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Child picking an apple

Nature is like a good garlic aioli. It's a beautiful, wonderful thing. But that doesn't mean we want it everywhere and on everything. Sometimes we need to keep the wilderness at arm's length and hang a bit of civility on what is usually a rather insistent web of life. The question is how to proceed without tearing its strands to pieces.

I'm continually amazed by nature's stubborn refusal to play nice and stay politely out of the few places where I don't want it. But it seems there are always spiders in the corners and weeds in the garden. I've caught snakes in the kitchen and even pulled creeping vines off our foundation walls—in the basement.

So I understand the urge for pesticides. They're an easy route to creating an urbane oasis from unruly forest, field, and bramble. And I'd spray all day if that was all they did. But pesticides don't just zap their targets -- and they don't stop killing once they do. They don't even stay where we put them. Just ask the DuPont Company, which recently learned these lessons the hard way.

It introduced an herbicide called Imprelis in late 2010. What was supposed to be a relatively benign weed killer turned out to be a bit much for nearby trees. Now DuPont finds itself in the tree replacement business, and the product itself has been banned.

Call it a cautionary tale about the law of unintended consequences when the consequences are chemical in origin. But that leaves pesky nature still meddling in our affairs. So what can we do instead?

First, choose to be tolerant. A few dandelions on the lawn or some spider webs under the eaves aren't going to hurt anyone. We simply don't need perfect yards or insect-less homes. Trying to achieve such things is ultimately a losing battle, and any temporary victories we might achieve are hardly worth pesticides' dangerously toxic costs.

Second, know what you're up against. Is that crabgrass by the patio or something else? Are those carpenter ants on the counter or sugar ants? Every pest is different and so are the pesticide-free methods used to boot them.

Once you know what you've got, the rest is relatively straightforward. Here's a brief guide to locating the specific pesticide-free know-how you'll need:

  • Focused on insects and other animal interlopers, the Pesticide Action Network offers a helpful page of pest-by-pest resources to help resolve your issues.
  • You'll find strategies for banishing additional kinds of pests at Beyond Pesticides, which also offers dozens of useful how-to factsheets filled with pest control wisdom.
  • When it comes to pest and weed control out in the yard, the National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns offers a fairly exhaustive set of links to detailed solutions and advice.
  • If you can't find what you're looking for there, head over to SafeLawns.org for everything from an organic lawn manual and an eco-friendly yard product guide to how-to videos and a Q&A forum with experts on non-toxic lawn care.
  • Greenscapes is another great resource blooming with information on creating and maintaining a safe and healthy lawn.
  • Finally, the Northwest Coalition for Pesticide Alternatives has two very generous pages of factsheets, one on weeds and related outdoor issues and another on ways to safely remove invertebrate and mammalian pests alike.

Try 'em and you'll see: We just need a spritz or two of common sense and a squirt of the Earth's own remedies to stop whatever's bugging us.

Geoff the Inkslinger and his Dog

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!