Weekly Weeds:Killers?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I was making the rounds of a local garden tour recently, when I fell into a conversation with a fellow environmentally-conscientious gardener about methods for removing lawns in favor of drought tolerant plants.

His comment caught my attention: “Well, I could just use Roundup. They say it’s harmless.”  

It’s a common sentiment, even though the product is made by the company responsible for one of the most effective de-foliants ever invented, Agent Orange. 

Here's a recent New York Times article about superweeds--unwanted plants that have developed resistance to herbicides like Roundup (glyphospate), much as superbacteria have been created in response to antibiotic overuse. 

In spite of my fondness for some “weeds,” the idea of a plant that grows 3” a day, reaches 7’ in height to compete with crops and actually damages harvesting equipment is not my idea of desirable.  Nor are farmers too fond of such unflappable freaks of botany.

Super weeds vs. corn.  Who's winning here?

Monsanto (producer of Roundup) and their competitors have engineered a perfectly closed cycle in which they supply both the genetically modified seeds and the herbicides that ensures that these monoculture seeds will proliferate. 

When this system breaks down, agribusiness is at the ready with yet a new chemical/seed.  
As Michael Pollan germanely notes in his response to the NYT article above, “…the effectiveness of Roundup lasted almost exactly as long as its patent protection.”  

In addition to creating a market dependency and guaranteed revenue stream for themselves to the detriment of local and global sustainability and diversity, these companies will sue the wellies off of farmers who happen to save seed (it’s THEIR patented seed, they claim) and drag into court, cart and horse, even those  farmers who have never used their seed, but whose crops have been inadvertently contaminated via wind or cross pollination with their genetically modified (patented) plant material.  

The third world market has been especially profitable for them. But that's a topic for another day. 

Dr. Vandana Shiva, an environmentalist visionary and activist, sums up the big picture:

On an optimistic note, it seems that the idea of letting a few weeds coexist might be catching on, at least in the home-grown sector, judging from the response to a recent NYT editorial, The Dandelion King.

The readers' responses about "grass" to this article (mine included) are as impassioned as the writer's. While grass-lovers seem to be in the minority here, when there is a negative response, it’s almost like those weed-lovin’, grass-hatin’ folks are plain un-American and sworn enemies of life, liberty and lawns.

Quite ironic when you consider that the lawn as we know is a British import!

So, before we pick up our next bottle of easy-spray glyphospate, we might ourself  how much we really need that dandelion to be vanquished.

Try boiling water, weed torches, landscape cloth with at least 2" of mulch, vinegar and/or salt (only in the appropriate situation!), hand weeding tools* and other more judicious methods instead.
 It all sound rather medieval, doesn't it?  But then not much has changed in the war against weeds when not armed with Roundup.  Except perhaps our lack of  tolerance for these maligned plants.
For more wicked weeds, such as poison ivy, oak or sumac, go to this site for the benefits and downfalls of different removal methods.
If you do use a chemical spray, the dead plant material from these nasties still contains the active oil urushiol which causes the painful reaction.  

And keep in mind, a superweed poison oak is verily the stuff of nightmares!

*This is a hoe, an ancient and practical weeding tool. Well, not too practical for 1000 acres, but pretty good for a modestly-sized backyard.
Weekly Weeds by 
Nancy Knapp

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