Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey
The Internet can be a tremendous resource, placing at our fingertips a flood of information from all types of authoritative sources. When I compare what I had to go through to research a term paper in the '70's to the ease of that same task today, I shake my head in wonder.
Of course, there's a lot of junk in with the gold, and you have to be very careful when assessing the accuracy of a potential source.
One of the common things you can find are alternatives to chemical-based cleaners, weeders, feeders, and many of the other common household and garden products we use. Which is where I found myself this past weekend deep in ponder.
The previous owners of our home performed a miracle of landscaping with the back yard. They put in a flower garden that circled the yard, along with a very attractive (and long) winding path made of paving stones. It was one of the major selling points for us, even when contemplating the enormous amount of work require to maintain it's zen-like qualities.
One of the labors required is to periodically remove the grass, weeds, and wildflowers that grow in the gaps between the stones. Up to now, that remedy has been applied through the use of a thin saw blade attached to a pole. The blade fits in the narrow spaces and is able to drill down deep enough to pull the offending plant up by the roots. Of course, this is a very time-consuming task, often taking an entire Saturday to accomplish. We've had a very wet and cool spring this year, followed by an oppressive period of hot and humid weather, with temps reaching close to the 90-degree range. (Please, no snickers from you Arizonans!) The combination of those two events brought an explosion of weed growth, the sheer ugliness of which I could ignore no longer.
Friday night, I was glumly anticipating my day in the heat and humidity. I thought briefly about using Roundup or some other commercially available weed-and-grass killer, but concern for my pets' health made that choice unacceptable.
Now, between my wife and I, I consider myself to be the more tech-savvy, so I was surprised when she suggested the obvious "check the internet" for alternatives.
So, Google and I went on a hunt. I found a lot of interesting information. For example, if you have a problem with squirrels or chipmunks, take a 5-gallon bucket, fill it 2/3 full of water, then cover the water in sunflower seeds (they will float). The varmints, finding an apparent treasure trove of goodies, will plunge through the layer of snacks into the water and drown. Gruesome, yes. But probably preferable to getting wires, cables, and plants from getting gnawed on. Continuing my search, I found several alternative remedies for my weed problem, such as salt water, boiling water, straight vinegar, and one site that growled, "Man up, get on your knees, and start pulling!"
Eventually, I decided on one mixture that seemed to have the most numerous adherents. A gallon of white vinegar, 1 cup of table salt, and 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap. I puzzled over that last item, until reading that the soap gave the mixture enough viscosity to stick to the leaves of the offending foliage. The websites indicated that this mixture would kill most all of the weeds and grass (so be careful where you spray!) over a time period of 2-3 days.
So, I went to the grocery store for the salt and vinegar, then to the hardware store for a two gallon sprayer. Upon returning home, I mixed everything together, assembled the spray wand and sallied forth into battle.
The sprayer worked well, even given that fact that I had chosen the cheapest one. I started at one end of the walk and moved steadily along, spraying every plant I saw. Having a little bit left, I expended the rest on the short driveway, also made of those same bricks. This task took the better part of two hours to complete. I cleaned up the equipment, stowed it away in the garage and turned to some other tasks.
When early evening came around and the heat finally eased off, I ventured outside to walk the dog. Out of curiosity, I ventured down the alley and glanced ever so casually, over the fence into the back yard. What I saw brought me to halt, mouth agape. Instead of the forest of weeds I had seen earlier, I saw a host of shriveled-up plants curling into their death postures. The homemade remedy had done a thorough job, taking not the advertised 2-3 days, but merely a matter of hours. Unfortunately, I also saw a few of my flowering plants where I had obviously been a little careless with the spray. I don't know if there's any residual effect that would keep the weeds from coming back, but even if they do, I now have a weapon of mass defoliation that works well and won't harm the valuable parts of my environment.
My experience with the Internet is that you have to shovel several tons of dirt in order to find a few diamonds, but this was obviously a 3-carat find. I can now sigh in relief, knowing that my annual Battle of the Back Yard just became winnable.