JUNE 2, 1997

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Gardening: Spring cleaning in the garden storage area

gardening by Mary Robson, WSU Area Extrension Agent
Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, a traditional calendar mark for summer, summer activities, and sometimes--household projects! One that may have been neglected for some time in many households is a review of garden products on hand to determine their current usefulness, and to check storage methods.
   Washington State University Cooperative Extension specialists advocate choosing the least-toxic method of controlling garden pests of all kinds. Over 75% of all garden problems aren't caused by pests, but are the result of stresses on the plant, such as soil that's too wet, too dry, or lacking nutrients. Products for pest control should be applied only when absolutely necessary. Often the pest can be managed by beneficial insects and birds in the garden. Try using tolerance, traps, and hand picking methods. Chemicals are not often required. But they certainly compose part of the shelf residue in most garages or basements. Now's the time to evaluate what's on hand.
   A "pesticide" is defined as any agent designed for killing a pest, and the definition for outdoor products includes herbicides for weed control, such as lawn weed control materials. Fungicides for rose diseases and molluscides for slug control are also pesticides. Often the term is interpreted to mean simply "insect killer," which is a limited definition. What's important is the realization that all pesticides need to be stored in closed, locked areas where they stay cool and dry, and aren't subjected to winter freezing or too much summer heat.
   Proper storage may seem like the most elementary common sense practice possible, but it's not always done. A survey by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1994 revealed that 47% of children under 5 had what was described as "easy access to at least one pesticide stored less than 4 feet off the ground in an unlocked cabinet." Pesticides of all kinds, no matter what their contents, need to be treated as household hazardous products.
   Look at the products on hand. Are the labels legible? Storage areas often contain boxes or bottles with no labels at all, becase the label has been worn off by wetting and drying or by abrasion.
   Pesticide products do not contain shelf life information. How long the product is effective depends in part on the circumstances of storage. Don't use anything that seems to have changed composition, that has become separated or hardened in the bottle. Very little information on shelf life is available, but one source gives the shelf life of a few basic active ingredients: benomyl (a fungicide), 2 years; glyphosate (a weed killer sold as "Round-Up" and under many other names), "at least 2 years." Often pesticides stay on shelves lots longer than 2 years, so check with the manufacturer if you have questions.
   A good practice, when first storing a garden fertilizer or pesticide of any kind, is to write the date of purchase on the label with indelible pen. Then wrap the label with wide, clear tape to keep it legible even when wet.
   Old pesticides cannot be disposed of in ordinary household trash pickup. They must go to a hazardous waste pickup. Labels on pesticides give inaccurate advice about disposal. They are written for national audiences, but are not appropriate locally. Each Washington county has its own regulations about pesticide containers and product disposal.
   In King County, call the Hazards Line, 206-296-4692 for hazardous waste disposal. There are two permanent facilities in Seattle. There are also Hazardous Waste Mobiles travelling King County moving to a different location every two weeks. Again, check the Hazards Line number for current location. More information on resources conservation and alternatives to pesticides is available through the Master Gardener program. In King County, call the Master Gardener line, 206-296-3440, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In Snohomish County, the general information line is 206-338-2400.

Visit WSU's Agriculture Site on the World-Wide Web at http://www.cahe.wsu.edu.