Tukey says healthy soil is everything

PAUL TUKEY, an American organic lawn care expert, was in Golden last week giving workshops to both the public and stakeholders and businesses affected by the Town of Golden’s new cosmetic pesticide bylaw.

Paul Tukey

In the middle of his presentation, Paul Tukey, an organic lawn care expert from Maine who is on a tour of the Kootenays with the Canadian Cancer Society and Wildsight with his Healthy Lawn and Garden Workshops, asked the audience a question: what happened in the second week of April in 1967?

Tukey explained that it was the first time the Masters Golf Tournament was televised in full colour.

“Men from all over were saying, “Oh my god — I want that,” said Tukey.

This, he explained, was just the beginning of the perfectly manicured lawn culture we saw in North America for the latter decades of the 20th century.

“My goal in this whole thing isn’t to sell a lot of books,” said Tukey, who wrote The Organic Lawn Care Manual after hosting his own national TV program on the same subject. “I’m trying to help us change this cultural malaise. Good people are doing bad things to themselves, the environment and their pets, and they’re doing it unknowingly.”

Sounds like quite the job, but maybe just the assignment for someone who was called “the godfather of the natural lawn care movement.”

Tukey, who gave two workshops last Tuesday at the Kicking Horse River Lodge— one to stakeholders and businesses and the other to the general public— came to Golden at a good time.

Last fall the Town of Golden joined 35 other communities in BC by passing a Cosmetic Pesticide Bylaw. The Bylaw came into effect at the beginning of April and bans the use of chemical products used to enhance the appearance of residential and public landscapes.

Although B.C. municipalities have the power to ban pesticides on residential and public land, they have no jurisdiction over commercial, industrial or institutional land and can’t control the sale of the products. The Town of Golden supports the Union of British Columbia Municipalities’ call to the provincial government to ban the sale of cosmetic pesticides.

Tukey started his career in journalism. At the age of 29 he traded in his notebook for a lawnmower and started his own successful lawn care company. He used fertilizers to “feed the grass” and pesticides to kill the weeds, building a business on chemical quick fixes and impressed customers.

It wasn’t long, though, before he “couldn’t even focus on the TV” after coming home from work.

“The doctor said that if you keep using those chemicals you’re going to be dead.”

And so began the organic crusade.

Tukey’s presentation always returned to one common denominator: soil.

“If you’re going to have success with your landscape, your soil needs to be just as alive as you and I are. You need to nurture the life in your soil”

Tukey showed the audience  two slides of soil under a microscope: one that had been affected by pesticides and one that hadn’t. The slide with the organic soil was teeming with bacteria of all shapes and sizes, while the other looked rather dead.

He also mentioned lawn alternatives, like gardens, xeriscaping, trees and shrubs, but mostly focused his presentation on how people in Golden can transition from landscaping with pesticide to keeping a healthy and attractive lawn by using only organic methods.

“I think compost is God’s greatest gift to man.”

In a time of community transition, perhaps Tukey’s best advice was this: going organic is not an event.

“Spraying your garden with Miracle-Gro is an event. Going organic is a process,” said Tukey, stressing that you have to be patient if you want to see results.

If you would like to learn more about Tukey and his organic lawn care expertise, visit www.safelawns.org—a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting natural lawn care and ground maintenance.