Linda Tinker, an activist acquaintance of mine, told me that when her son was ten or so, he used to be in charge of putting down the Roundup in certain spots in the yard. He hated the chore, complaining that, for one thing, if the stuff was any good, he wouldn’t have to do the same task every year. One year, a few days after he made his annual complaint and was sent to put down the Roundup anyway, Linda walked outside and noticed a brown spot on the lawn. Several of them. In fact, when she looked carefully, she realized that her son had spelled his name with Roundup. So much for his argument that it didn’t kill anything.

To grant it a left handed compliment, I’d say Roundup is the best of the bad. It may be less damaging than lots of other herbicides are, but that doesn’t mean it’s “better than mowing” or “biodegradable.” What those terms are is … hooey. But who wants to battle weeds with nothing but fingers and hoes?

WillyK had some interesting advice on the subject of alternatives to Roundup:

There are less damaging substances that will kill even the most stubborn weeds.  I use an essence of lemon product called Burn-out that does just that.  It is non-selective and has to be used with care, but I do use it to keep weeds out of my flower beds and to kill weeds and grass that grow in the cracks of the walks, etc. It will not poison the soil or contaminate the water sources as many herbicides do.

To keep crab grass, dandelions out of our lawn we use corn gluten and have had good success when we use it at the appropriate intervals (scatter around March 15 and again around July 4).  We do also pull some weeds, I have to admit.

There is an organic gardening shop on Warson Road called Worm’s Way that carries these products.  

I called Worm’s Way today and the woman I spoke to, Mary, said she would send me a link to an article about how to kill crabgrass without any herbicides. Check back to this posting in a day or two. I’ll add an update.

For the true purists among you, The Ecology Center in Berkeley, CA offers suggestions on weed control, beginning with “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” advice. For example:

Improve your soil. Some deep-rooted weeds open up the subsoil to water and to the roots of more delicate plants. You can use deep divers to improve your soil. (Try lambsquarter, sowthistle, vetch, wild chicory, plantain, purslane, nightshade.)

But if you must get rid of the intruders, the site offers a variety of suggestions, such as:

Hoe and hand-pull. It is most important to weed an area during the first six weeks after you plant, so that your young crops don’t have to compete with the weeds. Hand-pulling will become easier as you learn the habits of various weeds and how to pull them. Be especially sure to cut weeds down before they go to seed.

Perennial weeds store their energy in their roots. A tactic for dealing with them is to cut down the tops of the weeds, let them grow back until they begin to sprout, then cut them back again. Repeat this until all of the energy is drawn out of the roots.

Of course, first you have to be able to tell the difference between annual and perennial weeds. These are solutions for the greenest minded and very experienced gardeners.

We’re not that pure. I see Burn-out in our future. At least we won’t be giving Monsanto any money, and that’s a good thing–as I’ll explain in a future posting.