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System (NPDRS), Dr. Huber does not speak as a representative of APS or the NPDRS. We appreciate Dr. Huber bringing forth an issue that he believes is of concern, and look forward to the availability of the data appearing in appropriate peer-reviewed outlets to support his claims so that the breadth of the scientific community across plant, animal, and human health can fully understand his concerns".

From Dean Herzfeld, Coordinator for Pesticide Safety & Environmental Education:
I have been working with situations like this for many years and have been involved in projects designed to help guide us in answering such questions. There are significant ethical questions involved as well, ones that public health professionals have long dealt with and researched, in how education and outreach (especially by us in Extension who are not toxicologists, epidemiologists, and public health or medical professionals or researchers)  around health problems affect people in some of the most private areas of their lives and can effect health outcomes.

- One health effects study is not enough of a basis for policy change or changes in recommendations on behavior changes, no matter how passionately one feels about the matter.   Need to look at the study in context of the existing literature, the soundess of the study methods and limits of conclusions that can be drawn from the study. Most such epidemiological studies and other health studies, and even more so for the many theoretical studies, such as this one, are not designed to answer the question of linking policy and behavioral changes to better public health. There is a much more to this than can be covered here.

- Based on a 3-year study I was involved in here in MN and funded by BlueCross/Blueshield and Bush Foundation and conducted by cancer researches, epidemiologists, toxicologists and public health educators, we can avoid the endless rounds of arguments of one study vs another study vs different interpretations of a study by recommending Universal Precautions - a simple, straight forward short list of behaviors that should always be followed whenever handling or using ALL pesticides (any chemical for that matter) - organic, low toxic, natural etc. included. We know from the literature that people are less careful with such pesticides and so have a higher human exposure rate and higher rates of long term health problems. 

- If we were to offer policy or recommendations for behavior changes based on concern for health effects, outside of the existing public system put in place by our laws and regulations and our  public health institutions, then we can only do so if we partner with people who are experts and researchers in the specific area of concern  

And my final answer to questions like these from the public? If anyone has a concern about a particular product or are unwilling to follow label directions and other safety/environmental recommendations, then they should find some other way to resolve their pest problem.

In summary:
Use research-based information. If it is not clearly understood, ask for clarification from UMN extension educators and faculty. Avoid answering questions about public health and food safety. Refer people to the MN Dept. of Public Health and UMN Extension Food Safety.

If people have issues with using chemicals or a person refuses to follow the label, they should be guided to alternative methods for managing pests.

The label is the law.

Many thanks to the Master Gardener who asked the question and to Michelle and Dean for their responses. 
Blk swallow wort.jpgPosted on behalf of Carole Gernes, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District:

Black swallow-worth, a vining perennial that threatens native woodlands, savannas, grasslands, and forests, has been discovered on the U of M St. Paul Campus. 

Here is a informational flier from the Midwest Invasive Plant Network:

Please keep be on the lookout for this plant and report any findings to the RCCWMA or the Arrest the Pest Hotline: 651-201-6684

Question: A gardener sprayed Round Up under an 11 year-old crabapple tree to get rid of weeds and grass. Now the tree looks stressed. I remember being told it was OK to use Round Up in this way. Am I remembering correctly? Is Round Up the problem or something else?
Answer: Ohio State University researcher Dr. Hanna Mather has been researching the effects of glyphosate - the active ingredient in Round Up - on trees. Historically, glyphosate was not thought to cause damage to woody plants. Like MJ, I talked with my colleague, Kathy Zuzek, UMN extension educator in woody plants. According to Kathy, there are several things that could be happening here:

  • Glyphosate has been found to damage thin-barked / green-barked trees and younger trees. Also wounds in trees such as those from mowers or string trimmers, can absorb the chemical. The result has been splitting bark and tree stress.
  • Crabs sucker, and if the glyphosate was sprayed on the suckers - whether cut or uncut - it would be absorbed by the tree and this would result in stress.
  • Glyphosate is available now in pre-mixed formulas that vary in the surfactants - the surface-active substance that increasing its spreading and wetting properties - and concentrations. We don't know which formula concentration Carol's friend used, but Kathy would be interested in knowing.
  • Application of any chemical should be targeted and done on a calm day. Winds  - even a breeze - can cause drift and ultimately inadvertent damage.
It is also important to note that the chemical is not the problem here, but the way the chemical is applied and the lack of the applicator to follow the label. The label is the law. The Round Up Original label, found at indicates in bold letters right under "Complete directions for Use" that contact with the herbicide may result in "severe injury or destruction" to desirable plants and trees.

Other resources:
Glyphosate and the Health of Your Trees
Use Glyphosate with Caution
Weed Control in the Landscape: Choosing the Right Herbicide
Glyphosate Resistance

July 13, 2011 Issue

  • Feds Seeking Feedback on OMB Circular A-21
  • State Shutdown & Sponsored Projects
  • IMLS Funding Learning Labs in Librabries/Museums
  • Coop Agreement for NRC on nutrition & Aging Offered by AoA
  • NOAA Climate Program Office Opens FY12 Research Competitions
  • EPA Hosting Webinar on Water RFA
  • ARPA-E Supporting Energy Tech Conferences & Events
  • National Science Board Soliciting Input & Nominations
  • Recent CFANS Grant Awards
CFANS-Mside-201U copy.jpg

While I didn't get up as close as I wanted (and tried my best) to actually go into the People's Garden on the White House Grounds, I did get a picture. I was impressed to note the First Family even keeps a few bees (see the light-colored rectangle by the tree in the center of the picture).


P1140001.JPGI just returned from a trip to the East Coast over the 4th of July holiday. My husband Karl and I were heading there for a family event, and extended our trip a few days to include a few days in Washington DC and in Valley Forge, PA. We took a day to visit the famous Longwood Gardens - it was fantastic! I heighly recommend anyone with any interest in gardens, plants, horticulture, history and landscape design take the time to make the trip. My favorite part was the Conservatory and especially the orchids and water lily gardens. I was also impressed by the fact that Pierre Du Pont who we have to thank for this jewel of aP1140045.JPG public garden liked to combine horticulture with music - another past time of mine as some of you know. When you have horticulture and music, what else do you need???

To see my pictures of Longwood Gardens, visit my Flickr account.
Glasses.pngI was delighted to be selected for the CFANS Alumni Spotlight. Fun - and a great opportunity to plug the Master Gardener Program and our Department. Read more here .... 
  • © 2014 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy