By Jeff Gillman
208 pages, $12.95
Published by Timber Press
By Mary Gutierrez
title of The Truth About
Organic Gardening sounds
provocative, as if there is some conspiracy just waiting to be exposed. What is
revealed in The Truth
is a fact that all gardeners need to
know: just because it says “organic” on the label doesn’t mean it isn’t
author points out something that I’ve often thought. The term “organic” has
become politically and emotionally loaded. And if a pesticide is labeled
organic, some people assume it is harmless. Organic simply means that the
product is derived from a source in nature. In other words, it isn’t engineered
in a laboratory. An organic pesticide cannot be assumed to be harmless to human
or animal life. Or how would it kill bugs or fight disease? Perhaps a more
useful term would be a “natural” pesticide.
you are a gardener who goes totally natural or one who must have
picture-perfect (read: toxic) roses, there are choices to make when confronted
with a nutrient deficiency or disease.
The term pesticide refers to any product
used to treat pests be they insect, fungus or weed. While specific products are
categorized as insecticide, fungicide or herbicide, all are used to combat
pests that afflict plants.
book was born when Gillman became associate professor of horticultural sciences
at the University of Minnesota, and had to teach students about pesticide use.
His students had widely varying backgrounds: some had lots of experience using
synthetic pesticides and others were growers who didn’t use any pesticides. He
knew he’d be asked challenging questions from both sides, and he wanted to
answer from an informed perspective.
started out as a few weeks of research on pesticides turned into months, then
years. He hoped to find a simple answer to whether synthetic pesticides are
“good” or “bad.” His review of literature produced more questions than answers.
The result is The Truth About
Organic Gardening, which
parses the nuances of a multitude of gardening products and practices.
get good in Chapter 2, “Understanding Pesticides.” It’s short—just five
pages—but dense with information. Here, Gillman lays out his definitions and
discusses pesticide labels.
all-important label. The
label lists a product’s active ingredients (that kill the pest) and inactive
ingredients like those that help the product stick to leaves. The active
ingredient (or trade name) is important to know, rather than the brand name of
the product. Example: brand name Roundup,
trade name/active ingredient glyphosate.
also explains that the terms Caution,
Warning and Danger
on labels have very specific meanings. The word Caution
on a label means it is the least toxic (but not nontoxic); the word Warning means the product is of greater toxicity; and the word Danger on a label, accompanied by a skull and crossbones, is among
the most toxic available. According to Gillman, it is almost never necessary
for a gardener to use a product with Danger
on the label.
also explains the Environmental
Impact Quotient (EIQ) in
Chapter 2. If I’d learned nothing else from this book, learning about EIQs made
it worth reading. EIQs are a method of assessing a pesticide’s risk using three
criteria: its risk to farm workers (the person applying it); the risk to the
consumer of the sprayed product (the person eating the apple); and its risk to
the environment (the fish living downstream from the garden). Scores are
assigned to each of the criteria and the numbers are averaged, resulting in the
EIQ score. This score rates a product’s risk of causing harm to people and the
environment. The most toxic products have EIQs around 100, the least-toxic are
product’s EIQ isn’t written on its label. The best way to find out what the EIQ
of a pesticide is, is to type “environmental impact quotient” in the search
engine on your computer. Then look up the EIQ using its trade name.
3 begins the “meat” of the book: an analysis of everything from compost to
metaldehyde. Gillman even examines biological pesticides, like Bacillus thuringiensis, (Bt) and predatory insects; and
interestingly, practices like mulching to control weeds.
a given product—an example is Rotenone, Gillman writes a few paragraphs about
what it is used for, where it comes from, and any notable uses or risks. While
Rotenone is an extremely potent insecticide, Gillman says that because it is
organic, gardeners who buy it might not observe the handling precautions you
would associate with a synthetic pesticide. Rotenone is highly toxic to fish
and amphibians if it gets into the water supply, a serious risk if a gardener
is sloppy in their application.
concludes each product description with three points: the benefits of the
product, the drawbacks of the product, and “the bottom line”—do the risks
outweigh the benefits, or vice-versa? Continuing the discussion of Rotenone,
Gillman says this: Benefits—Rotenone is a potent insect poison. Drawbacks—This
compound is dangerous to beneficial insects and fish and is more toxic to
humans than most other pesticides, organic or synthetic. Bottom Line—Why would
any sane person use this pesticide?
the years, I’ve read various books and articles about pesticides and organic
gardening practices, but this is probably the most useful analysis of a wide
variety of products that I’ve read. I guarantee you’ll be fascinated to compare
various pesticides side-by-side to get a clear picture of their relative risk.
gardener needs learn about pesticides. The
Truth About Organic Gardening
simplifies this task by presenting good information in an easy-to-follow