ASHLAND — Organic pesticides proved largely ineffective at controlling weeds in Ashland parks in 2011, city staff members reported this week, one year after the Parks Department decided to forego the use of most chemical pesticides.
Organic pesticides generally have to be applied during warm, dry weather. But a cold, wet spring slowed the use of the products, allowing weeds to grow and go to seed, parks staff said.
Workers also were hampered by parks rules that they post notices about planned spraying of organic pesticides 48 hours beforehand. Cool, damp weather would return, and the workers were not able to spray. Then they would have to post notices again and hope for warm, dry weather in two days.
"It became an exercise in futility," Parks and Recreation Director Don Robertson said.
Eventually many parks workers stopped trying to use the organic pesticides, said parks Horticulturist Anne Thayer.
Despite the troubled start for the use of organic pesticides — which include herbicides and insecticides — parks staff and commissioners are not ready to give up on the products.
This week commissioners unanimously authorized workers to use organic pesticides without posting 48-hour notices. Instead, workers will post informational signs about the products they are using only during the time they are applying them.
Organic pesticides contain ingredients such as citrus oil, castor oil and clove oil. They are considered to be safer for people and the environment than chemical pesticides, and can be used on organic gardens and farms.
Parks commissioners this week unanimously authorized the use of chemical pesticides on the baseball and softball infields at North Mountain Park. (Correction: This sentence has been updated to list the correct park.)
Weeds took over the dirt areas of the infields in 2011, creating an uneven and unsafe surface. That presents a liability issue for the Parks Department, Robertson said.
Parks workers and volunteers from sports teams fought the weeds through methods such as rototilling the dirt and raking, Parks Superintendent Bruce Dickens said.
The commission did not authorize chemical pesticide use on the dirt tracks that follow the outfield fences. A motion to allow chemical pesticide use on the dirt tracks failed on a 2-3 vote.
Parks commissioners hope that the weather will be more conducive for applying organic pesticides this spring.
"I'm not sure it was a fair year and all the resources that were potentially available were not used," Commissioner Rick Landt said of 2011. "That's just the way it is with weather. I would like to see a better test."
The Parks Department had budgeted an extra $10,000 for staff labor and supplies for organic pesticide application in 2011.
It spent $1,841 on organic herbicides, the major category for pesticides used in parks. Workers spent 35 hours valued at $990 to apply those herbicides, for a total of $2,831 spent on supplies and labor in 2011.
In contrast, the Parks Department spent $169 on chemical herbicides in 2010 and spent 214 hours valued at $6,054 applying those chemicals — for a total of $6,223, according to parks data.
One positive side effect of the switch to organic pesticides and the late 2010 hiring of a volunteer coordinator was that the department saw a surge in volunteerism.
Volunteers contributed 7,576 hours of labor in 2011, up from 4,946 hours in 2010, according to parks figures.
About half of the volunteer hours in 2011 were devoted to parks maintenance, said parks Volunteer Coordinator Lori Ainsworth.
Ainsworth's efforts to mobilize volunteers were more effective at combatting weeds than organic pesticides, Dickens said.
"The nonsynthetics failed to a large degree," he said. "It was a waste of product as well as staff time to go out and spray those weeds — whereas what Lori did cleared up the weeds."
Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-479-8199 or email@example.com.