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You can make a difference in your own backyard

With everything going on in our world, our minds can jump from one topic to another, from one worry to another, from one heartbreak to another and it can seem almost impossible to let your worries go.

I have found peace in my yard — cleaning, planting, improving, and watching things grow. Working from home and the cancellation of activities allowed me time to dive into making my yard a safe haven for nature, which in turn brings me peace. And the more I learned about gardening, the more I learned that our yards are an opportunity to make the world a better and safer place too!

I didn’t realize that there was so much to learn about gardening responsibly. I took my first jump down the rabbit hole by creating a pollinator garden filled with plants and water sources to support and attract butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, moths, bats and more. I already knew that pollinators are vital to our environment’s health; they are responsible for bringing us fruits, vegetables and nuts as well as oil, fibers and raw materials; removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and prevents soil erosion.

I also began to learn about birds; my first search led me to a devastating study. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy, since 1970 the United States and Canada have seen a dramatic decline in bird populations — 29% (approximately 3 billion) less birds, which signals a “widespread ecologic crisis.” Not unexpectedly, most of these declines are due to human development and spread.

The widespread use of pesticides has had a devastating effect on insects including vital pollinators, and therefore, birds. I have committed to making my yard pesticide free; in addition to not spraying for bugs, we don’t use chemical fertilizers or weed-killers. For weeds in concrete and edging, we use a mixture of dawn dish detergent, vinegar, and epsom salts which is very effective at killing weeds. It does, however, kill plants and anything else trying to grow, so for flower beds the most effective weed killer is your hands — good old-fashioned down in the dirt weed pulling! For larger areas you can cover the area with cardboard or newspaper and that will clear out the area as well.

There are many excellent resources for helping you transform your yard. Recommended reading includes Dr. Doug Tallamy’s book, “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in your Yard”. The National Wildlife Federation has many resources, including a Native Plant Finder that allows you to search by location to see what your native plants are. You can also find a checklist on the NWF website that will allow you to take steps to have your yard identified as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Jersey Friendly Yards website lists garden centers by county where you can find native plants. The Audubon Society has extensive information about bird conservation and planting to attract birds. There’s so much great information out there that it can feel overwhelming. Just know that small steps in your little piece of our world can make a big difference.

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