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Compost – Hay – Residual Herbicides – Extension Office Advice – A Reader’s Experience

If you have to deal with residual herbicides — it’s obviously not pleasant.  I think there are still many folks who garden who don’t know about residual herbicides.  There are also those who do know —and just like to think it can’t happen to them.

To make matters worse — if you live in an area that a residual herbicide problem has not been reported to (and thus not encountered by) the local extension office — you can get some pretty bad advice from them especially if you are the first to report an incident.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re on the cutting edge just because they’re the extension office.

A reader from Florida took the time to write the details of her recent experience with residual herbicides and her extension office.  It’s a powerful example of how quickly something can take place.

It makes the point that all of us need to be on our guard and NEVER take ANYTHING for granted when we  buy straw, hay, compost, manure, or anything else that could possibly pollute and damage our gardens.  It’s easier to be vigilant beforehand than to go through the pain and inconvenience after the fact.

My reader writes: (any emphasis is mine to help make the point)

“I want to relate a little thing about my goats, their manure and my sandy soil as you will totally relate.

Goats (at least mine) are picky eaters contrary to what people think.  And if they don’t eat their long stem roughage they can get a rumen imbalance which can result in some health problems, like bloat and such.

Year before last we had a poor hay year in my area and my goats were pretty much refusing to eat what I could buy locally.  So I had to drive 30 minutes to a feed store that catered to the wealthy, horse owning set and was paying $18 a bale for some really, really pretty alfalfa/timothy/orchard grass hay that was being trucked in from the midwest somewhere.  So beautiful and green and weed free.  My goats were thrilled.

I happily collected goat manure and trampled on hay leavings and composted it with my chicken litter and it cooked good and hot.

Last year I started some great heirloom tomatoes from seed hoping to far surpass the good year I had with my tomatoes the previous year….because I now had such great compost.

I babied my tomatoes to a nice large size until the weather was consistently warm enough through the nights instead of rushing them into the ground like I usually do.  My cages and sunken nursery pots at the base of each plant were in place and I planted these 12 beautiful plants of six different varieties with great expectations!

Two weeks later I’m noticing that the new top growth of my tomatoes are looking funky but they are still a wonderful green color through out the whole plant.  The top growth is shoestring appearance and then begins to come out really curled tightly like a fern leaf before it unrolls. 

I called my extension office after doing a lot of internet research for what might be happening.  They are telling me leaf roll, curly top virus, ect…all things I had checked out already. I am telling them that it is not like that as there is no evidence of any yellowing, etc.

They said maybe herbicide drift but I am not near anybody else and I have not used any herbicides in many years on my place.

I kept researching and found some stuff out of the UK and some northern areas about the problem with contaminated compost and realized that was what I had going on.  I told my extension office about it but they thought I was crazy. (now they are aware).

I only wish I had stumbled upon all the wonderful information you have collected on this problem a lot earlier!”

How this Reader Handled the Problem

She continues, “Anyway, I cried for awhile (not really, but I did feel like it).  It was the one time that I was very thankful for sandy soils!!  I dug out all the composted tomato holes and started shoveling in all the shredded up leaves that I could get my hands on.

I was just thankful that I had reserved all the “wonderful” compost just for my tomatoes so it wasn’t incorporated all over my gardens.”

Note: She knew that organic material (the leaves) and organic matter (what the leaves would turn to) would help the problem if any herbicide remained in the soil.

“I, like you, use wheat and oat straw for mulching but was scared to death to use anything that could possibly have herbicide contamination.  Thanks to your wonderful information I have now checked with a local farmer who told me he only uses 2,4D.  I was afraid of that too, until reading your information.  This is last years straw so I feel safe using it.”

Putting information on TMG to use to test for another Possible Problem

“I have some horse manure that has been aging in a pile.  The person who gave it to me feeds coastal bermuda hay which lessens the seed problem, but she was not sure if the hay farmer used any of the long lasting herbicides.  So I will be following your bio-assay instructions to see what happens.

My 28 year old son turned out to be as crazy about gardening as I am and he has just recently moved onto 10 acres of unimproved land and has very clay based soils.  I turned him onto your information about improving clay soils.

I have already benefited so much from your wealth of information that I have no need to go to another source 🙂

People around here thought I was crazy being so freaked out about this herbicide contamination issue, but most of them are not organic minded anyway so it isn’t so much an issue for them. You have made me feel vindicated and given me wonderful information to use and pass on to my son. ”

Final Thoughts

I appreciate the time my reader took to relay this information to me.  I felt that many could benefit from it.  I hope it will help save YOU (and me) from having to go through what she experienced.

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Other Related Posts:

Compost, Mulch, Residual Herbicides – What you Can do About Them in Your Garden

Residual Herbicides in Composts – Part 1

Hay or Straw – Which to use for Mulch

Municipal Compost – Manures – Should You Use Them

How to Test for the Presence of Herbicides

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Organic gardening is easy, effective, efficient and it’s a lot healthier!

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