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Tips on having a healthy yard and garden Special To The Star-news | Sat, Oct 23 2010 12:00 PM

Pesticides are used to prevent, destroy, or deter pests and include insecticides (insects), rodenticides (rodents), herbicides (plants), and many others. These products are designed to harm or kill their targeted organism and can also be lethal to non-targeted organisms. In the U.S., about 110,000 pesticide poisonings are reported by poison control centers each year and about 23,000 people visit the emergency room for the same reason. The heavy use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, has also led to poisoned or nutrient deficient soils, polluted lakes, streams, and oceans as well.

Because of their hazardous risk to human health and the environment, it is important to reduce or eliminate the use of these poisons. There are many less toxic yard care alternatives that can be used to replace potentially unsafe pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

Less toxic yard care starts with the often-overlooked soil. Healthy soils allow water to quickly soak in and reduce runoff, erosion, sedimentation, and flooding. Good soil helps to clean, store, and recharge groundwater supplies. Soils full of organic matter contain many nutrients and beneficial organisms, which promote a stronger, healthier, pest-resistant plant.

The best way to improve your soil's health is to add compost to it. The compost will help to:

* Suppress plant pests and diseases.

* Promote soil fertility and stimulate the development of a healthy root system.

¥ Improve water-holding capacity of sandy soils, thus reducing water loss and leaching.

* Increase moisture infiltration and permeability of heavy clay soils, thus reducing erosion and runoff.

Composting is the process in which organic material has been broken down by microorganisms into nutrient rich humus (the organic compound of soil). You can compost in your backyard! A typical household can reuse an average of 500 pounds of waste each year by backyard composting. It is one of the easiest ways to recycle yard waste and kitchen scraps into a top-quality soil amendment.

The city of Chula Vista has a residential backyard-composting program that includes workshops, Master Composter training courses, and reduced cost compost bins ($35 for residents only). Workshops are held on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Chula Vista Nature Center. The next Master Composter training course is scheduled for spring of 2011. For further information on our composting programs or to sign up for a workshop or training course, call 397-6062.

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