The first adult spring Chinook salmon arrived at Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery in mid-May this year. In my high-elevation home garden, daffodils were fading and spinach was 2 inches high.
Gardens and salmon are more tightly linked than many people realize. Consider that whether you live 3 feet from a salmon stream, or 3 miles away, whatever goes into your garden finds its way via water into a salmon stream.
I’m a big fan of manure when it comes to fertilizing my garden. This is often a better choice than concentrated fertilizers. Manure offers a healthy dose of nutrients to plants, without overdoing it. But too much of a good thing is still too much: it’s the concentration that counts. That goes for manure as well as for chemicals.
Excess nutrients wind up contaminating rivers and streams, promoting unwanted plant and algae growth. Too much nitrogen can even change the pH of rivers, making them more acidic. Acidic water kills salmon eggs and interferes with fish growth.
I avoid using herbicides in my garden or yard. To keep weeds down in the gravel of my driveway, I spray concentrated vinegar on a sunny day. It works well and doesn’t leave behind harmful chemical residue.
I especially avoid pesticides.
These can have widespread effects that we are only beginning to understand. Insect populations in many places all over the world are down by as much as 30-70 percent — a startling change with broad consequences.
This change may be partly caused by the use of neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids are chemical insecticides in use since the 1990s. Not only have these compounds proved lethal to bees, they harm salmon by killing the aquatic insects that are food for young fish.
It’s not just gardens that pose risks to salmon. Leaching chemicals and fertilizers can come from lawns, too. Lawns can serve as filters — if not overloaded with chemicals. Washing your car on the grass, for instance, traps detergent, mud and grease and keeps it out of the streams — and waters the lawn, too.
Reducing lawn size and planting native species is even better; native plants need less watering and provide habitat to local birds, insects and other animals. Especially here in Eastern Washington, using less water in your lawn and garden means more water stays in the rivers to benefit salmon.
Gardens don’t have to be just vegetables or flowers. Planting shrubs and trees counts, too.
Bob Stroup, a retired high school teacher and member of Trout Unlimited in Leavenworth, has planted hundreds of trees and bushes at his property along Icicle Creek. People like Bob who are lucky enough to have waterfront land also know the consequences of living close to a river: floods. His home is better protected because of his plants, which divert flood water and stabilize the bank.
At the hatchery, we support insects with a pollinator garden. The Chelan-Douglas Master Gardener program helps maintain the garden and educate visitors and students about the value of insects and native plants.
I love gardening. I also love bees, birds, and salmon. I try to include them in my gardening choices. What we do at home can impact our rivers and wildlife. It’s something to keep in mind.
Julia Pinnix is visitor services manager for Leavenworth Fisheries Complex. The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats. For more information, visit fws.gov.