Don’t Get Rounded Up

With the news that Roundup has been shown to be toxic to human (and other mammal) placental cells in concentrations lower than those found in agricultural use, I thought I would look back quickly at an article I wrote about 2 years ago. The article is about using any weed killer or herbicide in general, but also specifically about Roundup and how to minimize exposure while maximizing effectiveness if you feel you have to use some form of weedkiller.

I grew up in the kind of South where we didn’t just use pesticides, we “dusted.” As in, “honey, have you dusted the vegetables yet?” I can remember my daddy slapping his bare hands afterward and mini-clouds of white powder floated around us. We kids would sneak out and nibble things, sometimes while they were still whitish. Was that stuff DDT? Or something worse? Who knows.

Since then, in the medical field, I’ve gotten a very healthy (ahem) appreciation for minimizing exposures to just about everything. Too many chemicals/drugs/procedures have already, in my lifetime, “back-fired” and turned out to be not-so-great for you in the end. If you don’t need it, don’t take it.

Now, I have my own flower garden and, given my childhood exposures, I swore (two years ago) I’d never use a product like Roundup. But then the Fates heard me, got a kick out of my arrogance, and sent the Four HorseWeeds of the Apocalypse to infest my yard (mint, bamboo, thickets of rushes, and a near-terminal case of widely-metastatic Bermuda grass). I admit it, I caved.

I originally wrote this in May – a normal May – but this year has not been so normal and this year June is the new May. May/June is when resolve weakens. Now is the time of year, with the sun blistery hot, and the rains petered out, when invasive weeds turn malignant. You too may be feeling an itch to reach for that spray bottle of weed killer.

If you’re going to take that step – here are six practical medical techniques you can use to minimize exposure and maximize effectiveness (based purely on the principle that, when it comes to chemical exposures, less is more).

1) Screening and prevention are priceless. Just like with cancer, if you catch a weed early, you can cure a problem before it spreads. It’s great for your health to take a daily or weekly sunset stroll while the pasta water’s coming to a boil. Use the time to mentally mammogram your yard. Find a weed early, pluck it out – no need for further treatment.

But if it seeds and spreads to distant sites, what then?

2) Escalate treatment in stages. This means that you always use the lowest effective dose of the least toxic cure, first. “Least toxic” usually means plucking it out – a nice biopsy removal. But if you can’t pull it all – try the next least toxic step.

How about pouring a bit of boiling water over the line of weeds creeping out the cracks in your brick path?

Or, you could cut the bottom off a clear plastic soda bottle (leaving the cap screwed-on). Place the bottle over a weed, twisting the cut edges into the dirt. You’ve just created a mini-heat trap. Leave it for a sunny day or so. If the greenhouse heat, alone, isn’t enough to kill the weed, you could pour a bit of boiling water from a kettle through the open cap, reseal and wait.

3) Try a less toxic alternative. A mixture of vinegar and dishwashing soap is supposed to be remarkably effective as a weedkiller – just mix white vinegar and dishwashing liquid and spray as if it were roundup. Just be sure to do it on a sunny day and not just before it rains. Rain will completely spoil the effectiveness. Some ‘recipes’ also include salt

4) Target your therapy. If, after bottle-heat and boiling water treatments, your weed still hasn’t died, squirt a tiny bit of the chemical in question through the cap, reseal immediately, and wait a day or so. Since there’s no dispersion, a relatively small dose will be very concentrated inside the bottle. It’s also less likely you’ll be breathing any on the wind as you spray. In addition, the unfortunate side-effects of accidentally spraying unintended plants is avoided (even from wind “drift”).

5) Hit it multiple ways at once. Like using radiation AND chemo, using lower doses of several modalities together will both increase your effectiveness and lower the total amount of any one intervention. When it comes to your garden, what does this mean? You can kill weeds with physical traumas, heat, chemicals, or drought. Why not use a bit of all of these? If you know from experience that you’re dealing with a HorseWeed of the Apocalypse, you may want to go straight to all four (bottle-heat, boiling water, chemo and plucking). But be sure to leave a day between the boiling water and the chemo to avoid spreading chemicals. By using multiple modalities, if nothing else, you’ll reduce the chance you’re breeding Roundup resistance in your weeds.

6) Health promotion is all-important. There’s nothing more repellent to a weed than a thriving garden full of good soil and competing plants. The areas where we’ve successfully beaten back our (still incurable) Bermuda grass are where we’ve found plants that can compete long enough to take root and thrive, casting shade on any little Bermudas that try to re-metastasize in that area. If your soil is wonderfully amended, plucking those tiny weed-tumor roots out will be much easier than having to wrestle them loose from heavy clay.

Here’s to healthy, lower-impact, holiday gardening.

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