Americans spend a huge amount of money on their lawns — as much as $29 billion per year. About 40,000 tons of pesticides and herbicides are used annually on our lawns for control of “weeds” like dandelion and clover. These chemicals are disastrous not only for the environment and wildlife (they kill over seven million birds yearly, and honey bee collapse disorder has been linked to pesticide use), but also pose risks to pets and children. Study after study links the use of pesticides and herbicides to a host of cancers, nervous system disorders and other illnesses.
So what to do with our lawns? One idea is to just let those “weeds” grow. Dandelion flowers feed bees, and the leaves are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The leaves, which are best harvested in the spring when the shoots are young and tender, have a spicy quality similar to arugula and are great in salads. Clover flowers also attract and feed bees, and clover attracts parasitoid wasps (tiny and harmless to humans), which feed on aphids, scales and whiteflies, thus helping to control insect pests in your garden. (Note: If you have young children, you may worry about bee stings. Most bees will not sting unless they are caught in clothing or stepped on. Make sure your children are wearing closed-toed shoes while walking on the lawn.)
Another idea is to dig up your lawn and plant native flowers and shrubs that will attract and feed birds and bees or, if you have enough space, a veggie garden.
With global warming wreaking havoc on our bird and bee populations, they can use all the help they can get. And there’s nothing quite like freshly picked homegrown veggies!