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Question. Dear Mike: Our church hasgone "green", but the grounds people still insist on using Roundup. Ourlocal school district's IPM (Integrated Pest Management) manager toldme they have not used Roundup since the late 1980's and recommendedthat the Church stop using it as well. He said that the 'inactive'ingredients (stickers, spreaders, etc.) are more toxic than the activeingredient! Perhaps this would be a good subject for your show...
----Mary Kane;Main Line Unitarian Church, Radnor, PA
Answer. Thank you, Mary! It's beenWAY too long since I went on a good garden chemical tirade! I alwaysassume that people realize the extreme dangers posed by herbicides andother garden poisons. But I tend to forget how bombarded they are withads imploring them to use the junk, often implying that the toxins aresomehow harmless. (Like when Monsanto says that their Roundup isharmless as table salt-which is actually kind of true, since salt isone of the most corrosive substances on the planet.)
And yes, evidence strongly suggests that Roundup's so-called 'inertingredients' (a decision often made solely by the manufacturer) areeven worse than the 'active' ingredient, the extremely nasty chemicalglyphosate. That's why, when Monsanto talks about their popularCalliban of weed killers, they always say "the active ingredient inRoundup does this or that". They never talk about the actual product,which kills earthworms and beneficial insects, has been linked tonon-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and is taken up internally by any plants itdoesn't kill-so if you foolishly use it to control weeds in your veggiegarden, you'll be eating Round-Up for the next two years. Yum.
You can get all the scary details from one of my favoriteorganizations, Beyond Pesticides. I'll post a direct link to their factsheet on glyphosate with this Question of the Week. You can alsovisit their home site at BeyondPesticides.org
I actually prefer to let others do the scaring you to death part.(Which is more than just a phrase in this case-although they'reactually scaring you AWAY from death). My job is to turn you on to themany non-toxic alternatives to poisons like Roundup-like my FantasticFour of Weed Warriors: Flame, heat, soap and vinegar!
But of course, I MUST first mention mulch. An inch of shredded fallleaves, straw, or clippings from an herbicide-free lawn is your bestdefense against garden weeds. DO NOT USE WOOD CHIPS, SHREDDED BARK,SAWDUST, "COLORED MULCH" OR OTHER WOOD PRODUCTS AROUND PLANTS-theysteal nitrogen from the soil and prevent water from reaching roots.Don't use them within 30 feet of your home or car either-unless youlike impossible-to-remove shotgun fungus stains.
…and 'mechanical controls'! I use a weed whacker on the grassthat grows in the lanes between my raised beds. I used to use woodschips in the lanes-a place in which they are perfectly safe-but I'vecome to prefer whacking once a month. The grass 'captures' nutrientsthat leach out of the beds, and then I 'harvest' it for mulch andcompost making. Plus I get to make a lot of noise and get all dirty andthen run through the sprinkler.
OK, your top four non-toxic alternatives to nasty chemical herbicidesare:
No 'weed whacking woundup' would be complete without an incendiarydevice now, would it? Flame weeders are great; you just attach asmall, 'camp stove' size propane bottle to the long metal wand, clickit on, wave the fiery tip over the tops of plants you dislike and theydehydrate and die. Perennials, like dandelions, may require a secondtreatment-or you can just linger there a while and really toast thesuckers.
My personal favorite-BernzOmatic's "OutdoorTorch"-is available at hardware and garden stores, or direct fromBernzOmatic for about forty bucks, including shipping; call themtoll-free at 1-800-654-9011. Get Model JT 850; its push-button ignitionmakes it much safer to use. There are many similar devices out there,as well as larger flamers that use refillable gas-grill sized propanetanks and adapters that let you hook big tanks up to the smaller,hand-held devices.
Note: Be careful not to burn yourself or set dry brush or mulch on firewith these things. Always wear protective footwear and have a primedgarden hose handy in case of emergency. And NEVER, EVER burn poisonivy, oak, sumac or similar plants.
Instead of open flame, Swiss made "Infra-Weeders" use propane toproduce 1800º of radiant heat that 'cooks' weeds away! The"Dandy Destroyer" has a two-inch round spiked head that you plunge intothe hearts of dandelions and similar long-rooted weeds to send them totheir Eternal Reward. The "Eliminator" withers weeds in patios andwalkways with a 3 x 7 inch heated plate. About $200 apiece (American)from the Canadian company Rittenhouse; on the web at www.rittenhouse.ca.
Herbicidal soap sprays kill weeds by smothering them with a soapbubble-like film. Gardens Alive (www.gardensalive.com; 812-537-8650)calls their herbicidal soap "Weed-Aside"(say it out loud). And you'll find products like Concern's "Fast ActingWeed Killer" in classier retail stores. Read the labels carefully-theactive ingredient should say something like "potassium salts of fattyacids".
A POWERFUL herbicide! (So be careful not to splash your 'wanted'plants!) You can just fill a spray bottle with regular old whitevinegar and spritz away, or use products like "BurnOut Weed Killer"from St. Gabriel Labs (800-801-0061; www.milkyspore.com). Theoriginal version-a mixture of vinegar and lemon juice-was veryeffective. "BurnOut II" (the sequel!) also contains clove oil, whichthey say makes it even better.
Note: Soap, flame, heat and vinegar all work best when the weeds youwant to waste are nice and dry and a hot sun is beating down. Don't usethem on a cool, cloudy or wet day. If it's rained recently, give theplants a day to dry out-or pull them by hand, which is MUCH easier inwet soil.
You Bet Your Garden ©2004 Mike McGrath