Why You Might Not Want to Drink From the Garden
Last fall, my wife purchased several lengths of garden
hose. this spring she unwrapped the hose... and read the
directions... Janet, nobody reads directions on hoses except my
To her surprise, on the inside of the cardboard cover it
said: "Do not drink from this hose." She thought that was strange,
because we all drink from hoses at various times.
Are you aware of any research on this
There are two warnings on hoses. Let's look at the one regarding
toxic ingredients first.
California law requires that an item which contains certain
chemicals bear a cautionary label. The law recognizes that the
amount of a listed chemical in the item might be below dangerous
levels, but still requires the label unless the manufacturer can
prove the product safe. Testing to obtain that proof is expensive
so producers frequently opt to print the required caution.
I spoke to John Brannan, a vice president of Colorite-Swan. That
Ohio company makes about half the hoses sold in the U.S. According
to Brannan, hoses are made the same as they always have been,
despite the change the warning label might imply. It's brass, a
long-time component of hose fittings, that's on California's list
of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive system harm.
Since Colorite-Swan sells hoses all over the U.S. and prefers to
make stocking simpler for its distributors, one package is printed
for each model of brass-equipped hose. It carries the required
caution, so every hose will be legal if it ends up in
If there had been tests done to compare the health of people
alike in all ways except that some drank regularly from hoses, and
the results indicated no harm, we might all rest easy. That's not
the case so we have to either stop drinking from hoses or hope the
amount of brass that passes from the hose to us is below toxic
levels. I've chosen the latter, for now -- I'll continue to drink
from hoses, accepting the long-term risk to stave off the more
immediate threat of dehydration outdoor work sometimes poses.
The second caution on hose labels is in a category I title,
"Manufacturer cover your butt since consumer common sense may be
lacking yet lawyers are abundant." It warns that a hose interior is
moist, frequently warm and thus is a good breeding ground for
microorganisms that shouldn't be ingested. True, but since it might
be equally true of plumbing that runs through warm house walls, are
we ever completely safe? At least the hose, unlike most plumbing,
is often used and thus flushed for an hour or so before the working
gardener becomes thirsty.
Perhaps the most important point made by the label is that
pesticides and fertilizers can be drawn backward into a hose from a
hose-end sprayer and remain there in residual form. Never drink
from hoses used to spray chemicals. If you use a hose-end sprayer
you should lock away the hose after use, along with the
I bought some mum plants this summer and put them in the
flower garden. I really don't know how to care for them. I would
like to know what to do in the fall after the weather changes and
then in spring.
If the mums are in a sunny, well-drained bed, they have a good
chance of becoming perennial there. They may even become a nuisance
one day, as the clumps become wider and wider over years.
Since some mums are marginally hardy here and there's no simple
way to know which is which, hedge your bets and leave the stems
uncut through winter. The shade from those stems gives the live
crowns at ground level some protection from drying out in late
winter and early spring freeze-thaw cycles. In April, cut the stems
down to ground level. You'll see new growth coming from the base,
if the mum survived.
To keep mums from crowding themselves, which leads to reduced
flowering and weaker stems, divide them in spring every two or
three years. That means digging the clump, keeping the most
vigorous looking quarter for replanting, then composting the
A good, beginning book about flower gardening...
... that's what you say your new home-owning children need, P.M.
If they are brand new to gardening, go for the "Michigan Gardener's
Guide" by Tim Boland, Laura Coit and Marty Hair, or "Annuals for
Michigan" by Nancy Szerlag and Alison Beck, or "Gardening for
Dummies" by Michael MacCaskey.
For someone with a bit more experience, buy the "American
Horticultural Society Gardening Manual" published by DK Books.
Green thumbs up
to neighborhood hardware stores with staff willing and able to
take on the gardener's quest for tools and equipment. For 30 years
I've relied on you for everything from the best oil for tool
handles to how an espaliered tree can be anchored to a cinder block
wall. You're the best!
Green thumbs down
to the "season of the turtle" when gardeners pull their heads in
and stop moving while they wait for warmth and greenery to return.
Don't succumb! Go out! Spread leaves in a bed, do a bit of pruning,
or bring tools inside for sharpening. The more you move, the more
you see how wonderful the garden can be even in winter.
Originally published 11/30/02