Herbicides

ChiloquinNews article 5/30/2011

Herbicides have a bad rap and deservedly so. Back during the Vietnam War, Agent Orange was used to kill thousands of acres of forest as well as causing cancer among the soldiers and villagers who were exposed to it. The problem, to my mind is that humans have no sense of moderation. My father always used to say ‘anything in moderation’, and he was right, but he failed that test with cigarettes and finally killed himself with emphysema.

So is there a place for herbicides? I think there is, but with caution. Over recent years great strides have been made by scientists in formulating herbicides that are much more specific than the ‘kill everything and everyone in its path’ variety, although these are still sold to unsuspecting farmers and gardeners. And they are bought and used because they are cheap. The newer herbicides that are the result of a lot of research, are of course, the most expensive you can buy.

There are only two herbicides that I would use. The first is Roundup. The active ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate, and now that the Monsanto patent has run out, there are many brands on the market. Glyphosate targets an enzyme in plants that animals and insects don’t possess, so it is very specific about killing plants, and it kills ALL plants. If you get a little spray on something you don’t want dead, thoroughly wash it off immediately. For this reason it’s a bad idea to spray Roundup on a windy day. You also shouldn’t spray it near water, because all herbicides do have some effect on aquatic life, though Roundup is supposedly safer than any other. Just spraying a whole area with Roundup is kind of pointless unless you have something to plant there. Whenever you kill all the plants in an area, what grows back best, is weeds. The chemical breaks down rapidly in the soil, and is only effective if it contacts actively growing leaves so you can plant just 2 weeks after spraying. It’s a very useful weapon against large perennial weeds with deep roots, or weeds with underground runners that are impossible to dig up. But still take care. Don’t spray yourself, and if you do, jump under the shower right away. There is now concern that one of the ‘inert’ ingredients in Roundup is toxic to humans.

The second is a selective grass killer. It only kills grass. There are a few of these but they are all fairly new. The active ingredients are sethoxydim, clethodim and fluazifop. The only one you can find locally is sethoxydim, in a product called Grass-B-Gon, but it’s a very expensive way to buy it if you have a large area of grass to deal with. It’s always cheaper to buy concentrate, but you’ll have to go online to find it. I have used clethodim this spring to try and combat the Cheatgrass that is trying to take over my yard. Since these chemicals only kill grass, you can spray over the top of other plants and they remain unharmed. There are many precautions to take and I wouldn’t spray over food crops even though supposedly you can, if done at the right time. You need to follow directions closely. There will be no effect on grass that is poor and sickly, or not growing due to cold weather, or grass that has already flowered. The grass needs to be shooting up green and healthy. By spraying early in the season when the grass is growing but flowers are not open, you can minimize the risk to bees and other insects. These chemicals ARE toxic to humans, animals, aquatic life and insects, and will stay active in the soil for a year.

While the ideal situation would be to not use an herbicide, and many people embrace this philosophy, I think there is some room to use these chemicals if done carefully.  What I hate to see is the indiscriminate spraying of herbicides in a misguided attempt to keep ground bare of all plants, and the use of the most deadly chemicals to achieve it.

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