Stillwater News Press


February 15, 2014

In the Garden 02-16-14

Clean water, air sustain life

When I consider the foundation of life, plant or animal, physical or spiritual, I keep coming up with the basic elements air, water and food.

Plants and people need clean air, clean water and nourishing food. Life can be sustained for a time with tainted water, polluted air and mere caloric intake, but under these conditions health is compromised.

If the quality of these basic elements is compromised, optimal health and ultimately fruit, flower or harvest will also be lacking.

Little can be done to improve air quality in an outdoor garden. Luckily, we do not live in a city that experiences air pollution alerts, though many cities add this to their local weather reports in the same way ours reports on mold and pollen in the air. We don’t really consider pollen a pollutant because it comes from a natural source, but many parts of the country prohibit or restrict the planting of certain trees because of the amount of pollen they produce. If it blocks our sinuses and airways, it can block the stomata — plant “pores” that open and close to transfer air and water to and from the plant.

Water is another life giving element that we have little control over. Most farmers and many gardeners rely on rainfall alone to irrigate their plantings.

Savvy homeowners may collect rainwater from a roof to supplement or supply their garden’s water. With the rising cost and restrictive use of municipalities’ water this will soon become more commonplace. Can we contribute to our water’s cleanliness? I believe we can by properly disposing of chemical, paint and other toxic household waste. We can also take the time to educate ourselves concerning the products we purchase and use in our landscapes. Resist believing sound bites used to market a product.

They are contrived to sell you on the product. Dig a little deeper, please.

Nutritious food is the last element to consider. I am reminded of a line in a recent article regarding a broken oil valve coating a neighborhood overnight with a layer of oil. It may have been an unforeseen accident, but after the company sent in a clean-up crew, the spokesperson stated something to the effect that a layer of oil acts as fertilizer to a lawn.

Really?! I may have been able to swallow a stretch that oil would act as a fungicide or pesticide, but fertilizer?

It’s like smoothing yogurt over a Twinkie to sell it as health food. We know people need fiber as well as vitamins and proteins; plants need organic matter, humus, not just soluble blue fertilizer.

LeeAnn Barton has worked with nurseries for more than 20 years. She digs in the dirt in Stillwater. Direct questions to her by emailing

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