City Girl in Boots

A Deadly Old School Farming Technique

Ginny Minkspray
Check your pesticides.

I live in a small town that is replete with a significant farming community. Our downtown is a plethora of antique shops and little boutiques. On one sweltering (Florida is hot) spring day, I happened upon an antique shop with a little section reserved for old books. Herein lies, perhaps, my greatest weakness: books!

While examining all the seemingly ancient titles, I discovered a book by Charles Torrey Simpson. It was entitled Ornamental Gardening in Florida, and was self-published in 1926. Since that discovery, I’ve been doing a series for our local Ag magazine.

The series is called: The Literary Time Machine.

In the midst of crafting those articles I found some discrepancies in his gardening advice. Namely, some of his fertilizer and insecticide recommendations have been outlawed due to their deadly nature. One particular piece of advice caught my attention.

Paris Green

I had never heard of this murderous pesticide and insecticide combination until I stumbled upon it in Mr. Simpson’s book. As a curious woman, I had was spurred on to investigation. Also, I didn’t want to tell my readers to use something that was ill advisable today.

Mr. Simpson wanted his readers to, “Put out poisoned bran mash made of one-fourth pound of Paris green with five pounds of bran mixed with water,” for the purpose of eliminating the blight that is Lubber grasshoppers (p. 82).  Since he also advised the use of “cyanide of potassium” I had to be very careful what I shared with our readers!

Imagine my surprise when I came across this description of Paris Green, courtesy of Merriam-Webster, “a very poisonous green copper and arsenic compound C4H6As6Cu4O16 used especially formerly as an insecticide and pigment.”

Arsenic?

What?

Yeah, I’m familiar with the chemical via the likes of Arsenic and Old Lace and Flowers in the Attic. I know arsenic is a sneaky poison used to kill people in these literary examples. Yet, Mr. Simpson advised that it be used as a means to kill fungi and other insect pests.

arsenate
They really did use arsenic!

Arsenic? Really?

That was scary to me. I was forced to wonder how many other old school methods are now considered deadly.

Further investigation revealed that arsenic was very popular in the 1920s. It was especially useful (at least they thought) in the fruit industry. In fact, my research revealed that 30 million pounds of lead and calcium arsenate were disseminated across this country’s fields and orchards in 1929, alone!

People had been dying from the poisonous apples they were ingesting 10 years prior. Yet, nothing significant had been done to remove this treacherous chemical. In fact, at that time, farmers didn’t want the people to know that this was the source of their ill health.

To top all the hype off, one radio station actually suggested, back in 1935, that A is for Apple be changed to A is for Arsenic. According to Deborah Blum’s article for Wired entitled "A is for Arsenic (Pesticides, if you please)", the song was supposed to go like this, “A is for Arsenate/Lead if you please/Protector of Apples/Against Archenemies.”

I think I much prefer the Florida alphabet song.

eating
Be careful what you eat.

What You Eat Can Kill You

It wasn’t until after WWII that arsenic-based pesticides began to lose their hold on the farmers of the day. Believe it or not, though, they weren’t officially banned until 1980!

Thankfully, the 1980s has one good thing going for them, the official banning of arsenic-based insecticides. I guess it’s true then, that what you eat can kill you, especially if it has been coated with poison. Make sure you know what you’re putting on your plants and what your suppliers are putting on!