Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Weed Killers, Maaaaaan

Anyone who has a yard, whether there's a garden present or not, has to deal with weeds. On our property, the driveway is long and gravel, so during the high growth months, nature tries to reclaim it for her own.

Because of the size of our property, we have a lawn service and they do have some serious chemical weed killers they can use. However, we don't want anything like that near our vegetable garden, so other solutions are necessary. 

The easiest but most time-consuming is pulling weeds as they appear in the garden. Less simple, much faster, but also somewhat less effective, is using weed-resistant fabric on top of the soil before planting. While it should be covered with a layer of mulch, weed-blocking fabric can also be used on its own, though it won't stop as many weeds, nor last as long, due to UV breakdown. We can usually get two years out of ours without mulch, and three to four with mulch.

(Speaking of mulch, it's available in natural wood and rubber forms, both shredded. Rubber lasts considerably longer, but isn't always best for food-bearing plants due to possible chemical contamination.)

You can also use layers of newspaper in the same way as weed blocking fabric. The concern here, like with rubber mulch, is with chemicals leaching into edible plants; many printers use soy-based ink, so there are safe (or at least, safer) alternatives. Newspaper will generally last one season at best.

For plants trying to get into the raised gardens from outside, I use a home-made weed killing spray:

  • 1 gallon of white vinegar
  • 1 cup of table salt
  • 1 tablespoon of liquid dishwashing soap

Mix these ingredients together and put in a sprayer. I use a large pump sprayer, but a simple spray bottle can work as well.

The vinegar and salt both work to dehydrate the plants, and the dish soap both helps them stick and reduces surface tension on the mixture so that it flows better.

For smaller applications, a mixture of one quart of water per two tablespoons of 91% rubbing alcohol sprayed directly on the plant can be effective. It works to kill plants pretty much the same way, by dehydrating them.

For both of these compounds, the best application time is early on a sunny day. Be very careful not to get any inside the garden area, as these concoctions will damage or kill any plant with which it comes in contact!

If you are fighting weeds with deeper roots, one of the simplest methods is just pouring boiling water onto the plant. Use enough to saturate the soil and burn the roots.

Speaking of burning, the classic propane weed burner can also work well. Two things to keep in mind:
  1. The charred remains of burned plants can make for excellent fertilizer, nourishing any follow-on plants, so quick follow-up will be necessary to prevent rapid regrowth.
  2. Never, ever, ever use this method on something like poison ivy. The itching and blistering on our skin is bad enough; it's much worse if it gets into our lungs.

Hopefully, these options will help the gardeners among our readers keep those pesky weeds at bay without risking their health or the health of their produce.

Good luck, and good harvest.

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